Tuesday

13th Apr 2021

MEPs hold to ransom commission pensions

The European Parliament has voted to hold to ransom some of the money paid out to ex-commissioners until the European Commission revamps its code of conduct to tighten up rules on cases of revolving doors, where retiring commissioners and officials have gone on to well-paid jobs in the private sector in areas close to the dossiers they oversaw when working for the Brussels machine.

Via an amendment tacked on to a motion giving consent to the EU's 2011 budget, the parliament overwhelmingly endorsed a proposal to withhold €460,000 from the funds paid out to 16 former commissioners until the EU executive overhauls its code of conduct in the wake of a slew of conflict-of-interest scandals.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

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

... or subscribe as a group

  • Charlie McCreevy: his bank job was the first-ever time the code was enforced (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

A transitional allowance of 50 percent of a commissioner's basic salary is provided for three years after they leave Brussels, amounting to roughly €10,000 a month.

The allowances are not financed by an employment insurance scheme to which the beneficiaries have contributed, but instead paid out of the general EU budget, giving MEPs some financial leverage over the commission.

The €460,000 is a symbolic sum, as the amount due to be doled over to the ex-commissioners next year amounts to a full €1.7 million.

But it is a shot across the bows of the executive, warning that the already-announced code of conduct review must be substantial and result in the code being given real teeth to prevent conflicts of interest and not just be a public relations exercise.

In autumn 2009, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso promised to the parliament that he would launch a major review of the code. The promise was made as part of Mr Barroso's attempt to win re-appointment for a second term.

According to the amendment, originally tabled in the parliament's Budget Committee by the committee co-ordinator for the centre-right European People's Party, German MEP Ingeborg Grassle, the review of the code must be performed in a "structured dialogue" with the parliament and "strengthen requirements regarding work in the private sector after leaving the commission."

Ms Grassle has long been a thorn in the side of the commission, regularly pushing for stricter rules on commissioners' revolving doors cases.

The MEPs are demanding a cooling off period of some years before the commissioners are allowed to take up positions related to their former tasks.

The parliament is also demanding the introduction of a concrete procedure for dealing with conflicts of interest and the establishment by the EU institutions of a joint advisory body on standards in public life.

Currently, an ad hoc committee meets behind closed doors to assess whether commissioners are breaking the code of conduct.

The committee has only once found a commissioner to be in conflict, earlier this month, after it emerged that former internal market and financial services commissioner Charlie McGreevy had taken a job with a British investment bank, NBNK set to profit from the fall-out of the financial crisis.

The parliament also wants substantial penalties imposed for breaches, as well as the introduction of reporting rules.

The funds are to be put into a reserve and will only be unblocked when the commission concedes to the parliament's demands.

However, the passage of the budget was only at a "first reading" stage. The budget bill now passes over to negotiations known as "conciliation" between member states and parliament, giving the commission the chance to apply pressure to have it yanked.

The commission for its part, dismissed parliament's move as redundant, saying the EU executive has always been committed to a stringent review of the current system.

"We have said all along that we were going to complete a review of the code of conduct by the end of the year. We were just waiting until we had reached a framework agreement with the parliament [which sets out how the EU institutions will work together after the changes introduced by the Lisbon Treaty]," Michael Mann, the commission's spokesman for institutional affairs and ethics issues told EUobserver.

"And we are now really going to get stuck into it now that the framework agreement was agreed yesterday. This has nothing to do with whether any money is withheld."

Yiorgos Vassalos a campaigner with Corporate Europe Observatory, a transparency watchdog, cheered the parliament's move.

"This shows that the commission cannot continue blindly trusting the judgment of ex-commissioners. It must now introduce a cooling-off period to prevent conflicts of interest," he told this website. "This is the only way the Commission can prevent further scandals and start building public confidence.'

"After the common-sense decision to block McCreevy's move to NBNK, the commission must now review decisions made earlier this year without serious scrutiny of conclifts of interest, allowing ex-commissioners Ferrero Waldner, McCreevy and Verheugen to move to Munich Re, Ryanair and Royal Bank of Scotland."

Catalan MEPs lose immunity, slam 'political persecution'

Catalan separatist MEPs Carles Puigdemont, Toni Comín and Clara Ponsatí lost their parliamentary immunity - a result they have hailed as a "political victory" for bringing the conflict between Catalonia and Spain closer to the heart of Europe.

12-month Future EU Conference is 'impossible', expert warns

The debate about the much-delayed Conference on the Future of Europe so far has been locked in endless institutional infighting over who should lead the event - lowering the expectations about what can be achieved in the coming months.

Future of Europe: Nearly half of citizens want reforms

European Parliament president David Sassoli called for the Conference on the Future of Europe "to start as soon as possible". Meanwhile, nearly half of EU citizens would like to see reforms to the bloc.

EU parliament snubs anti-corruption researchers

Transparency International carried out three separate studies on integrity, of the European Parliament, the European Commission, and the Council (representing member states). The European Parliament refused to cooperate.

Cyprus: a heavy caseload for new EU prosecutors office

The new European Public Prosecutor's office will become operational in March. It is tasked to carry out criminal fraud investigations of the EU budget. But of the 140 required European delegated prosecutors, only nine have so far set up office.

News in Brief

  1. US officials call for J&J vaccine pause over blood clots
  2. Putin refuses to talk about military build-up, Ukraine says
  3. EU bank to help Greece manage corona-recovery funds
  4. Johnson & Johnson vaccine deliveries to EU begin
  5. EU sanctions commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guard
  6. UK opens investigation into ex-PM Cameron lobbying
  7. 'Significant differences' in EU-UK talks on Northern Ireland
  8. Bulgarian PM reveals price rise in new EU-BioNTech deal

MEPs chide Portugal and Council in EU prosecutor dispute

The Belgian and Bulgarian prosecutors who were appointed had also not been the experts' first choice. Belgian prosecutor Jean-Michel Verelst has challenged the council's decision at the European Court of Justice.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersDigitalisation can help us pick up the green pace
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID19 is a wake-up call in the fight against antibiotic resistance
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region can and should play a leading role in Europe’s digital development
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council to host EU webinars on energy, digitalisation and antibiotic resistance
  5. UNESDAEU Code of Conduct can showcase PPPs delivering healthier more sustainable society
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen benefit in the digitalised labour market

Latest News

  1. How the pandemic became an EU goldmine for crime
  2. China responds to 'low-efficacy' vaccine fears
  3. Merkel party chiefs support Laschet's chancellor bid
  4. EU refuses to bail out Montenegro's China loan
  5. Industry lobby to 'co-decide' on nearly €10bn EU public money
  6. Why Ursula von der Leyen won't go
  7. Incorporating gender in trade policy to benefit all
  8. Does Italian regionalism actually work?

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us