9th Dec 2023

Too many 'revolving doors' cases go unchecked, EU auditors say

  • EU agencies rely on self-declarations by members taking private-sector jobs, falling short of properly monitoring the compliance of former staff with restrictions imposed on them after departure (Photo: Arek Dreyer)
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When officials from EU agencies move on to take private-sector jobs, potential conflicts of interest go often unchecked, according to a report from the European Court of Auditors published on Thursday (27 October).

EU auditors found that only 20 of 40 examined EU agencies looked into any potential 'revolving door' cases among their senior staff.

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Joining the private sector after public service creates a risk of conflicts of interest as EU personnel's previous status, contacts and insider knowledge can benefit their new employers.

According to the auditors, EU agencies are particularly exposed to revolving door situations because they tend to rely on temporary staff and board members usually serve only for a short time.

Only nine EU agencies have introduced specific rules to deal with the risk of revolving doors in relation to their board members — including the European Banking Authority, the European Medicines Agency, and the EU's police agency Europol.

Based on the information auditors received from the agencies, they found that only 25 cases (four percent) were assessed, out of 659 departing board members.

In general, agencies rely on self-declarations by members taking private-sector jobs, falling short of properly monitoring the compliance of former staff with restrictions imposed on them regarding, for example, lobbying old colleagues, according to the report.

"Most agencies do not take any steps to detect whether current staff members may be carrying out undeclared outside activities, or whether their former staff members have taken up new jobs without informing the agency," auditors said.

'Buying internal EU knowledge'

The report comes after EU Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly concluded earlier this year a major inquiry into hundreds of revolving doors cases in the European Commission.

Back then, O'Reilly called for further and stricter rules dealing with this issue, arguing that the movement of EU officials into sectors which they previously regulated has become "problematic".

Echoing the same message, the auditors' report also called on EU agencies to introduce rules dealing with potential conflicts of interest and revolving doors of board members, strengthen internal controls and actively monitor compliance of former staff members with obligations imposed on them after their departure.

The Uber files, for example, revealed this summer that former Dutch former commissioner Neelie Kroes had lobbied for Uber during her 18-month cooling off period after leaving the commission.

German Green MEP Daniel Freund said unchecked revolving doors cases not only undermine citizens' trust in EU institutions but also pose "a security risk".

"It is unacceptable that EU agencies do not check all former board members and senior staff for possible conflicts of interest in their new jobs," he said.

"They allow multinationals, Russia or China to buy internal EU decision-making knowledge".

Ethics body

Freund seized the opportunity to call again on the European commission president Ursula von der Leyen to urgently set up an independent ethics body, announced in her political guidelines in 2019.

This body, Freund said, could help prevent potential conflicts of interest when EU institutions staff take private-sector jobs.

However, it is unclear whether such a body will also cover the 44 existing EU agencies in the bloc.

In September, the commission covered a technical meeting with the European Council, Council, Court of Justice, European Central Bank, Court of Auditors, Economic and Social Committee and Committee of the Regions seeking their opinion to establish this body.

When asked whether a proposal will come to light in 2023, the commission refused to clarify any concrete timeline regarding the creation of the ethics body.


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