Sven Giegold
Member of the European Parliament – Greens/EFA Group

Speaker of the German Green Delegation

Important step against lobby influence: Ombudswoman investigates revolving-door case at the European Investment Bank

Dear friends and all those who are interested,

This is a small but important victory against lobby influence in the European institutions! Today, 25 June 2021, the European Ombudswoman Emily O’Reilly has today launched an investigation into the latest revolving door case at the European Investment Bank (EIB). She will investigate whether the EIB imposed sufficiently stringent requirements on its former Vice-President Emma Navarro when she switched sides to Spanish electricity company Iberdrola last year. This was the Ombudswoman’s response to a complaint I made to her together with my Spanish group colleague Ernest Urtasun.

Emma Navarro’s case involves the typical conflicts of interest that are inevitable in revolving-door changes. Only three months passed between her leaving the EIB and joining the Iberdrola board. During her time at the EIB, Navarro was responsible for the development bank’s Spanish activities. Iberdrola has been one of the largest Spanish borrowers in recent years, with more than €1.3 billion in financing between 2019 and 2021 alone. Several press photos show Navarro repeatedly signing the loan deals together with the Iberdrola boss (for instance here and here).

In response to a letter from Ernest Urtasun and myself, EIB President Hoyer said that Navarro’s move was in line with the EIB’s ethics rules. When members leave the EIB’s Management Committee, during a one-year “cooling-off” period, changes are only possible after approval by the EIB’s Ethics and Compliance Committee. In the case of Navarro, the Ethics Board approved the change of sides on the condition that during the cooling-off period Navarro would not be responsible for any business relations with the EIB as an Iberdrola director and would refrain from any lobbying with regard to the EIB. The Ethics Board also made the non-binding recommendation that the contract with Iberdrola should not restrict her ability to report potential conflicts of interest to the EIB.

These lax requirements do not meet the EIB’s ethics standards or basic good governance requirements of EU institutions. When official and lobbying jobs are as close in substance as in the Navarro case, changes must be prohibited altogether during a sufficiently long cooling-off period. The public interest outweighs here the personal right to free employment of the persons concerned. The European Parliament has already called on the EIB to change its code of conduct in order to prevent possible conflicts of interest of its vice-presidents from the outset: the possibility that the vice-presidents oversee lending or the implementation of projects in their home countries must generally be excluded. With such a requirement, Emma Navarro would not have been allowed to take decisions on lending to Iberdrola during her work at the EIB.

Now the Ombudswoman announces that she will investigate both the specific case of Navarro and the EIB’s ethics rules. In particular, she will look closely at Navarro’s contacts with Iberdrola as EIB Vice-President and when her subsequent employment became apparent.

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for high-ranking public officials to take up positions in companies or lobby organisations in their field of activity immediately after leaving. Few cases attract as much attention as that of Adam Farkas, who took up a board position in the financial lobby organisation AFME in early 2020, the day after his resignation as executive director of the European Banking Authority (EBA). The EBA had imposed lax conditions on him in the process, but did not prohibit his flying change of sides. Following a joint initiative by my Socialist parliamentary colleague Paul Tang and myself, the European Parliament condemned Farkas’ switch in a resolution as early as January 2020 and demanded stricter rules for dealing with revolving door cases in EU institutions. Furthermore, I also filed a complaint with the Ombudswoman together with other MEPs and the NGO Change Finance. In November 2020, the Ombudswoman came to the crystal-clear conclusion that the EBA should not have approved the change. It also called on the authority to tighten its internal regulations and, for example, to provide for up to two-year waiting periods for high-ranking employees. I subsequently sent the Ombudswoman’s recommendations to the other 40 or so agencies of the European Union, urging them to adapt the rules in their authorities accordingly.

Ernest Urtasun and I sent another letter to the EIB requesting access to the full evaluation of the Bank’s Ethics Committee in the case of Emma Navarro. I will keep you informed about the European Ombudswoman’s investigation. These recurring cases show: For a reliable application of the revolving door rules, we finally need an independent EU ethics authority. We Greens and many NGOs have been calling for this for a long time.

With European greetings,

Sven Giegold

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Our complaint to the Ombudswoman of 28/05/2021: https://sven-giegold.de/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/20210528_GreensEFA-letter-to-European-Ombudsperson-regarding-Iberdrola-revolving-doors.pdf

Letter from the Ombudswoman to the EIB in the Emma Navarro case of 23/06/2021: https://www.ombudsman.europa.eu/en/correspondence/en/143451

Ombudswoman announces opening of proceedings against EIB in Emma Navarro case (25/06/2021): https://www.ombudsman.europa.eu/en/news-document/en/143494

Our letter to President Hoyer dated 04/03/2021: https://sven-giegold.de/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/20210304_letter-revolving-doors-EIB-VP-Iberdrola_EU_SG.pdf

President Hoyer’s reply to our letter dated 22.03.2021: https://sven-giegold.de/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/20210322_EIB-reply-to-GREENS-EFA-letter-on-the-case-of-Ms-Emma-Navarro.pdf

Our letter to the EIB requesting further clarification, in particular access to the full Ethics and Compliance Committee assessment dated 03.05.2021: https://sven-giegold.de/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/20210503_Follow-up-letter-conflict-interest-Emma-Navarro-EU-SG.pdf

Report of the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee on the financial activities of the European Investment Bank – Annual Report 2020: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/A-9-2021-0200_EN.html  (plenary vote pending)

  1. “Expresses its concern that the eight EIB vice-presidents, in addition to their sectoral responsibilities, oversee project proposals from their home countries, alongside other country responsibilities; regrets the failure of the EIB to act on Parliament’s request to include in the Code of Conduct of the Management Committee a provision excluding the possibility of their Members overseeing lending or the implementation of projects in their home countries;”

Resolution of the European Parliament on the change of Adam Farkas of 16.01.2020: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/TA-9-2020-0017_EN.html

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