4th Dec 2021

MEPs earned millions via side-jobs, NGO says

  • Transparency International EU estimated that up to 39 MEPs potentially earned more than €100,000 a year from side-activities (Photo: European Parliament)
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MEPs' financial declarations have brought to light an array of side-jobs, while posing questions on possible conflicts of interest and sloppy record keeping.

Over one quarter of the bloc's 705 MEPs have declared side-jobs, collectively worth between €3.9m and €11.5m in outside earnings, according to a study by Transparency International EU, an NGO.

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And the money will likely cast a shadow over efforts to create an independent ethics body to ensure codes of conduct are fully respected, the NGO's Vitor Teixeira said.

"The parliament has to agree to the new rules and to the new body. But will they agree considering that so many are able to earn so much of their side-income without any monitoring?," he said on Wednesday (13 October).

Having a side job is not against the rules.

But failing to properly declare it could lead to suspicions of outside influence swaying an MEP's judgement, especially if they legislate on issues dear to their private paymasters.

The current system of self-regulation relies on five MEPs from the different political groups, with the European Parliament president having a final say on any sanctions in case of wrongdoing.

But not a single sanction has been issued over the past five years, leading to a sense of impunity, even though some 25 MEPs did breach the rules.

"Significant side income of elected MEPs always brings with it the risk of conflicts of interest," said German Green MEP Daniel Freund, in a statement.

"Where the side income itself significantly exceeds the parliamentary allowance, the question arises as to what the side-job is," he said.

Freund had spearheaded a European Parliament initiative to create an EU inter-institutional and independent ethics body.

Although the centre-right European People's Party group abstained, the initiative recently passed with a majority vote, meaning the European Commission is now tasked to bring forth a proposal.

Sikorski to update declaration

The NGO, earlier this week, listed Polish centre-right MEP Radosław Sikorski as the highest earning deputy, based on his latest declaration of interest from 2019.

They said he likely took in between €588,000 to €800,000 per year on top of his MEP-salary of €8,757 per month. This included €40,000 a month from Sikorski Global, plus "other consulting" tasks.

Sikorski disputed the figures, in part, because of the manner in which he had listed the declarations.

"The figures listed in the report of Transparency International are not correct," he told EUobserver in an email.

"The income from outside activities in 2020 was much smaller, namely 333 387,92 Polish złoty per annum [€72,800]," he said.

He said he would clarify matters after having declared some activities twice.

"For example, a number of activities are remunerated as part of the activity listed as Sikorski Global, but to highlight the nature of the activity, some activities have been listed as a separate activities in other sections to denote from which organisations I receive remuneration," he said, noting that some figures were therefore listed twice although he was only paid once.

"I will update the declaration to make this clearer," he said.

He also noted his declarations can be found on Polish government websites (here, here and here).

Gozi disputes figures

Sikorski was not alone in disputing the figures cited by Transparency International EU, which based its calculations on their public records.

Among them was French liberal MEP Sandro Gozi, who was cited as having the second biggest salary for side jobs, earning between €360,000 and €720,000 annually.

"As you know, in my previous position, I did earn significant amounts of money for a few years. However, the figures mentioned are wrong," he said by email.

Gozi said his declarations could be found on a French government website, resulting in some €277,000 gross side-income in 2019.

European Parliament declarations are also vague, demanding MEPs to only checkbox earnings spread out across five different income ranges.

Gozi checked five activities with income ranging from between €5,001 to €10,000 per month, as well as other less well-paid jobs.

MEP declares no conflicts

Meanwhile, Finnish socialist MEP Miapetra Kumpula-Natri was also highlighted by the NGO as holding side-jobs that could lead to conflicts of interests.

It noted her paid positions on the boards of two energy companies in Finland - she also serves as a member of the committee on industry, research, and energy.

"Members of city councils hold positions in the energy companies that are city owned," said Miapetra Kumpula-Natri, in an email.

She noted that the energy company Vaasan Sähkö is owned by her home city, Vaasa. Its board also includes people representing the liberals, greens, and the centre-right, she said.

"I was still member of the city council last spring when the board was nominated," she said.

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.

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

Phil Hogan, the former European commissioner for trade, was this month hired by US-law firm DLA Piper, where he will work out of the Brussels office. Critics say the hire poses questions on weak EU ethics oversight rules on lobbying.

German ex-commissioner Oettinger lands Orban job

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.

Consultancies pocketing EU millions prompts MEP grilling

The European Commission spent €542.4m between 2016 and 2020 for studies written by external private contractors. The findings are part of a larger probe into how large consultancies are increasingly landing lucrative contracts, amid questions on possible conflicts of interest.

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