Transparency International condemns EU “revolving door” for lobbyists

La porte tambour du bâtiment Charlemagne de la CE, avec le logo de la commission et le reflet du bâtiment BerlaymontThe EU advocacy office of Transparency International, an NGO committed to combating corruption in government and international organisations, has released a report aimed at exposing the phenomenon of a “revolving door” between EU institutions and the lobby industry. The report highlights cases of senior EU decision-makers moving directly into lobbying positions.

Transparency International analysed the career paths of those 485 former Members of the European Parliament and 27 European Commissioners who were in office during the last mandate (2009-2014) and have since left the EU institutions. The report finds that many of those leaving the EU institutions, and specifically politics, now have activities where risks of conflicts of interest cannot be ruled out.

The most high-profile example was of former Commission President, José Manuel Barroso, who recently joined the board of United States investment bank Goldman Sachs. However the TI report indicates that there is a lot more such transfers taking place under the radar. Although the European Parliament has not yet reached the levels of the US Congress, where an estimated 50% of former Congressmen go into lobbying, things are moving in that direction. An estimated 30 per cent of MEPs who have left politics for other employment in the last few years now work for organisations registered on the EU Transparency Register. The figure is over 50% for former EU Commissioners. Admittedly, not all organisations in this online searchable register – run jointly by the EU Commission and Parliament, but to which the Council has thus far refused to sign up –  are engaged in lobbying. For the sake of transparency, it also lists think tanks, academia, churches and other bodies which are involved in general reflection on the EU and its policies.

Some of the findings of TI’s investigation include:

  • 26 former MEPs have been hired by Brussels lobby consultancies shortly after leaving office.
  • Former Commissioners from the Barroso II Commission have accepted positions in the private sector, including with Arcelor-Mittal, Uber, Bank of America and Volkswagen.
  • Many of these jobs include contacts with the EU institutions or overseeing EU relations.
  • 57 per cent of the accredited lobbyists working for Google have previously worked for the EU institutions.

In terms of safeguards, the report points to the 18-month cooling-off period imposed by the European Commission which its current President, Jean-Claude Juncker has promised to extend. With regards to the Parliament, there are currently no rules in relation to post-employment. Neither institution has clear rules on what EU officials may work at during periods of ‘leave of absence’ and there are cases of clear conflicts of interests when officials have taken leave and gone directly to work for the industry that they had been involved in regulating.

Transparency International concludes its report with a series of recommendations to the EU institutions about how to tighten up the rules in relation to post-employment of its officials. At a time when EU citizens have been losing confidence in the Union, reforms need to be introduced to reassure then that the EU is serious about eradicating conflicts of interest and corruption.