Public ethics and integrity in the European Parliament and Commission: Achievements and challenges ahead

In the last years, allegations of revolving doors and strong ties between EU representatives and industry lobbyists have revived the discussions on the adequacy of the current rules and enforcement mechanisms regarding standards of ethical conduct in the EU institutions. There have been a series of recent developments aiming at strengthening the existing framework. More specifically, in March 2017 the European Parliament has adopted an own initiative report on “transparency, accountability and integrity in the EU institutions” that calls, inter alia, for sweeping changes in conflict of interest management and exchanges with lobbyists. Soon after, on the occasion of his State of the Union address in September 2017, President Juncker announced a new Code of Conduct for Members of the Commission, which entered into force in February 2018. Currently, inter-institutional negotiations between the Commission, Parliament and Council are underway to restructure the EU lobby regulation instrument – the so-called Transparency Register – so as to render it mandatory and extend its coverage to more EU institutions and bodies.

These recent developments were examined in an inter-disciplinary workshop organised by CERiM Members Dr. Andreea Nastase (FaSOS/UM) and Dr. Natassa Athanasiadou (Faculty of Law/UM) on 25 May 2018 at UM Campus Brussels. The event brought together in a format of an interactive debate scholars of law and political science, Members of the European Parliament, practitioners from the EU institutions and NGO representatives with the aim of taking stock of ethics and transparency measures initiated and/or implemented during the current mandate of the European Parliament and Commission, which is soon drawing to an end. More specifically, the participants explored, in a comparative perspective, points of convergence and divergence in the regulatory and enforcement approaches of the Commission and Parliament as regards both political actors (Commissioners and MEPs) and staff members in the administrative services.

The discussion took place in two panels. The first panel was composed of Dennis de Jong (Member of the European Parliament), Christian Roques (European Commission), Martin Ohridski (European Commission), Daniel Freund (Transparency International EU), Emilia Korkea-aho (University of Helsinki) and Ellen Vos (Maastricht University), and was moderated by Natassa Athanasiadou (Maastricht University). This panel discussed how various integrity risks are regulated within the European Commission and the European Parliament. Integrity risks can be defined as circumstances in which the independence and impartiality of public office holders could be jeopardized. The panel focused in particular on the rules on declarations of conflicts of interests, on situations where individuals take up related private-sector jobs after leaving public employment, or vice-versa (so called revolving doors) and on the relations between public office holders and interest representatives. 

The second panel was composed of Karen Williams (European Commission), Elpida Apostolidou (European Ombudsman), Gabriel Virtop (Assistant to Monica Macovei/MEP), Alberto Alemanno (HEC Paris), Benjamin Bodson (HEC Paris and UCL) and Christine Neuhold (Maastricht University), and moderated by Andreea Năstase (Maastricht University).This second panel focused on enforcement mechanisms and on the actors which get activated when integrity risks/problems arise. A structural distinction was made between “internal actors” within the institutions and “external actors” in the sense of other institutions. As regards internal actors, the focus was on the role and powers of hierarchical superiors, whistle-blowers and the Commission’s Investigation and Disciplinary Office as well as the advisory “Ethical Committees” within the European Commission and Parliament. Concerning the external actors, it was examined what the powers of the European Parliament vis-à-vis the Commissionand the role of the European Ombudsman vis-à-vis both the European Parliament and the Commission are. Particular attention was paid to whether such external control mechanisms should be reinforced, in particular with regards to political actors. 

The event was supported by the Faculties of Law and Social Sciences, by CERiM and the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union. A detailed report on the conclusions of the Workshop will be published on the CERiM website. 

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