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Germany

Moonlighting MP Rekindles Calls for "Transparent Legislators"

A German lawmaker has been criticized for planning to moonlight as manager of a business lobbying group. While most feel he should leave parliament, side jobs for parliamentarians in general remain a hot-button issue.

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Most agree that voters deserve clarity about side jobs of legislators

Norbert Röttgen has little time to spare. During a typical week, the member of Germany's parliament spends about 60 hours representing his constituents -- and that's not counting weekends, when he's back in his district attending events.

Norbert Röttgen

Norbert Röttgen has so far served as his party's parliamentary manager

But despite his full workload, the 40-year-old Christian Democrat, who is often described as a "close confidante" of Chancellor Angela Merkel, now plans to take on another job: Next January, he's expected to become general manager of the Federation of German Industries (BDI), which represents the interests of German businesses.

As a result, Röttgen said he won't seek re-election to parliament in 2009. But citing a responsibility to the people who elected him, the lawmaker intends to keep his mandate until then.

A co n flict of i n terest a n d too much work

While many German parliamentarians -- unlike US lawmakers, for example -- keep working part-time in their professions while in office, a second full-time job remains the exception. That's why Röttgen's move has provoked criticism from across the political spectrum and even a former BDI president.

"I would have never tolerated this," said Hans-Olaf Henkel, who headed the organization between 1995 and 2000.

Bundestag p178

Many seats in Germany's parliament often remain empty as legislators have other obligations

Röttgen would certainly be an asset for BDI, Henkel said. But his simultaneous role as legislator and lobbyist represents a conflict of interest, he added, citing another parliamentarian who moonlights as general manager of the Confederation of German Employers' Associations as a bad precedent. Henkel also said that the BDI job was simply too demanding.

"You can't just run off to parliamentary hearings," he said, adding that he's generally in favor of encouraging parliamentarians to work on the side in order to keep them grounded in society.

A n eed for tra n spare n cy

That's a view shared by many, including members of the German chapter of corruption watchdog Transparency International.

Berlinale Eröffnungsparty im Abgeordnetenhaus

The parliament's not quite as colorful and diverse as the lamps in its cafeteria

"We need the know-how of people who have a professional career," said Jochen Bäumel, a board member of the organization, adding that the additional income and business interests of lawmakers should be made public to create more transparency for voters.

Parliamentarians actually approved a new code of conduct last year. It requires publication of the source and level of extra income. All legislators had to hand over that information to Parliamentary President Norbert Lammert by the end of March. But Lammert decided to delay publication until Germany's highest court has ruled on a complaint against the plan that was filed by six lawmakers.

Fuelli n g e n vy?

"Publicizing side income cannot make transparent any potential conflicts of interest -- it only fuels feelings of envy," said Hans-Joachim Otto, a member of the opposition free-market liberal Free Democratic Party and one of the plaintiffs.

Justicia: Göttin der Gerechtigekeit

Balancing professional and political work is what's important, according to Otto

A lawyer and notary, Otto said that he spends a quarter to a third of his time working in his old profession, but categorically rejects cases that have anything to do with his work as a parliamentarian.

"It makes me more independent and offers me indispensable practical experience," he said, adding that while he disapproves of secondary full-time jobs such as the one sought by Röttgen, he thinks that more of his colleagues should keep working on the side.

"We need successful, experienced people here," said Otto, who approves of publishing general information about side jobs, such as the type of work and memberships in supervisory boards. "But publicizing (extra income) will prevent them from coming."

A ba n o n side jobs?

Others said that financial interests should not become the decisive factor.

Wahlurne mit Wahlzettel

It's up to voters to renew legislators' contracts

"A political mandate isn't just about monetary rewards, it's about being able to make a difference," said Ulrich Eith, a political scientist at Freiburg University, who rejected the argument that legislators had to keep working in their profession since they had no guarantee of re-election.

"If I start a job at a company tomorrow, I also won't get any guarantees that I will be able to remain there for the rest of my life," he said.

The publication of extra income was the minimum voters should demand, Eith added.

"I don't see why parliamentarians should have side jobs when they are paid appropriately," he said.

The citize n calls the tu n e

That's a sentiment echoed by Michael Hartmann, a Social Democratic parliamentarian.

Dossier Bild 1 Gründe für Deutschland

"For the German people," reads the text above the parliament's entrance

"I'm paid by the citizens and they call the tune," he said, adding that as a former government spokesman in the southwestern state of Rhineland-Palatinate, he is in a privileged position as he can return to his old job should voters oust him in 2009.

With a work week of 60 to 80 hours, Hartmann said he didn't have time to take on other work, but added that he was not generally opposed to legislators taking on part-time jobs on the side as long as they publicized it according to the new code of conduct.

"That's something we have to endure," he said. "We need to create as much transparency as possible."

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