Concern about “revolving door” cases in the European Union
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Concern about “revolving door” cases in the European Union

Campaigners have voiced concern about the “revolving door” case of former  EU commissioner Algirdas Semeta. Semeta was European commissioner for taxation and customs union, audit and anti-fraud from 2010-14.

Now he has Commission approval to become the Ukrainian business ombudsman.

Corporate Europe Observatory, a Brussels based group,says that if the task of the “Ukraine Business Ombudsman” is limited to fighting corruption, “then the risk of conflicts of interest seems limited.”

It adds, however, “But the definition of “unfair treatment of business” seems open-ended and statements business lobbies appear to indicate that they expect Semeta to act on a wider range of issues.”

CEO says the mandate of the ombudsman is to “(a) receive, examine and facilitate the resolution of complaints by business of unfair treatment including corruption; and (b) ascertain the systemic causes of the unfair treatment of business and corruption, and share its findings with the public and the appropriate public authorities.”

The Commission’s ad hoc ethical committee was asked to consider Semeta’s new role, especially because of the “links” to Semeta’s previous Commission portfolio.

The committee approved the role saying that “the position of “Ukraine Business Ombudsman” is essentially one of independent service in the public interest”.

 The three-man ad hoc ethical committee took four days to deliver its verdict, a verdict which the Commission accepted in its meeting on 25 November 2014.

CEO says it contacted Semeta via twitter and facebook for a response to its concerns but he did not reply.

A spokesman for CEO said, “While the Commission’s ad hoc ethical committee has decided that the position of Ukraine Business Ombudsman is “essentially one of independent service in the public interest”, it is perhaps surprising that no further conditions were applied to this role, considering its links with business interests.

“For example, in CEO’s view, the Commisison should have clarified that Semeta should not lobby (directly or indirectly) any part of the Commission, on behalf of any of the “Parties” involved in his new role, on any issue.”

The current code of conduct for commissioners says that when they leave office they must abide by an 18 month notification period, during which time they must seek Commission authorisation for any new professional activities.

The code further stipulates that the Commission should seek the view of its ad hoc committee if the new professional activity is related to the commissioner’s former portfolio.

All commissioners are banned for 18 months from lobbying “members of the Commission and their staff for his/her business, client, or employer on matters for which they have been responsible”.

The lobby ban is waived when former commissioners take up public office.

In CEO’s view, there are several loopholes and problems with these rules.

It says the notification and lobby ban periods are “far too short; lobbying is not defined; and the targets and content of proscribed lobbying are too narrowly-drawn.”

By Martin Banks