EU Ombudsman’s inquiry into conflicts of interest

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Tackling all sources of conflict of interest is crucial to ensure the credibility of political decision-making, say MEPs in a resolution on EU Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly’s work in 2015, voted on Thursday. Parliament also reiterated its worries about former EU Commission President José Manuel Barroso’s appointment as non-executive chairman of Goldman Sachs International, and called on the Ombudsman to initiate a strategic inquiry into the Commission’s handling of this case.

Parliament’s resolution was passed by 557 votes to 24, with 44 abstentions. It welcomes the continuation of the European Ombudsman’s investigations into Commission “revolving door” cases in which former senior EU officials take private sector jobs in their fields of expertise soon after leaving their posts, which may result in conflicts of interest.

MEPs note in particular Mr Barroso’s appointment last summer as non-executive chairman of the Goldman Sachs International investment bank, and call on the Ombudsman to initiate a strategic inquiry into the Commission’s handling of this case.

But they also underline that the scope for conflicts of interest in policy making is much broader, and that particular attention needs to be paid to it when appointing candidates to positions in any EU institution.

“This report raises several important issues which the Ombudsman has been dealing with in 2015 and which need further attention. We welcome her efforts for greater transparency, and urge her to push for more openness in order to safeguard the good administration and democratic accountability within the EU decision-making process”, said Parliament’s rapporteur Notis Marias (ECR, EL).

Focus on transparency

As in recent years, transparency-related issues top the Ombudsman’s list of 278 inquiries opened in 2015. Parliament praises her continued efforts to increase openness within the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) talks and three-way informal negotiations on legislation between the European Commission, Parliament and Council (“trilogues”).

MEPs also call on the Ombudsman to push for more clarity and good administration within the European Central Bank, highlighting its importance as a member of the so called “Troika” (with the EU Commission and the IMF) and of Commission expert groups.

Protecting whistleblowers

The resolution welcomes the fact that in 2015, all EU institutions introduced internal rules on whistleblowing.

Parliament nonetheless again stresses the need for an EU directive on whistleblowing, containing minimum appropriate guarantees and legal safeguards for people revealing illegal or unethical activities in the public or private sectors.

Make lobbying more open

MEPs support the Ombudsman’s work to make EU lobbying more open, and call on the Commission to make all information on lobby influence available free of charge and easily accessible to the public through an online database.

They also welcome the Commission’s recent proposal for a mandatory lobby register for all EU institutions, aimed at closing all loopholes concerning the activities of individuals and companies working on influencing EU decision-making.

Emily O’Reilly

The European Ombudsman investigates complaints about maladministration in the institutions and bodies of the European Union. Emily O’Reilly (Ireland) was re-elected European Ombudsman by the Parliament at its plenary Strasbourg session on 16 December 2014.