European Ombudsman urges EU institutions to take tougher stance on tackling “revolving door” personnel

Call follows introduction of new measures by the European Banking Authority aimed at curbing moves to lucrative lobbying jobs in the private sector.
European parliament AV

07 Sep 2020

European Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly has urged the EU institutions to take a tough stance on staff that leave for potentially lucrative jobs in the private sector.

This comes after the European Banking Authority (EBA) agreed to introduce new measures, O'Reilly had recommended, to deal with future so-called “revolving door” cases.

The influential agency, based in Paris, has told the ombudsman that it is ready to forbid senior staff from taking up certain positions when they leave the EBA in the future.

The Irish official had earlier found that the EBA should not have allowed its former Executive Director to become CEO of a financial lobby association.

Adam Farkas left the EBA to become Chief Executive of what is widely regarded as the most powerful financial lobbying group in Brussels - the Association for Financial Markets in Europe (AFME). O'Reilly said the EBA should have forbidden the job move.

Farkas’ behaviour outraged the European Parliament, with MEPs adopting a resolution condemning the move and calling on MEPs to avoid meetings with him. It even requested that he should not obtain a badge necessary to enter parliament’s premises.

O’Reilly said the EBA/Farkas case amounted to maladministration.

“The EBA has worked hard to give full effect to the recommendations I issued in this case. I am confident that the wide range of measures it has introduced will help it avoid damaging revolving door moves in the future. Other EU institutions and agencies should draw on these new EBA safeguards when revising their own rules.” European Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly

Speaking in the European Parliament on Thursday, she said, “I am pleased that the EBA has accepted my recommendations following the complaint about its former executive director.”

She told MEPs on the assembly’s Petitions Committee, “I now hope that other EU agencies and the European Commission will also look at what the EBA is doing and take note.”

The EBA has, she notes, also adopted a new policy for assessing post-employment restrictions and prohibitions for staff. It has put in place procedures to immediately suspend access to confidential information for staff known to be moving to another job.

The Ombudsman’s probe came after a complaint from Change Finance (a coalition of civil society groups) into the EBA’s decision to allow Farkas to move to the AFME.

O’Reilly said, “The EBA has worked hard to give full effect to the recommendations I issued in this case. I am confident that the wide range of measures it has introduced will help it avoid damaging revolving door moves in the future. Other EU institutions and agencies should draw on these new EBA safeguards when revising their own rules.”

“I also welcome the Commission’s decision to put in place a two-year cooling-off period on meetings with the CEO of AFME until 1 February 2022.”

Her inquiry showed that, although the EBA was informed of the job move on 1 August 2019, its outgoing executive director had access to confidential information until 23 September 2019.

The Ombudsman was in parliament to present her annual report for 2019 which showed that she handled 2,201 cases and had opened 458 of these during the 12 months period. Most complaints came from Spain – 285 – while most inquiries were from Belgium (88).

These range from ethics and transparency to the way EU funds are spent and personnel issues.

She also raised the issue of “sponsorship” of EU presidencies and the “perception of undue access to EU policy making.” A complaint about corporate sponsorship had led to her opening a case into the issue, she told committee members.

The official, who spoke via a video link to the committee, noted that the current German EU Council presidency had decided not to accept any sponsorship during its six month tenure.

The official also spoke about the importance of transparency in the Eurogroup, saying this is “essential for enabling the public to scrutinise how decisions concerning Eurozone governance are prepared and taken.”

On council accountability, she made two recommendations: on the recording of national governments’ positions and advocating less use of restricted classification of documents.

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