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27th Feb 2021

EU commission on defensive over 'revolving doors'

  • Taking up a job in the private sector could lead to conflicts of interest, posing reputational risks to the EU institutions (Photo: Thomas Hawk)

The EU commission was forced to defend its track record on Thursday (22 October) on allowing staff to take on private-sector jobs, after it emerged that 99-percent of such requests were rubber-stamped as a 'yes'.

"I think it is very clear that we have efficient rules and measures in place," an EU commission spokesperson told reporters on Thursday (22 October).

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He cited staff reforms dating back to 2014, which included new rules to assess conflicts of interests upon recruitment or after a period of leave on personal grounds.

The comments follow revelations by a Brussels-based pro-transparency group that the commission had approved over 99 percent of transfer requests into the private sector last year.

The NGO Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) says such transfers, also known as the 'revolving-door' syndrome, could lead to conflicts of interest where a former public official lands a job with a firm to lobby on policies they previously legislated or worked on.

In a report out Thursday, it said the commission had rejected only 0.62 percent of requests in 2019.

The commission approved 363 requests for post-public office employment from officials and rejected only three, says CEO.

It said another 594 requests to take up outside employment during personal leave were also approved, with only three rejected.

When asked the specifics behind those six rejected requests from 2019, the commission said "prohibitions are imposed only in cases where adequate mitigating measures cannot be put in place to alleviate the risk of conflict of interest, in line with the principle of proportionality and the fundamental right of the person to work."

The 'personal leave' included allowing one official to become a director at Vodafone, after having spent 10 years dealing with telecom-related regulatory issues at the EU commission.

Such cases tend to cast the EU commission's oversight and ethics rules into doubt among the public.

"In a nutshell: It's 99 percent useless," said German Green MEP Daniel Freund, who previously worked at Transparency International in Brussels.

CEO says such low rejection-rates, when weighed against known cases that have raised issues, means the commission is failing to turn the lock on revolving doors.

It gave plenty of examples.

Facebook

Among them is the case of a commission official Aura Salla who landed a top post at Facebook as head of EU affairs.

"She left the commission in February 2020. A mere three months later she was leading Facebook's lobby office," says CEO.

Salla had previously worked in the cabinet of an EU commission vice-president dealing with issues like investment and jobs.

CEO says her case, and others, means the commission's ethics rules are being treated as a mere formality.

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