Campaigners call for crackdown on rules for MEPs’ second jobs
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Campaigners call for crackdown on rules for MEPs’ second jobs

European Parliament President Martin Schulz has been urged to undertake a review of parliamentary rules in the wake of the cash for access scandal in the UK. Transparency campaigners in Brussels say the British politicial scandal illustrates the “urgent need” to review the code of conduct for MEPs.

The case has taken the UK House of Commons by storm and prompted a vote about banning certain second jobs for MPs.

The Brussels based campaign group Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) says the scandal illustrates existing loopholes in the European Parliament’s own rules and procedures.

In the UK case, two senior MPs, Malcolm Rifkind (Conservative) and Jack Straw (Labour) were caught on camera bragging about the access to decision-makers that they could deliver for fee-paying clients.

Straw boasted to the undercover reporters that he had changed the rules governing sugar production in Ukraine as well as separate sugar regulations at the European level in Brussels.

The scandal takes place almost four years to the day since the European Parliament’s own cash for amendments scandal hit the headlines, when three MEPs were exposed as having agreed to table amendments to change an EU law in return for promised payments; two of the three ended up in jail as a result.

This led to the development of the code of conduct for MEPs which has now been in place for three years.

MEPs Richard Corbett and Sven Giegold have launched initiatives to review the ethics rules in the European Parliament.

But CEO is now calling on Schulz to begin a review of European Parliament rules so that Brussels politicians ‘learn the lessons’ from the affair.

Ahead of Giegold’s upcoming report on parliamentary rules and ethics, CEO is calling for action on second jobs and new Parliament rules on “revolving doors.”

It also hopes to pressure UK Labour MEPs to follow their party leader Ed Miliband’s demand for a ban on outside directorships and consultancies for MEPs.

A CEO spokesman said, “It has been unedifying to watch the current cash for access scandal erupt in the UK.”

At the EU level, it says the MEP code of conduct is “woefully quiet” on the issue of second jobs and “this is one of its greatest weaknesses.”

Transparency International’s Integrity Watch project is said to show how many MEPs have substantial extra earnings, based on their declarations of interest.

CEO says that top of the list is Guy Verhofstadt (a former Belgian prime minister and current chair of the Liberal group in the parliament) who, it says, is a director of a shipping company and an investment company, among other additional jobs.

CEO says that according to his declaration he receives more that €15,000 a month on top of his salary; his attendance rate at the European Parliament is 67 per cent.

The group says that, in all, 10 MEPs earn more than €10,000 a month on the side; 16 earn between €5000 and €10,000; and 111 earn between €1000 and €5000 a month.

In the European Parliament revolving door rules are similarly lacking, it says.

CEO states that recent cases of MEPs leaving office as profiled on its “Revolving Door Watch” project show that this is a cross-party problem and it needs “urgent reform and oversight.”

CEO says that from the Conservatives, “we have seen Martin Callanan (ex member of the environment committee) offer consultancy services, including to Symphony Environmental Technologies; from Labour, ex-MEP Arlene McCarthy is now lobby firm Sovereign Strategy’s deputy chair for European strategy; and from the Liberal Democrats, Sharon Bowles, was chairman of the influential economic and monetary affairs committee, is now a non-executive director at the London Stock Exchange.”

At the European level, enforcement of the code of conduct has so far been “woeful.”

The CEO spokesman says, “Schulz is ultimately responsible and has failed to take action on important cases.

“If we want to stop MPs and MEPs from receiving private gain and boosting corporate interests based on their time in public office, revolving door rules need to be introduced, along the lines of cooling off periods or bans on accepting certain kinds of jobs, including lobby jobs.”

He added, “So once again the challenge is set for political leaders in the UK and the EU: will you really get to grips with our elected politicians’ potential and actual conflicts of interest and introduce the rules and enforcement necessary to tackle them?

“Ed Miliband has demanded tough and immediate action to tackle MPs’ second jobs; will his fellow Socialist Martin Schulz take similar action in the European Parliament?”

By Martin Banks