Friday

10th Apr 2020

Zahradil 'conflict of interest' probe may flounder

  • The European Parliament in Strasbourg. Czech MEP and former Spitzenkandidat for the ECR, Jan Zahradil, had links to a Vietnamese group while spearheading the EU-Vietnam trade talks (Photo: European Parliament)

The European Parliament has been asked to launch an ethics probe against a Czech MEP following an article published by this website.

But in reality, nothing is likely to happen. Out of the over two dozen cases of violations committed by MEPs over the past few years, not one has ever led to a sanction.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

The Greens on Monday (9 December) asked the president of the European Parliament to look into possible conflicts of interest by Jan Zahradil, a right-wing MEP spearheading trade talks with Vietnam.

Similar demands were made last year after this website untangled a network of lobbying between a handful of MEPs and the Moroccan government on an EU trade deal.

Although the French liberal MEP leading talks on the Moroccan deal at the time eventually resigned as a rapporteur, the EU parliament probe into conflicts of interest remains locked and sealed from public view.

An advisory committee on the code of conduct was tasked at the time to look into French socialist Gilles Pargneaux, French liberal Patricia Lalonde, Romanian centre-right Romona Manescu, and Belgian liberal Frederique Ries.

All four had been implicated in the Morocco lobbying affair through EuroMeda, a foundation that was in reality fronting for the Moroccan government.

The parliament's president spokesperson services never responded to EUobserver questions on the results of that inquiry.

A subsequent freedom of information request into the inquiry was also denied by the European Parliament's secretary general, Klaus Welle.

Welle in September said the findings must remain secret, citing legal provisions that any such disclosure would "seriously undermine the institution's decision-making process".

He said no "overriding public interest" had been demonstrated to make the findings public. Ries is currently the vice-chair of the liberal Renew Europe group.

Over the past six years, some two dozen breaches of the European Parliament's code of conduct have been cited and referred to the advisory committee.

Not one breach has ever led to a sanction, according to Transparency International, an NGO. It says such results are unsurprising given the advisory committee is itself composed of MEPs.

"Having political figures taking decisions on ethics has unsurprisingly led to no sanctions," said Vitor Teixeira, a policy officer at Transparency International.

Daniel Freund, a German Green MEP, is among the growing chorus of people pressing for changes and earlier this year demanded the European Commission launch an independent ethics body to help put an end to the lack of accountability.

"People can basically do whatever they want and they don't get sanctions and it is not like taking away one daily allowance from an MEP, €320, is going end their life but even that we have never done," he said.

Prior to his position as MEP, Freund worked at Transparency International and had helped uncover the toothless role of the advisory committee.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has since folded the ethics body idea into her agenda, and delegated the task to the transparency commissioner Vera Jourova. No official proposal has so far been floated.

Freund has made it a point with the European Parliament's Constitutional Affairs Committee (Afco) to possibly draw up an own proposal first.

"Ultimately the whole system where MEPs judge other MEPs is a flawed a system and it would be better to have an independent body," he said.

Afco is chaired by Antonio Tajani, who sat as the European Parliament's president in the past mandate and whose spokersperson at the time ignored questions by this website into the the code of conduct probes.

As president, Tajani was tasked to decide and act on sanctions by MEPs who violated the code conduct, following recommendations by the advisory committee.

The advisory committee is composed of centre-right Danuta Hubner, socialist Guiliano Pisapia, liberal Renew Karen Melchior, Greens, Heidi Hautala, and conservative ECR Geert Bourgeois.

Lead MEP on Morocco resigns as her report passes

MEPs ultimately adopted a controversial report on an EU trade deal with Morocco - despite the sudden resignation by French liberal Patricia Lalonde as the file's rapporteur only moments beforehand. Her departure follows an EUobserver investigation into lobbying by Morocco.

Investigation

Exposed: How Morocco lobbies EU for its Western Sahara claim

The European parliament's lead negotiator on the Morocco trade deal, French liberal MEP Patricia Lalonde, is also on the EuroMedA Foundation board along with former Moroccan state ministers and a top ranking official in Morocco's ministry of agriculture.

Exclusive

Zahradil 'conflict of interest' over EU-Vietnam trade deal

Right-wing Czech MEP Jan Zahradil is leading European Parliament negotiations on a trade deal with Vietnam. As rapporteur, he is supposed to be neutral but has neglected to declare his involvement in a group with ties to the Communist party.

Feature

The shadowy EU parliament boss who likes to say 'no'

Despite 10 years in the job, Klaus Welle is the most powerful man in Brussels few have heard of. The Parliament secretary-general has granted EUobserver access to just one paper written by him - and refused 21 other requests.

Analysis

First 100 days: Digital and Green Deal policies hit by crises

The first 100 days of Ursula von der Leyen's commission were supposed to be about the digital and environmental transitions. However, that agenda has been hit by first the coronavirus, and now the Greek border situation.

Feature

How corporate lobbyists steer EU law-making

Former EUobserver investigations editor Peter Teffer has written a new book about how lobbying in the EU works. The EU's focus on the internal market offers corporate lobbyists a perfect means to forward their interests.

News in Brief

  1. Migrants trapped on boat in Tripoli due to shelling
  2. EU anti-crisis budget 'could be up to €1.5 trillion'
  3. Western Balkan states appeal for EU help with masks
  4. Spain's lockdown could be extended until 10 May
  5. IMF: Pandemic crisis will be worse than great depression
  6. German economy minister expects progress on EU deal
  7. Italian PM: EU is at risk if no deal on recovery plan
  8. Belgian region to block EU Green Deal

This is the (finally) approved European Commission

MEPs gave the green light to the entire new European Commission during the plenary session in Strasbourg - but with the abstention of the Greens and a rejection by the leftist group GUE/NGL.

Magazine

Welcome to the EU engine room

Welcome to the EU engine room: the European Parliament (EP's) 22 committees, which churn out hundreds of new laws and non-binding reports each year and which keep an eye on other European institutions.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAMaking Europe’s Economy Circular – the time is now
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersScottish parliament seeks closer collaboration with the Nordic Council
  3. UNESDAFrom Linear to Circular – check out UNESDA's new blog
  4. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms

Latest News

  1. How the EU's virus-alert agency failed
  2. Flemish nationalists torpedo Belgium Green Deal pledge
  3. Eurozone agreed €500bn cushion against virus blow
  4. Why Europe must act now, and on a big scale
  5. EU court blocks Poland's bid to 'frighten' judges
  6. Coronavirus sees approval-rating soar for EU leaders
  7. EU science chief who 'quit' had been told to resign
  8. EU delays 'exit strategies' plan, as WHO urges caution

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us