Commissioner’s ethics, lobby transparency – press conference Tue 12 September 9h30 on major conflicts in Thursday’s vote on the report on transparency, accountability and integrity in the EU institutions
The Giegold report on transparency, accountability and integrity in the EU institutions will be voted on this Thursday 14 September on short notice. The report, as adopted by the Constitutional Affairs committee (AFCO) in March, contains many demands for deepening democracy in the EU institutions including several that are highly political such as lobby transparency, access to trialogue documents and tougher cooling-off periods for the Commission.
Concerning the Commission’s Code of Conduct, the report will most likely go beyond the reform proposal that Commission President Juncker will present the day before during his State of the Union speech. The report calls for more independence of Commission’s ethics committee than Commission is ready to allow for. Conservatives will most likely try to delete this call, but Social-Democrats are committed to defend the report in its present form. (see details below).
As the AFCO adopted report is so far weak on binding lobby transparency for MEPs we present amendments for a mandatory legislative footprint. A similar amendment received a simple majority in the EP plenary of December 2016. This was not enough to immediately change the Parliament’s Rules of Procedure yet would be sufficient this Thursday. This could change the position of the parliament in the ongoing negotiations for an interinstitutional agreement between Parliament, Council and Commission on lobby transparency and integrity issues.
Whether a major leap forward on EU lobby transparency will be achieved depends on those social-democrat MEPs who voted for strong lobby transparency rules in December 2016 against the advice of their group leadership.
Just a week ahead of the German federal elections, the vote puts additional pressure on German MEPs. Conservatives will find it even more difficult to justify their blockade against any progress on lobby transparency. The three German Christian-Democrat (CDU) MEPs were the only ones voting against the report which the AFCO Committee otherwise adopted unanimously in March.
On Thursday’s vote and related conflicts and consequences, I invite warmly to a press conference:
When? Tuesday 12 September at 9h30
Where? Press Bar in Strasbourg for those who can attend in person. Others can dial in to listen to the introductory part. If you like to dial in, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org naming the media you work for. You will then receive the dial in details. Additionally, I can call you back for your questions afterwards.
Sven Giegold MEP
A CONTROVERSIAL REPORT
This Thursday 14 September, the European Parliament will vote on the report on transparency, accountability and integrity in the EU institutions. The Constitutional Affairs committee (AFCO) adopted the report with close to unanimity. The Conservatives, Social-Democrats and Liberals blocked a committee vote between September 2016 and March 2017. Further, there were attempts to take the most controversial issues from the hands of the Green rapporteur Sven Giegold into the hands of MEPs belonging to the two biggest groups, Conservatives and Social-Democrats. This indicates how explosive the report is considered by the leadership of those groups. Decisions on the Parliament’s ethics committee were taken in the Reform of Parliament’s Rules of Procedure in December 2016. The Transparency report was postponed until this decision was taken. On content, this lead to preserve the status quo of the Parliament’s president deciding alone to sanction or not rule-breaking MEPs without any public accountability.
MAJOR CONFLICTS IN THURSDAY’S VOTE
- a) Commission’s Code of Conduct
Last week, the Commission proposed a longer cooling-off period for former Commissioners and more transparency about its ethics committee. However, they clearly failed to address the key problem. So far, the committee, which is hand picked by the Commission, has acquitted all former Commissioners including those who definitely breached the Code of Conduct like Neelie Kroes. The report, as sent to the Plenary by AFCO, calls for an ethics committee chosen independently of those who will be judged. The two paragraphs, which Conservatives will most likely attempt to delete read:
“30. Calls for strengthening the restrictions on former Commissioners by extending the ‘cooling-off period’ to three years and making it binding for at least all activities falling within the remit of the Transparency Register;
31. Believes that decisions on senior officials’ and former Commissioners’ new roles must be taken by an authority appointed as independently as possible of those affected by its decisions;”
- b) lobby transparency for Commission’s policy authors
For more Transparency of Lobbyism in Commission the AFCO adopted report demands to include all relevant staff in what applies so far only to Commissioners, their cabinets and Director Generals: to only meet registered lobbyists and publish all meetings of those who draft EU laws. Conservatives will probably target the respective paragraphs with split votes for deletion. They read:
“5. Calls on the Commission to extend to all relevant Commission staff (from Head of Unit level and above) the practice of meeting only organisations or self-employed individuals that are registered in the Transparency Register;
- Urges the Commission to publish meetings of all relevant Commission staff involved in the EU’s policy-making process with external organisations, while taking account of necessary data protection rules; for other staff present at these meetings, reference to the unit or service should be published;”
- c) binding lobby transparency for MEPs who negotiate EU-laws
