European Ombudsman to launch new probe on EU ‘revolving door’ job moves

Fresh inquiry 'important for maintaining trust' in EU institutions, says Emily O’Reilly.
Adobe Stock 228105447

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

19 May 2021

A fresh probe has been launched into how the European Commission handles so-called ‘revolving doors’ cases among its staff.

The inquiry, by European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly, is part of an ongoing monitoring programme of how the executive implements “ethics obligations” on staff who move from EU jobs to the private sector.

The Irish-born Ombudsman said she will inspect 100 personnel files related to decisions by the Commission on requests by senior and mid-level managers for approval of either new employment or of unpaid leave in order to undertake another activity.

The files cover a total of 14 directorate-generals in addition to all Commissioner cabinets, the Commission’s legal service, secretariat-general, internal think tank and the Regulatory Scrutiny Board.

She said the “wide scope” aims to ensure a broad understanding of how such decisions are taken across a range of Commission departments.

O’Reilly added, “Robust management of the ‘revolving doors’ issue is important for maintaining trust in the EU institutions.”

“There should be more awareness in the EU administration of the impression it makes on the public when people with regulatory expertise move to the private sector where their knowledge and networks can have significant commercial and other value. That understanding is not yet there” European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly

“Any perception that the rules are not being properly enforced risks questions being raised about whether the EU administration is acting fully in the public interest.”

“The potential corrosive effect of unchecked revolving doors is, in my view, underestimated - this is why my office has focused on it for several years.”

“There should be more awareness in the EU administration of the impression it makes on the public when people with regulatory expertise move to the private sector where their knowledge and networks can have significant commercial and other value. That understanding is not yet there,” added O’Reilly.

The European Ombudsman has already carried out several inquiries related to revolving doors, including one, since closed, about the European Banking Authority and one concerning the European Defence Agency which is ongoing.

O’Reilly has also written to the Commission to ask it to ensure compliance with the conditions it drew up when it approved former EU commissioner Gunther Oettinger’s new role at a communications consultancy, which has a tobacco company as one of its largest EU clients.

A report by Brussels-based transparency watchdog Corporate Europe Observatory sheds light on the Brussels revolving door job changes and, according to German Greens MEP Sven Giegold, ”provides shocking insights.”

”For a better application of the revolving door rules we finally need an independent EU ethics body. This is what we Greens and some NGOs have been demanding for a long time” Sven Giegold MEP

It said that out of 366 applications for transfers of EU officials from the Commission to the private sector and 597 applications for employment in the private sector during a leave of absence in 2019, the Commission has prohibited only six transfers or 0.62% in total.

Giegold said, “Even though many changes may be unproblematic, the few rejections show that the EU rules to prevent conflicts of interest are hardly implemented. Many problematic lobby changes where sensitive knowledge has migrated from EU institutions to lobby organisations are publicly known.”

He added, ”For a better application of the revolving door rules we finally need an independent EU ethics body. This is what we Greens and some NGOs have been demanding for a long time.”

Giegold said this is needed “in order to finally put a stop to the unspeakable sell-out of public interest by revolving door changes.”

No one from the European Commission was immediately available for comment.

Read the most recent articles written by Martin Banks - New EU regulations on AI seek to ban mass and indiscriminate surveillance

Share this page