EU Ombudsman investigates the European Commission

The European Ombudsman, P. Nikiforos Diamandouros. (EC Audiovisual Services).

The European Ombudsman, P. Nikiforos Diamandouros. (EC Audiovisual Services).

At last the European Ombudsman, Paraskevas-Nikiforos Diamandouros, announced an independent investigation on European Commission’s personnel, who take up highly paid positions in the private sector, after retiring from the service, or leaving the service earlier. This is called the “revolving doors syndrome”, meaning exactly that. The relevant announcement issued yesterday the Ombudsman’s spokeswoman, Ms Gundi Gadesmann, is quoted here below.

“The European Ombudsman, P. Nikiforos Diamandouros, has opened an inquiry into how the European Commission implements its rules concerning conflicts of interest in “revolving doors” cases.  This follows a complaint from Corporate Europe Observatory, Greenpeace, LobbyControl, and Spinwatch.

The term “revolving doors” is used to describe a move by public sector staff to closely linked jobs in the private sector, or vice versa. The Ombudsman will look into the complainants’ allegation about a systemic failure on the part of the Commission to deal properly with such cases.

As a first step, he has asked the Commission to provide him with a list of potentially relevant cases it has dealt with over the past three years. The Ombudsman will then decide which of the individual files to inspect.  If he finds indications of a systemic problem, he will open an own-initiative inquiry”.

As of its institutionalisation the European Commission was vested with powers that may tempt the weak souls. The initial idea of the Founding Fathers was that the Commission should be very powerful and independent from member states’ political influence. Towards this end the power to propose legislation was vested exclusively upon the Commission. Together with that the Commission was given almost limitless discretional powers, while applying this legislation. With the last Lisbon amendment of the European Treaties the Commission’s institutional prerogative didn’t change much. Simply the EU legislation approval procedure incorporates now all the three basic EU bodies, including the Parliament and the Council. Still however the Commission retains the exclusivity of proposing legislation and has kept intact the discretional authority while applying it.

The Commission retains the prerogative

For as long as the European Commission was the small “civil crevice” made up of French, German and western European civil servants, who were first distinguished in their country’s cervices and them undertaking Brussels mandate, the Commission functioned properly. With the successive enlargements however this initial “esprit de corps” was watered down and the Commission civil service was transformed into a huge administrative apparatus. In reality the Commission services retained their initial authorities, but lost the ideological and the corporate mentality, needed to effectively service it.

In this way a European Commission job became for many people just a means of professional promotion. Today the European Commission numbers tens of thousands of professional and administrative employees of divergent origins. The personal character is totally lost and the traditional trust has disappeared for ever. In such an environment the people who serve in the European Commission do not constitute one well defined total.

Unfortunately the internal control mechanisms have not developed, together with the size of the Commission services. As a result incidents of Commission employees servicing private interests multiply. The reason is that the administrative procedures to control that, have not evolved adequately. Consequently some Commission employees “use” their civil service mandate, sometimes quite openly to gain professional and individual distinction. Obviously they eye a much better paid job in the private sector. The question is what they have “sold” to gain this.

In view of all that the European Commission has set certain standards for its employees who undertake jobs in the private sector, after quitting the service. Servicing the same industry as a regulator and subsequently as private player is a provocation in itself.

In view of all that the European Ombudsman initiated this investigation. The European Sting will be monitoring very closely this issue.

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