Campaigners have called for a “stronger” code of conduct for Members of the European Parliament
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Campaigners have called for a “stronger” code of conduct for Members of the European Parliament

The demand comes four years after the “cash for questions” scandal when four members were exposed by a British newspaper accepting cash in return for altering draft EU legislation. The Alliance for Lobby Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU) has now launched an appeal to MEPs to strengthen its ethics rules in order to prevent new lobbying scandals from emerging.

During a public debate held on Tuesday in the European Parliament, the ALTER-EU coalition presented a ten-point set of policy recommendations for a strengthened MEP Code of Conduct.

A key demand is a ban on MEPs holding side jobs with companies or groups that are involved in EU lobbying.

Paul de Clerck, of Friends of the Earth Europe and a member of the ALTER-EU steering committee, said, “Four years after the 2011 ‘cash for amendments’ scandal in the European Parliament, and three years after the adoption of the Code of Conduct for MEPs, it is high time for a review of the rules for MEPs to ensure that conflicts of interest and undue influence are avoided.

“A number of MEPs continue to work for companies or groups that directly lobby EU institutions.”

“That is not in the spirit of the code and we urgently need a clear and specific ban on side jobs that lead to conflicts of interest,” he added.

The alliance highlighted the recent ‘cash for access’ scandal in the UK, which showed how UK Member of Parliament Jack Straw lobbied the European Commission to change EU sugar trading rules on behalf of a lobby consultancy firm.

It says this highlights the need for improvements to ethics rules for elected representatives at both the national and EU levels.

In the wake of this recent scandal, Labour and the Greens have called for a ban on MPs holding second jobs that involve lobbying.

Further comment came from Nina Katzemich, a member of the ALTER-EU steering committee.“To avoid new lobbying scandals, we need President Schulz to play a far more active role. He needs to acknowledge that in cases of clear conflicts of interest, it is not enough to simply be transparent about them.

“Such conflicts must also be resolved. MEPs with conflicts of interest should face thorough investigation and sanctions.”

The ten ALTER-EU recommendations include tighter disclosure requirements for outside financial interests, a strengthened ethics advisory committee and stronger sanctions for violations of the code of conduct.

Yesterday’s public debate featured reactions from several MEPs, including Sven Giegold, who all advocated strengthening ethics rules for MEPs.

ALTER-EU also presented a new booklet entitled “Navigating the lobby labyrinth: A guide to transparency and ethics for MEPs”.

The guide offers practical advice for MEPs on how to navigate the Brussels bubble while maintaining their independence and integrity, especially when it comes to contacts with lobbyists.

By Martin Banks