The European Commission came under fire today from GUE/NGL MEPs as it sought to fend off the issue of conflicts of interest involving past and present EU Commissioners.
As documents from Bahamas leaks revealed last month Neelie Kroes, former Commissioner for Competition and for the Digital Agenda, failed to declare a directorship in an offshore firm whilst in office.
Kroes is currently a paid advisor to Uber and the Bank of America.
Dennis de Jong MEP, co-president in the Parliament’s intergroup on Integrity, Transparency, Corruption and Organised crime (ITCO), offered three solutions to the issue:
“First of all, don’t give any more provisional approval from the ad hoc ethics committee for risky jobs – and there should be completely independent experts involved.”
“Secondly, lengthening the cooling-off period to three years.”
“Thirdly, clear guidelines over the issue of integrity and discretion and on what that that means for former EU Commissioners. This should ensure clarity for everybody because some clearly don’t know or others don’t want to know,” argued de Jong.
For German MEP Fabio De Masi, Vice-President of the European Parliament’s “Panama Papers” Committee of Inquiry into Money Laundering, Tax Evasion and Tax avoidance (PANA), the Commission’s behaviour is akin to that of a mob:
“Kroes maintained a letterbox company in the Bahamas. She wanted to get the sheikhs and Enron to carve up the gas market whilst regulating the same market in Brussels.”
“We need a strict cooling-off phase. The lobby register must be legally binding and the Commission's expert groups must be transparent and well-balanced,” said De Masi.
“American President F.D. Roosevelt once said, ‘We know now that government by organised money is just as dangerous as government by organised mob’.”
“Too often the European Commission is just another name for European corruption. Kroes, Juncker, Barroso…. enough is enough. Commissioners must serve the people and not big businesses or their own financial interests,” argued De Masi.
Marisa Matias, coordinator on the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs and Portuguese MEP, agreed that stricter guidelines were necessary for the Commissioners’ code of conduct:
“The underpinning problem is that nobody can serve two masters. You either serve financial and personal interests or you serve the people.”
“There are only revolving doors because the circles are so enmeshed. When the Commission is working for citizens, then this type of commissioner won´t have any interest in coming to work at the Commission,” added Matias.
Meanwhile, Irish MEP Matt Carthy – a member of PANA – identified loopholes in offshore tax havens as the major weak link:
“The Bahamas leaks show the urgent need for transparency on shell companies which are at the rotten core of the offshore scam.”
“All countries must ensure that full registers of beneficial ownership of offshore companies, foundations and trusts are in place and open to public scrutiny.”
“But that won’t be enough. We need to close the loopholes of having nominee directors of companies, and dividing up company ownerships – which are used to hide the true owners,” concluded Carthy.
Lastly, Portuguese MEP João Ferreira blamed the Commission’s long culture of cosying up to big banks and businesses for this current predicament:
“Surprise, surprise! Barroso worked for Goldman Sachs when he was EC President. ECB chief Mario Draghi continues to work for Goldman Sachs.”
“But the problem goes deeper than this revolving door. All legislation adopted by the EU in recent years in the financial sector were dictated by the business interests of big banks and insurance companies. There isn´t a code of conduct that will change this culture – only workers and people can fight to change that,” said Ferreira.