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15th Aug 2020

MEPs back new code of conduct after bribery scandal

  • Corruption is to become more difficult in Brussels (Photo: EUobserver)

Euro-deputies in the key committee dealing with parliamentary rules on Thursday (17 November) approved a new code of conduct obliging them to more transparency and disclosure after a cash-for-amendments scandal uncovered earlier this year.

“Increased power must be accompanied by increased responsibility and transparency on behalf of its members,” said Parliament chief Jerzy Buzek. The new code of conduct was unanimously approved at the committee stage, an indication that approval by the full sitting of the parliament in December is all but assured.

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The rulebook, set to enter into force on 1 January, is a revision of an older code for MEPs on how to deal with outside financial interests and, compared to other codes of conduct around the world, is “fairly strict”, said Paul de Clerck, spokesperson of Alter-EU, a European umbrella of organisations campaigning for lobbying transparency.

"[It is] a good plan to counter conflicts of interest of MEPs. Key proposals will stop MEPs from being paid to lobby their own colleagues and increase transparency on their outside interests,” he added.

It obliges members to make public online any former occupation they might have had during the three-year period before taking up office and any financial interests that may result in a conflict of interests. It also bars them from accepting any gift above €150.

“Gifts, however, do still not include hotel stays or airplane tickets. That is a dangerous loophole. MEPs may be tempted to go on trips abroad that are not exactly necessary,” said De Clerck.

And some anti-corruption campaigners doubt that the financial disclosure requirements go far enough. MEPs are obliged to disclose any income above €5,000 a year. "But the code only obliges you to tick a box - between €5,000 and €10,000 or above €10,000'. So if you earn a billion euros, you're still in that category," says Romanian MEP Monica Macovei, a former justice minister who struggled to introduce financial disclosure as tight as possible for public officials.

Neither are MEPs banned from doing consultancy work or serving as board members in the pharmaceutical or automotive industry.

"In general, Transparency International would have gone further - for example outlawing second jobs that would qualify as a conflict of interest or including a 'Legislative Footprint' - a record of meetings with interest representations," Jana Mittermaier, head of the Brussels office of the international anti-corruption watchdog told this website.

"For us the most important step now is the implementation of the code and to ensure the swift setting up of the advisory committee in the most transparent way possible with participation of the civil society," she added.

Should the code be breached, then a member may be sanctioned with a reprimand, a forfeiture of part of his or her daily allowance, temporary suspension from parliament's activities, or the loss of eligibility for some parliamentary offices.

The new code came after a bribery scandal in March put the house in an unfavourable limelight when the Sunday Times revealed several MEPs were willing to be bought.

The EU's anti-fraud office was subsequently barred entry into the members' offices, which were said to fall under national jurisdiction. Two of the MEPs resigned shortly after but one, Romanian Adrian Severin, remains a member and continues to receive his monthly allowance.

“The new code of conduct, however much of a step in the right direction, will not stop such a scandal from happening again. It will not solve the underlying problem, which is the fact that what goes on in Brussels is invisible to most people,” said British Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan.

“True, but it will make it less likely to happen. It will make it easier to detect and to remedy when it does happen,” says De Clerck.

Lobbyists welcomed the code. “They were right to look into their own rules. They did the right thing. I would applaud it. I’m sure that it wouldn’t make our work any more difficult,” says Jose Lalloum, chairman of Epaca, the EU lobbyist trade association.

“We have our own codes of conduct. The new code of conduct for MEPs will first and foremost have a positive effect on their own reputation. And, indirectly, also on the reputation of lobbyists,” he adds.

Brussels revamps code of conduct

The European Commission has tightened up its code of conduct banning spouses from commissioners' offices and ruling out lobbying as a career path once out of office - at least for a year and a half.

MEPs hope to restore public trust with ethics code

In the wake of a cash-for-ammendments scandal, the European Parliament has adopted new code of conduct that bans MEPs from asking or accepting money in exchange for influencing legislation.

Finnish CEO tests EU parliament ethics code

The European Parliament's new ethics code is about to be put the test, as the CEO of the Finnish Chamber of Commerce bids to keep his job while becoming an MEP.

Romanian MEP charged with defrauding over €400,000

Adrian Severin, a Romanian MEP accused of having taken bribes from journalists posing as lobbyists, has been charged with siphoning €436,000 from the EU budget to bogus consultancy firms in Romania. He is still in office, claiming his innocence.

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