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Watchdog criticizes lax anti-lobbying rules for EU politicians

Too many former EU officials face conflicts of interest in their new jobs, according to a leading transparency watchdog. Many politicians and commissioners go on to work for lobbying organizations.

Watchdog organization Transparency International called for stricter ethics rules in the EU on Tuesday, demanding more regulations on the transfer of EU officials and politicians to lobbying organizations to crack down on the "revolving door" from EU agencies to global conglomerates and consulting firms. 

"Most worrying are those situations where senior decision-makers from the EU move directly into positions where they seek to influence former colleagues or their staff or join organisations they have previously regulated," the watchdog said in a new report that tracks how many former EU officials end up as lobbyists.

"All organisations can benefit from the experience and insights that former politicians bring, but there is an issue with those who one minute are drawing up EU laws and the next are lobbying their former colleagues on the exact same issues," said Daniel Freund, one of the authors of the paper.

He said that Transparency does not want the bloc to categorically ban all EU employees from this type of job change, but that current rules for EU commissioners were far too lax, while there were no rules at all for members of the EU parliament. "On the day they leave office, they can do whatever they want", said Freund.

Joining the private industry

Out of 485 politicians who left the EU parliament after the 2014 election, 171 people were no longer working as politicians, according to the report. Of these former EU politicians, 30 percent were working for organizations registered as lobby organizations in the EU register. 26 former parliamentarians are working for consulting firms that are actively trying to influence EU-politics.

Brüssel Proteste zu Interessenskonflikten früherer EU-Politiker (Getty Images/AFP/J. Thys)

A protestor at a demonstration against corruption in the EU co-organized by Transparency International in April 2016

Among EU commissioners, accepting a job in the private industry is far more common, according to the watchdog. More than half of all commissioners who left the Brussels administration since 2009 reportedly started working for organizations registered as lobbying firms.

Transparency mentions Google as an extreme example: 57 percent of the accredited lobbyists who work for the US tech giant previously worked for EU institutions.

A speaker for the EU Commission pointed to existing rules for outgoing commissioners. They have to wait at least 18 months until they can accept a position in the private industry where there previous work in the EU could be relevant.

Commission president to bank lobbyist

Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker had previously endorsed an extension of the waiting period to two years for regular commissioners and three years for the council's president, after his predecessor José Manuel Barroso took a job at investment bank Goldman Sachs. Though he respected the waiting period, Barroso's transfer to one of the credit institutes responsible for the financial crisis was still met with an outpour of critique.  Similar transfers of other commissioners to companies like Arcelor-Mittal, Uber, Bank of America and Volkswagen were also met with outrage.

Frankreich Europaparlament Jose Manuel Barroso (picture-alliance/dpa/P. Seeger)

Controversial new job: former EU Commission President Barroso joined investment bank Goldman Sachs

Transparency sees these cases as symptoms of "systemic problems" in the EU. They called for reforms, asking for the "cooling off" period for commissioners to be doubled to three years. They also called for former EU parliamentarians to be banned from accepting lobbying jobs as long as they were still receiving a temporary allowance financed with tax money.

As a long-term solution, the watchdog demanded that an independent EU agency should be established to keep an eye on conflicts of interest. They pointed to similar regulations in France and Canada as exemplary.

mb/jr (AFP, dpa, Reuters)