While the Commission introduced some tough rules to not meet unregistered lobbyists and to publish lobby meetings, MEPs have committed so far only to non binding rules. Legislative Footprints, lists of lobbyists consulted by MEPs while drafting legislation, are fully voluntary and remain the exception. In December’s reform of Parliament’s Rules of Procedure, the proposed rule “Members should publish online all scheduled meetings with interest representatives falling under the scope of the Transparency register” received a majority (319 yes, 274 no, 110 abstentions) but failed to receive the absolute majority of MEPs needed. For Thursday we propose a similar amendment for which the majority of December would be sufficient. It reads:
“3a. (New) Believes that rapporteurs, shadow rapporteurs and committee chairs shall publish their meetings with interest representatives falling under the scope of the Transparency register on files they hold responsibility for through a legislative footprint; exceptions should protect the life and liberty of informants acting in good faith;”
The introduction of a rule not to meet unregistered lobbyists for MEPs like the existing one for Commissioners faces legal concerns based on the protection of the special freedoms of an MEP’s mandate. Yet, for their assistants, often even more relevant targets of lobbyism, such a rule would be easy to establish. The AFCO supported report therefore contains a paragraph that might be targeted by Conservative or Liberal split votes for deletion. It reads:
“2. Recalls its revision of the Rules of Procedure of 13 December 2016, according to which Members should adopt the systematic practice of only meeting interest representatives that have registered in the Transparency Register, and calls for meetings between interest representatives and Secretary-Generals, Director-Generals and Secretary-Generals of political groups to be included; asks Members and their staff to check whether the interest representatives they intend to meet are registered and, if not, ask them to do so as soon as possible prior to the meeting; urges the Council to introduce a similar provision which includes permanent representations; deems it necessary to oblige registrants in the Transparency Register to produce documents to demonstrate that the information submitted is accurate;”
- d) Cooling-off for MEPs
Parliament demands tougher rules from former Commissioners to cool off before they take up new jobs as lobbyists. Yet, until the Parliament is prepared to make such demands on itself as it asks of the Commission, it will lack credibility in public. Such demand found no majority in AFCO, but will be put to the vote on Thursday. Our amendment reads:
“30a. (New) Calls for the establishment of a cooling-off period for former Members of Parliament of equivalent length to that during which they are eligible for a transitional allowance as defined in Article 13(2) of the Statute for Members of the European Parliament; underlines that former Members of Parliament shall not engage in any kind of remunerated activity which purpose is to influence or enable others to influence EU policy or decision-making during this period;”
Additionally, in the already existing paragraph 31, we ask to add former MEPs:
“31. Believes that decisions on senior officials’, former Commissioners’ *and former MEPs’* new roles must be taken by an authority appointed as independently as possible of those affected by its decisions;”
- e) Lobby transparency of Member States’ representations to the EU
Just a week before German national elections, the European Parliament’s decision comes as a reminder to the government of Angela Merkel’s Conservatives and Social-Democrats to step back from their blockade against progress in the Council of Member States. While, e.g. the Irish representation to the EU lists their lobby meetings similar to the practise of the Commission, lobbying in Germany’s permanent representation remains in the dark. This call on the German and other governments was carried in AFCO and reads:
- Reiterates its call on the Council, including its preparatory bodies, to join the Transparency Register as soon as possible; calls on all Member States to introduce legislation advancing the transparency of interest representation; calls on the Member States to introduce rules whereby interest representatives should make transparent where their contacts with national politicians and public administration are aimed at influencing European legislation;
- f) Access to documents of Trilogues, ECB and ECJ
The report stipulates that the documents of the trialogue between the Parliament, the Commission and the Council will finally be made public. The AFCO supported report includes in paragraph 45 the call:
“45. … considered that documents created in trilogues such as agendas, summaries of outcomes, minutes and general approaches in the Council are related to legislative procedures and should not, in principle, be treated differently from other legislative documents and should be made directly accessible on Parliament’s website, …”
Access to documents should not only apply to the major EU institutions but also to more informal yet powerful formats such as the Eurogroup and the informal ECOFIN as well as other EU institutions such as the ECB and the European Court of Justice. This is intended to strengthen the democratic control of all key institutions. The paragraphs, likely to face requests for deletion by Conservatives read:
“45. … called for the scope of Regulation (EC) No 1049/2001 to be broadened to include all the European institutions it currently does not cover, such as the European Council, the European Central Bank, the Court of Justice and all the EU bodies and agencies, …
54. Believes that decisions taken in the Eurogroup, in the Economic and Financial Committee, ‘informal’ Ecofin Council meetings and Euro summits must be institutionalised, where necessary, and become transparent and accountable, including through the publication of their agendas and minutes, finding a balance between desirable transparency and the necessary protection of the financial, monetary or economic policy of the Union or a Member State;“