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NGO slams EU over ethical, transparency standards

AFP | Last Updated: Friday, April 25, 2014 - 00:53

Complex decision-making procedures and opaque bureaucratic negotiations have undermined the European Union`s transparency rules and left the 28-state bloc vulnerable to corruption, a leading NGO has found.

A Transparency International (TI) report, released in Brussels on Thursday, also found EU institutions did not have policies in place to protect whistle-blowers nor to manage conflict of interest concerns in staff appointments. 

The director of TI`s Brussels office, Carl Dolan, said that while EU institutions had "done a lot to put their house in order," that work had been undermined by "complex rules, complacency and a lack of follow-up". 

The report examined governance and transparency mechanisms in place in 10 EU institutions, bodies and agencies, and found their effectiveness had been compromised by poor practices and a failure to allocate sufficient staff and funding. 

Incidents in recent years have highlighted concerns over conflict of interest and corruption within the EU, which has an annual budget of approximately 140 billion euros. 

In 2011, a "cash for amendments" scandal suggested members of the European Parliament were ready to accept bribes. That case broke after a British newspaper had reported that three MEPs had signed contracts to accept payments from journalists posing as lobbyists of up to 100,000 euros in exchange for proposing amendments to bills being debated in parliament. 

In another instance, EU health commissioner John Dalli was forced to resign in 2012 after the EU fraud office found a Maltese entrepreneur used his contacts with Dalli to seek a bribe from a Swedish firm in return for changes to draft tobacco legislation.

The TI report calls for the introduction of a mandatory lobbying register for all EU institutions to record and disclose contact with lobbyists and their role in policy formulation. 

The European Commission, the EU`s executive, responded to the report by saying that it made a "contribution to the ongoing debate on ethics and transparency." 

"We are very proud of the fact that we are one of the most open, transparent and scrutinised institutions in the whole world," said Antony Gravili, a European Commission spokesman. 

"The report clearly recognises that the Commission has taken a comprehensive set of measures, designed to reduce the risk [of corruption] to a minimum, and a very strong framework is in place," Gravili said. 

TI`s European Union Integrity System report also urged the EU to introduce conflict of interest checks for all appointments, to address what is referred to as the EU`s staffing `revolving door` in which officials leave high-level EU positions to work for lobbyists.
In 2013, the European Commission appointed to its ad hoc ethical committee French lawyer Michel Petite, a former Commission official who subsequently worked for a lobbying firm representing tobacco companies. The Commission replaced Petite at the end of 2013.
The report also called on the EU to grant its anti-fraud office OLAF "full organisational independence" -- a reference to the investigation into Commissioner Dalli which prompted accusations by MEPs that the watchdog was too close to the Commission.

First Published: Friday, April 25, 2014 - 00:53

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