11th Dec 2019

Finnish CEO tests EU parliament ethics code

  • The parliament ushered in the new rules after a highly embarrassing cash-for-amendments scandal last year (Photo: European Parliament)

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.

Risto E.J. Penttila, who came runner-up in the last EU election, is in line to become a euro deputy on 1 March in order to replace centre-right MEP Ville Itala, from the ruling National Coalition Party, who is moving to the Court of Auditors.

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Penttila has been reluctant to give up his prestigious post and initially turned down the prospect of heading to Brussels, saying it would not be legally possible to hold both titles at once.

Then - in an embarrassing move for the Brussels chamber, which ushered in a revamped code of conduct for MEPs on 1 December amid great fanfare - Penttila said the new rules mean he can do both after all.

"I was told by legal experts from the European Parliament that one can combine an outside employment with an MEP position. This is what has caused me and my employer to rethink whether it would be possible," he told this website.

"[The rethink] was prompted by the new rules of conduct that entered into force on the 1 January in which the principle is that if you declare openly all your interest, then that's fine."

Penttila, a well known personality who in the past led the World Economic Forum, says that if he has to make a choice between the two posts he will stick with the Chamber of Commerce - a matter he says will be decided within a week.

Asked if he thinks it is fine to hold the two paid posts at the same time, he said: "No, I am not there yet. It is quite clear to me that I could not have two full time positions. It would have to be drastically reduced responsibilities where I am now. It would have to be so transparent that there is not a hint of suspicion."

He added that he is quite happy to be a "guinea pig" for the "hugely important" new ethics rules.

The rules were passed by MEPs in an effort to spruce up the European Parliament's image after an embarrassing cash-for-amendments scandal earlier last year.

At the time, transparency campaigners complained that the rules do not go far enough and highlighted the fact there is no blanket ban on secondary employment.

One parliament source indicated that the parliament cannot take a pre-emptive decision based on the code, and scrutiny will only kick in when and if Penttila becomes an MEP.

"It is up to him to inform himself now and then take a decision about whether he wants to go ahead," the source said.

Meanwhile, in Finland the will-he-won't-he nature of the debate has not only kept the media busy but has had consequences for others.

Petri Sarvamaa, a well-known TV journalist-turned-politician, spent September to December last thinking he was coming to Brussels as the next person on the list after Penttila.

He started practical preparations for the move to the EU capital, including hiring three assistants, who themselves resigned from the jobs they were holding at the time.

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