The revolving doors of EU Commissioners

25th March 2016 / EU

One in three (9 out of 26) outgoing EU commissioners who left office in 2014 have gone through the ‘revolving door’ into roles in corporations or other organisations with links to big business, leading to fears of an unhealthily close relationship between the EU’s executive body and private interests, according to a new rpeort (press release here). In our view, at least eight revolving door roles, held by four commissioners, should not have received authorisation at all, due to the risk of possible conflicts of interest. These are: authorisation of ex-commissioner (and now MEP) Viviane Reding to sit on the boards of the mining company Nyrstar 1, Agfa Gevaert, and the Bertelsmann Foundation (which has strong ties to the global media giant of the same name), and Siim Kallas to provide consultancy to IT company Nortal. Meanwhile, other members of the Barroso II Commission (which handled the fallout from the global financial crash of the late noughties) are now on the payroll of Bank of America Merrill Lynch (Neelie Kroes) and a major private equity firm CVC and wealth management firm Merit Capital (Karel De Gucht). Former Trade Commissioner De Gucht, who started the EU-US trade negotiations TTIP, has also received the blessing of the current Commission to join the telecoms company Belgacom (now known as Proximus) 2. Additionally, the former Commission PresidentJosé Manuel Barroso himself has taken on new roles at the corporate lobby-fests of the European Business Summit and Bilderberg Conference.

This, however, is not a new problem. In 2011 Corporate Europe Observatory, LobbyControl, and others via the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU) demanded better rules to tackle the revolving door after a series of scandals involving previous commissioners. We were told by the Barroso II Commission that its reformed rules reflect “best practice in Europe and in the world”. But the analysis in this report about the departing members of the second Barroso Commission, shows that the revolving door rules remain inadequate and poorly implemented.

Former EU Commission President has 22 new roles - yes 22!

Former EU Commission President has 22 new roles – yes 22!

The tight-knit world of politicians, civil servants, industrialists, and lobbyists known as the ‘Brussels bubble’ lends itself to unhealthily close relationships between regulators and the regulated. Add in the phenomenon of the revolving door between the public and private sectors, and there is great potential for conflicts of interest. The revolving door reflects one aspect of the corporate capture of the EU decision-making process.

In the hierarchy of EU decision-makers the 28 European commissioners, one for each of the member states, would probably be regarded as the most important. Individually and collectively they are responsible for initiating and negotiating laws and regulations affecting 500 million citizens. It was therefore shocking to see the way in which five out of thirteen departing commissioners who served in the first Barroso Commission (2004-2010) spun through the revolving door into problematic new roles when they left office. Former commissioners, who collectively had just been handling the fall-out from the financial and economic crises, joined the boards of insurance giant Munich Re, bank BNP Paribas, and mortgage and life insurance company Credimo, to name just a few.

Most notoriously, Charlie McCreevy who had been the Commissioner for the Internal Market joined the derivatives trading unit of global investments company BNY Mellon, the board of Ryanair, and the board of Sentenial which offers payment technology to banks. Meanwhile, Günter Verheugen, the former Commissioner for Enterprise and Industry, founded consultancy firm the European Experience Company with his former Head of Cabinet, joined the international advisory board of lobby consultancy FleishmanHillard and became Senior Advisor and Vice Chairman of global banking and markets in Europe, Middle East and Africa at the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS).

The furore that resulted was immense. Over 50,000 people signed a petition organised by the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU) to demand action to block the revolving door. Eventually the rules, contained in the Code of Conduct for Commissioners, were reformed and mild improvements were introduced. See annex for a detailed explanation of the current rules.

Yet, despite this, as this report illustrates, the problem of the revolving door has continued as the Barroso II Commission left office.

Corporate Europe Observatory has demonstrated how attempts by corporations and corporate lobby groups to influence EU policies were more successful than ever under the Barroso II Commission, in part due to a close relationship with the Commission. CEO’s Black Book showed how the Barroso II Commission came to act on behalf of corporations whether it was in the fields of climate, agriculture and food, or finance, economic and fiscal policies. The questions this report set out to answer are: to what extent has this corporate capture continued, via the revolving door, and how effective have the revised rules been in preventing it?

Read the full article and associated reports from Corporate Europe Observatory

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