27th May 2022

EU kept in dark on ex-commissioner's new lobby job

  • Ireland's Phil Hogan (l) resigned as EU trade commissioner in August 2020 (Photo: The Council of the European Union)
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The European Commission is unable to say if the Irish former trade commissioner, Phil Hogan, informed them in advance of his new job - at a lobby law firm in Brussels.

"We are actively examining the matter and cannot provide any further comments at the moment," said a European Commission spokesperson, in an email on Monday (20 September).

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The commission instead appears to have learned of Hogan's new job via the Irish media only last week - suggesting its Independent Ethical Committee had never been told.

"We have seen the press article concerned," said the spokesperson, when asked if the committee had approved Hogan's latest job with DLA Piper, a US international law firm.

The firm's main interests in the EU include the same areas Hogan specialised in as a commissioner - ranging from trade to energy policies.

DLA Piper announced Hogan's hire as a senior strategic and political advisor at its Brussels-branch in a 16 September press release. It told EUobserver Hogan started work the same month he had been hired.

The ethics committee is supposed to ensure former EU commissioners follow code-of-conduct rules - which includes a two-year cooling-off period so they do not lobby their former colleagues on the behalf of private interests in the same field they oversaw.

Hogan's cooling-off period only ends in August 2022, a full two-years after he resigned as trade commissioner for breaching anti-coronavirus rules in Ireland.

But the committee had also earlier this year rubber-stamped a consultancy he has set up, called Hogan, Strategic Advisory Services.

The committee highlighted the consultancy's broad and vague areas of interest, noting possible troubling overlaps with his previous job, and asked him not to approach former colleagues.

They then required him to inform them of his new clients every six months, while at the same time promising to keep them secret.

"It is important that Mr Hogan does not accept mandates, which will necessarily lead to a conflict between the need to advise his client appropriately and his obligation not to use confidential information," said the committee.

It may be that he landed the DLA Piper job via his own strategic advice consultancy. If so, he would not need to immediately inform the ethics committee.

But it also poses questions on how the committee can then weed out possible conflicts before they become public.

Margarida Silva, from the Brussels-based transparency NGO, Corporate Europe Observatory, says the imbroglio exposes a weakness in the EU ethics' oversight rules.

"In spite of having 'revolving-doors' rules in place, they are implemented in such a lax way that they don't actually prevent an ex-commissioner from joining the government affairs teams at a lobbying law firm," she said, in an email.

"We believe that the risks associated to this job are so big that it could only be managed by a time limited prohibition," she added.

For its part, DLA Piper said Hogan would respect all the commission rules, in agreement with president Ursula von der Leyen.

"Mr Hogan will advise our client's executive on their business and regulatory decisions as part of our legal and strategic advisory services," said the firm's spokesperson, in an email.

The statement comes after the European Parliament last week demanded that the European Commission come up with a new EU ethics committee before the end of the year, a proposal the Brussels-executive said is needed to "maintain trust for European citizens."

Similar issues have surfaced with other former commissioners, including Germany's Günther Oettinger, in charge of budgets up until 2019. Aside from co-founding his own consultancy firm, he also landed 16 other jobs during his cooling-off period.

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Hungary's PM Viktor Orban appointed controversial former commissioner Guenther Oettinger to a government council in a way that might break EU rules. Oettinger claims he did not know about the appointment.

Negotiations set for new, tougher, EU ethics body

Last week, a majority in the European Parliament voted in favour of creating a new EU ethics body, covering MEPs and the European Commission. German Green MEP Daniel Freund, who spearheaded the report, says negotiations are likely to start soon.

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Some consultancies, such as Brunswick or Kreab, were already refusing Russian clients well before the invasion in late February. Law firm Covington represented the Ukrainian government on a pro-bono basis in its case against Russia at the Hague this week.

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