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Europe

EU Top Appointee Accused of Conflict of Interest

EU lawyers have dismissed charges that the union's next farm commissioner could face a conflict of interest because she owns a large farm. But the issue could still come up during confirmation hearings in October.

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Mariann Fischer Boel is the EU's designated new farm commissioner

Pressure is growing on Mariann Fischer Boel, the Danish politician recently nominated to take over as EU agriculture commissioner in November.

Reports about the 61-year-old's possible conflict of interest first hit the Danish papers: Boel and her husband own a 204-hectare (500-acre) farm on the Danish island of Funen.

She inherited the farm from her grandfather, who reportedly invented Danish blue cheese. Boel receives about €60,000 ($74,200) in EU agricultural subsidies yearly for growing flowers and fruit. As agriculture commissioner, Boel will oversee the distribution of more than €40 billion ($49 billion) in annual subsidies.

No legal impediment

Journalists in other countries picked up the story, leading EU officials to call back lawyers from vacation for an expert opinion on the issue. After examining the case, the lawyers concluded that there was no legal reason to bar Boel from the job.

"There is no incompatibility between her ownership of land and being a member of the commission," said Stefaan de Rynck, a spokesman for the commission.

He added that EU lawyers had also looked at Boel's efforts to distance herself from ownership of the land under Danish law: While Boel owns the land, her husband actually runs a company that receives income from the farm and pays its taxes, she told the commission, according to Reuters news agency.

A code of conduct

Barroso von EU-Parlament bestätigt

Jose Barroso

While Boel's been exonerated legally, European Commission President-designate Jose Barroso (photo) will have to deal with the issue: Commissioners are required to adhere to a strict code of conduct. Side jobs -- paid and unpaid -- are not permitted. Commissioners also have to declare all their spouses' interests.

"That code of conduct is there to assure full transparency, to make sure that all interests are known to the public opinion, to the media," de Rynck said. "That transparency is there to assure full independence in the exercise of (a commissioner's) mandate -- from national interest, from any company interest or personal interests."

Questionable record?

Until two weeks ago, Boel served as Denmark's agriculture minister. The fact that she was picked by her government as an EU commissioner hasn't been welcomed by all farming experts: Boel has a reputation as a supporter of large-scale farms and industrial agricultural factories, many of which already exist in Denmark and the Netherlands.

That's a problem for smaller farms, some EU parliamentarians fear already, according to German public broadcaster WDR. The European Parliament must approve commission appointments before the new term starts on Nov. 1. The new commission is scheduled to hold a first informal meeting for "team-building and internal organization" on Friday.

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