Ombudsman criticises the ‘revolving door’ of the European Commission – POLITICO

European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly said following a wide-ranging investigation, the European Commission should take a tougher stance on ex-employees moving into the private sector.

In recent years, regulators and civil society groups have raised concerns that some commission officials – including commissioners and prominent public servants – are leaving the public service for lobbying and consulting jobs, which could constitute a conflict of interest.

Recent controversial moves include Recruitment Carles Esteva Mosso, former Deputy Director General of State Aid at DG Competition, partner in the antitrust and competition practice of law firm Latham & Watkins, and longtime European Commissioner Günther Oettinger A lot of The role of the private sector.

At the same time, there are growing questions about the Commission’s ability and willingness to impose restrictions on former employees now working in the private sector.

In a report, O’Reilly wrote: “Commissions should take a stronger approach to transitioning their most senior staff to private sector jobs shortly after leaving or retiring, consistent with their work on the commission. related.” report after reviewing 100 committee decisions made between 2019 and 2021.

The Ombudsman found that of the 100 decisions reviewed – including turning to consultancies, law firms, academia and NGOs – the committee had rejected just two requests.

Former EU budget commissioner Günther Oettinger | John Tice/AFP for Getty Images

Under the committee’s rules, staff members are required to obtain permission from the agency to undertake new activities within two years of leaving the company. The committee reviews each request to see if there is a risk of a conflict of interest and may ban prospective work or limit what former staff members can do in new roles. Meanwhile, senior committee officials have been barred for a year from lobbying their former agency on issues over which they were responsible for the last three years of the committee.

In an interview with POLITICO this week, O’Reilly said that while there have been some improvements, “the committee is too lenient and very reluctant to veto work, even for a period of time.” While the investigation found no “mismanagement,” monitoring The staff did point out a series of problems with the current system.

“Sometimes the assessments they do can be very sketchy,” she said.

In one case, the Ombudsman wrote in her report, “A senior manager was authorised to undertake post-employment activities despite a direct link to work carried out during the last three years of service, although it was difficult to verify that the restrictions imposed would be obey.”

In an interview, she said there was a “difference” between “what the committee thinks the person won’t do and what the company expects — or at least, to their potential clients, to advertise the new person as.”

When lobbying agencies and consultancies hire former senior EU officials, they often issue statements highlighting how the new staff’s EU policy experience will contribute to their companies – even if the officials are not allowed to use their insider knowledge under the Commission’s rules or network to help private clients.

In response to the Ombudsman’s inquiry, the committee A spokesman said the agency was following the rules.

“The committee notes that the Ombudsman has not identified any instances of maladministration,” the spokesman said in an email.

The spokesman added: “The Ombudsman concluded this investigation without a recommendation. This means the Commission’s approach was reasonable and in line with the rules.”

But while the investigation did not yield a formal recommendation, the ombudsman did make several recommendations that the committee should temporarily ban jobs if they pose a risk that cannot be mitigated by properly monitored and enforced restrictions.

These include a set of “what-if” examples of which the Commission should consider a temporary ban, including a situation in which a “senior official” of the EU’s DG Competition requests a “transfer to a private company specializing in the challenge”. Senior anti-dumping officials want to “transfer to a private company whose core business is anti-dumping” cases.

European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly | Via EPA’s Lauren Dubrule/EFE

As part of the investigation, ahead of a meeting with the European Commission, the ombudsman in November single out The Commission’s Competition Bureau said the “strategic Director General … continues to move top lawyers to private sector entities with significant commercial interests in competition regulation.” Third high-profile competition in less than a year Officials made the announcement. remain Appointed a law firm representing large tech companies.

Another situation in which the ombudsman said a temporary ban should be considered is if a senior official of the Commission’s general secretariat, who has an extensive network within the agency, wishes to join a Brussels-based law firm dealing with EU matters.

O’Reilly also floated the idea that the board could offer new jobs by posting a description of the board’s restrictions on the employer’s website, based on the former employee’s commitment to the new employer.

“No one is going to destroy people’s life chances,” she said. “I think the committee has to be more imaginative.”

A committee spokesman said Berlaymont would have until mid-November to respond to the ombudsman.

“We will carefully analyse each recommendation and assess which can be implemented in a legal and effective manner,” the spokesperson noted.

“The Commission,” the spokesperson added, “is implementing existing rules for all categories of staff, including senior management, in an effective, robust and proportionate manner.”

Simon Van Dorpe and Sarah Wheaton contributed reporting.

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