Monday

20th Jan 2020

EU commission clears McCreevy for Ryanair post

The European Commission's Ethical Committee has given the green light to ex-internal market commissioner Charlie McCreevy to take up a position with low-cost airline Ryanair. Meanwhile, lobbying watchdogs have complained that taking top corporate jobs after leaving office "is becoming the normal career path for commissioners."

EUobserver has learnt that the EU executive's Ethical Committee has found there to be no conflict of interest arising from Mr McCreevy's planned move, but has requested that while working for his new employer, which has in the past had a series of legal run-ins with the commission, he not offer any advice relating to commission decisions or activity regarding Ryanair which he was involved in while in office.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 30-day free trial.

... or join as a group

  • Ex-commissioner McCreevy is now free to lobby the commission on behalf of Ryanair (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

Mr McCreevy's portfolio in the commission involved supervising the EU's internal market rather than the transport sector, which could be considered more directly relevant to his new post.

However, all decisions taken by the college of commissioners are collective decisions and during his time in office a number of moves were taken relating to the no-frills Irish airline, ranging from taking on airline websites that rip off customers to blocking the company's attempts to buy competitor Aer Lingus.

The precise wording of the committee's finding will only be released after Mr McCreevy has been contacted to inform him of its decision.

The EU executive maintains no criteria on what constitutes a conflict of interest per se. Instead, the three-man committee makes a personal assessment of a single line in the EU treaty: "After their term of office, they will respect ... their duty to behave with integrity and discretion as regards the acceptance ... of certain appointments or benefits."

In the ex-Irish-commissioner's case, the committee is of the opinion that the move is in conformity with the treaty.

In the event that the committee finds there has been a breach of these obligations, a simple majority in the Council of Ministers or the EU commission can pass consideration of the matter to the European Court of Justice, which can then rule that the individual is stripped of his or her pension benefits.

This level of sanction has never been imposed.

'Revolving doors'

Three commissioners from the first Barroso college so far have given notice to the current commission of plans to take up corporate executive positions.

Former external relations commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner has moved in with re-insurance giant Munich Re, and last week, EUobserver reported that ex-industry commissioner and German Social-Democrat Guenter Verheugen has joined what was until recently the largest financial institution in the world, the now nationalised British bank RBS.

The Ethical Committee on 19 January gave the green light to Ms Ferrero-Waldner's move, while also issuing a similar caveat.

"Should commissioner Ferrero-Waldner come across subjects related to her previous functions as commissioner, she should ensure the confidentiality of the sensitive and confidential information acquired during her mandate, such as concerning political risks related to certain countries," the committee said.

When EU or other government officials are taken on board by companies - a practice calld "revolving doors" by lobbying watchdogs - they are normally valued for their network of contacts and the related political leverage rather than their technical expertise.

When RBS announced it had hired Mr Verheugen, the company's press release explicitly underscored this aspect of what attracted the company to the ex-commissioner: "His experience in European politics and its national and international contacts are very valuable for RBS," the statement read.

In April this year, London School of Economics researchers published a study which considered parallel US cases of revolving-door employment by ex-government officials. It found that the work dropped off once their network was no longer of use.

"Lobbyists with past working experience in the office of a US senator suffer an average 21 percent drop in generated revenue when that senator leaves office. The effect is immediate, it is discontinuous around the exit period and it persists in the long-term," the study reads.

Commissioners ‘For Sale'

Transparency pressure group Corporate Europe Observatory believes that EU officials are increasingly viewing public office as a fast-track to the high salaries of the corporate world.

"Commissioners are more or less for sale to the highest bidders," the group's Erik Wesselius told this website. "If this is becoming the normal career path for commissioners, this will of course influence their decisions while in office, who will ensure that what they do does not endanger their job prospects."

"A company like RBS is really buying Verheugen's network of contacts and his prestige as a commissioner."

"In the case of McCreevy and Ferrero-Waldner, the only restriction the committee has mentioned is a transmission of specific information ... It seems like they are not restricted from now lobbying the institution they just left."

The Ethical Committee itself is headed by Michel Petite, who performs the job part-time while working for law firm Clifford Chance. He himself was criticised in 2008 by lobby watchdogs when he moved to the firm to work on anti-trust issues after leaving his job as head of the commission's Legal Service, where he was responsible for, among other tasks, investigating anti-trust charges against Microsoft.

Its second member comes from the European Court of Justice, while its third member is Terry Wynn, a British Labour MEP for 17 years. While an MEP, he chaired the Forum for the Future of Nuclear Energy and was a board member of the European Energy Forum, two cross-party groups that have been criticised as fronts for industry lobbying.

Catalan MEPs Puigdemont and Comin look for a party

The former head of the Catalan regional government, Carles Puigdemont, and one member of his government, Toni Comín, have requested to join the Greens/EFA group - but they do not close the door to other political groups.

Exclusive

Big Oil sponsors Croatia's EU presidency

Croatia's national oil company has become the EU council presidency's "official gasoline supplier" - in a move that appears to clash with aspirations of the European Green Deal. Critics say such sponsorships pose a reputational risk with the wider public.

Parliament calls for citizens' 'agoras' to shape future EU

Details have been revealed by the European Parliament of its proposals on how to conduct the two-year post-Brexit reform exercise of the EU. But a final format will have to be determined in talks with member states and the commission.

Two Catalan MEPs take their seats - with a third in jail

Catalan separatist leaders Carles Puigdemont and Toni Comín arrived at the European Parliament in Strasbourg to take their seats as MEPs on Monday, pledging "the Catalan crisis is not an internal matter, it is a European one".

Sassoli stuck in middle as Catalan MEPs enter building

The parliament's legal services are analysing whether three Catalan leaders elected in the European elections in May - former president Carles Puigdemont, former vice-president Oriol Junqueras and former minister Toni Comín - can now be accredited as MEPs.

News in Brief

  1. EU to cut pre-accession aid to Turkey by 75 percent
  2. Libya peace talks: 'new spirit' to find solution
  3. EU financial firms flock to UK
  4. 'No objection in principle' on Huawei cooperation, EU says
  5. French aircraft carrier goes to Middle East amid tensions
  6. EU suggests temporary ban on facial recognition
  7. EU industry cries foul on Chinese restrictions
  8. 'Devil in detail', EU warns on US-China trade 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. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  5. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  2. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  3. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  5. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us