Demonstrators in Berlin demanding a cooling-off period for politiciansImage: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Gambarini
The move from politics to business
Interview: Nicole Goebel
July 3, 2015
The German parliament has passed long-awaited legislation to regulate politicians' switch from politics to business. Lobby Control's Timo Lange welcomed the law, but told DW it does not go far enough.
According to the law parliament passed on Thursday, after the government approved it at the beginning of February, high-level politicians like ministers and deputy ministers in Germany have to inform the government if they want to take up a position with a company, business organization or other association within 18 months of resigning their position in politics.
The government can then decide whether to enforce a ban if taking up the post is against the public interest, for example if a minister joins a company whose interests are in the same field as his or her previous post in government. The fear is that sensitive information could be passed on, or that former politicians could use their contacts to influence decision-making.
The law is a first for Germany, but critics say it is not sufficient, as the cooling-off period is too short and no sanctions are in place.
In recent years, several politicians switched to controversial new roles, stoking the debate. The most prominent was former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, who took a position at pipeline consortium Nordstream less than six months after stepping down as chancellor.
DW: Lobby Control and others have criticized the legislation as insufficient, what is your main complaint?
Timo Lange: Since its inception 10 years ago, Lobby Control has been campaigning for binding rules that regulate the switch from politics to business, so, first of all, we're happy to see that we now have a legal framework for this for the first time.
For us, the transition time that's been set is too short. Lobby Control and others, like Transparency International, recommend three years, because it's important that the networks and contacts and also the knowledge someone has acquired during his or her time in office - at the taxpayers' expense - have sufficiently cooled off so that the ability to influence during someone's time in office is also diminished.
Give us an example of a politician who made that switch in a way you deem unacceptable?
One example is former Development Minister Dirk Niebel, who during his time in office was also part of the Cabinet's security committee and thus involved in decisions on weapons exports. He then became chief lobbyist for weapons firm Rheinmetall.
It's those cases where there is a direct correlation between the interests of the new employer and his or her area of responsibility in office. It gives the impression that wealthy companies or organizations in particular can "buy" contacts and technical knowledge and use former politicians to open doors for them.
How does Germany compare to other countries on this issue?
The so-called "revolving door" effect is an issue in other countries, too, like in the US, which has already introduced a mandatory cooling-off period. In Brussels, we've also seen such a cooling-off period in place for a few years now. It's obvious that the German legislation was well overdue.
But many EU countries, like the UK for example, do not have binding rules in place?
No, not every country in Europe has regulation in place. But it's something the OECD [Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development - the ed.] recommends, not just for the top positions like ministers and deputy ministers, but also, generally, for people who work in ministries and other connected areas, to set so called post-employment rules to protect the integrity of the political institutions and strengthen people's trust in them.
Lobby Control, Friends of the Earth and Corporate Europe Observatory have recently published a study on the EU's Code of Conduct and how efficient it has been with regard to regulating MEPs' side jobs. It found that it's not being applied as stringently as it could be?
First of all, it's very positive that we've had this code now since 2012. But the code does not regulate conflicts of interests clearly enough. In our study, we've listed examples of MEPs who are making substantial amounts of money with employers who at the same time, conduct lobbying work in Brussels, and those are conflicts of interest that must be addressed and should not be allowed.
We also criticize that the EU Parliament president, Martin Schulz, does not use his influence with MEPs enough to make sure they adhere to the code of conduct.
Do you have an example of an MEP who does not meet your requirements on this issue?
We were happy to see that as a reaction to our study, a German MEP [Christian Democrat Birgit Collin-Langen - the ed.] resigned from her post at energy company RWE to rule out the slightest notion of a conflict of interest.
Timo Lange is a campaigner for Lobby Control, a non-profit organization that aims to push through stricter rules on lobbying in Germany and at EU level in Brussels.