EU decides highly paid MEPs can keep second jobs

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Fresh anger was heaped on the failing European Union as it emerged that highly paid MEPs will be allowed to keep their second jobs.

European Parliament members will be able to take home two pay packets in a decision made just months after the controversies surrounding former members Neelie Kroes and Jose Manuel Barroso.

The move to tighten jobs in parliament flies in the face of some MEPs who called on the 27-member bloc to introduce tighter ethical rules.

Lawyers said banning a second job would violate the lawmakers’ fundamental rights.

MEP Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the Liberal groups ALDE will now, in addition to his Parliamentary salary, rake in €144,000 a year from his commitments at investment companies APG and Sofina, according to information obtained by the Transparency International’s EU Integrity Watch.

But it doesn’t stop there because 176 MEP’s reportedly receive income from “outside activities”, with many describing themselves as a “lawyer”, “freelancer” or “consultant”.

Daniel Freund, head of advocacy at Transparency International, told US website, Politico:

“MEPs lined up to criticise the revolving door cases of European commissioners.

“Yet for MEPs themselves there are currently no restrictions upon leaving office. Indeed, they can actually be lobbyists while still in office.”

But lawyers argue: “Any prohibition of activities interferes with the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, as the freedom of MEPs to choose an occupation and the right to engage in work as well as their freedom to conduct a business would be limited.”

MEPs were quick to blast the European Commission after it emerged its former commissioner Neelie Kroes was listed as a director of an offshore company in the Caribbean tax haven of the Bahamas.

Meanwhile, Barroso came under fire for joining banking giant Goldman Sachs, but was recently cleared of any wrongdoing.

Conflict of interest

A conflict of interest is a situation in which a person or organization is involved in multiple interests, financial or otherwise, one of which could possibly corrupt the motivation or decision-making of that individual or organization.

The presence of a conflict of interest is independent of the occurrence of impropriety. Therefore, a conflict of interest can be discovered and voluntarily defused before any corruption occurs.

A conflict of interest exists if the circumstances are reasonably believed (on the basis of past experience and objective evidence) to create a risk that a decision may be unduly influenced by other, secondary interests, and not on whether a particular individual is actually influenced by a secondary interest.

A widely used definition is:

“A conflict of interest is a set of circumstances that creates a risk that professional judgement or actions regarding a primary interest will be unduly influenced by a secondary interest.”

Primary interest refers to the principal goals of the profession or activity, such as the protection of clients, the health of patients, the integrity of research, and the duties of public office. Secondary interest includes personal benefit and is not limited to only financial gain but also such motives as the desire for professional advancement, or the wish to do favours for family and friends.

These secondary interests are not treated as wrong in and of themselves, but become objectionable when they are believed to have greater weight than the primary interests. Conflict of interest rules in the public sphere mainly focus on financial relationships since they are relatively more objective, fungible, and quantifiable, and usually involve the political, legal, and medical fields.

Public interest vs self-interest

Regulating conflict of interest in government should be one of the aims of political ethics. Public officials are expected to put service to the public and their constituents ahead of their personal interests.

Conflict of interest rules are intended to prevent officials from making decisions in circumstances that could reasonably be perceived as violating this duty of office. Rules in the executive branch tend to be stricter and easier to enforce than in the legislative branch.

Two problems make legislative ethics of conflicts difficult and distinctive. First, as James Madison wrote, legislators should share a “communion of interests” with their constituents. Legislators cannot adequately represent the interests of constituents without also representing some of their own.

As US Senator Robert S. Kerr once said, “I represent the farmers of Oklahoma, although I have large farm interests. I represent the oil business in Oklahoma…and I am in the oil business…They don’t want to send a man here who has no community of interest with them, because he wouldn’t be worth a nickel to them.”

The problem is to distinguish special interests from the general interests of all constituents.

Second, the ‘second’ jobs are not illegal and not the same as a bribe. But under many circumstances they can have the same effect. The problem here is how to keep the secondary interest from overwhelming what should be their primary interest—fulfilling the duties of office.