by Rachel Tansey
Potential conflicts of interest continue to plague the European Parliament one year after elections, finds new research released today.
The report from Friends of the Earth Europe, Corporate Europe Observatory and LobbyControl, details nine cases of MEPs who have other jobs while holding public office and are at risk of potential conflicts of interest.
All nine MEPs hold paid positions in companies or business associations that directly or indirectly lobby EU decision-makers on current legislative files. The cases include parliamentarians from Poland, Italy, Germany, Belgium, France, the UK, Denmark and Austria  – some of which had already given rise to concerns in the last parliamentary term.
Paul de Clerck of Friends of the Earth Europe said: “It is not acceptable that MEPs work for companies that are at the same time lobbying the EU. This undermines public trust in law-making and the integrity of the European Parliament. MEPs should be their electorate’s representative, not industry’s representative.”
The report authors point out that the existing code of conduct for MEPs, introduced in 2012, is insufficiently enforced and riddled with loopholes so that problematic cases keep arising.
Olivier Hoedeman from Corporate Europe Observatory said: “Voters deserve better than a weak code of conduct that has done very little to end the problem of undue influence and potential conflicts of interest. Parliament's President Martin Schulz should act on this now and show citizens that he's serious about tackling this threat to democracy.”
Nina Katzemich from LobbyControl said: “Three years after the code of conduct was adopted, there are still many MEPs with potential conflicts of interest and dubious declarations of financial interest. It is high time for an overhaul. We demand the parliament bans all side jobs in companies or associations that try to influence EU legislation.”
Friends of the Earth Europe, Corporate Europe Observatory and LobbyControl are recommending the parliament’s code of conduct be strengthened in the following ways:
Develop a clear definition of the circumstances under which side activities by MEPs constitute a conflict of interest. This must include a ban on MEPs holding positions in companies, trade associations and other groups that are trying to influence EU legislation.
Prohibit MEPs from accepting external support, be it staff or financial support (with the exception of political parties).
Implement tighter disclosure requirements for outside financial interests, force MEPs to be more specific about their outside earnings, and ensure full disclosure of any monthly income above €10,000 as well as giving more detailed descriptions of ambiguous job titles.
Change the composition of the advisory committee on the code of conduct for MEPs to include independent ethics experts, and enable it to investigate any potential conflict of interest independently as required.
Strengthen sanctions for MEPs with conflicts of interest.