Sven Giegold
Mitglied der Grünen/EFA-Fraktion im Europaparlament

Sprecher Europagruppe Grüne

Green Plan for Transparency and Integrity in the European Parliament

After to the most recent revolving door scandal of former Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso and the hidden tax haven company of Neelie Kroes also in Parliament pressure is rising to allow for more transparency and to strengthen integrity.

Two weeks ago the Conservatives (EPP), Social Democrats and Liberals blocked the vote on the fully negotiated Giegold-report on “Transparency, Accountability and Integrity in the EU institutions”. At the same time negotiations on the operating system of Parliament – the rules of procedure – draw to a close. The rules of procedure in all its details are the right anchor point for strengthening lobby transparency and stricter integrity rules in the European Parliament. On Thursday a first negotiation meeting with all shadow rapporteurs will take a closer look on the freshly published more than 400 new amendments to Parliament’s rules of procedure.

Last Wednesday the EU-Commission presented her proposal for a new inter-institutional agreement on the Transparency Register for lobbyists and thereby puts pressure on Parliament to equally tighten its rules. Now the Greens pull the strings with a “Green Plan for Transparency and Integrity”. It consists of 46 amendments which we submitted as part of the 400 amendments to the rules of procedure. Our plan contains all relevant issues: MEP’s side jobs, jobs after the mandate, all contacts with lobbyists on legislation, financial interests of MEPs, more effective sanctions for violations of integrity rules and relations between Parliament and other institutions.

MEP Sven Giegold, rapporteur for “Transparency, Accountability and Integrity in the EU institutions” and spokesperson of the German Greens in the European Parliament presents this plan together with Swedish MEP Max Andersson, rapporteur for the Corbett report on changing the Rules of Procedure. MEP Sven Giegold comments:

“European democracy deserves more trust by the citizens. Walking the talk when it comes to our own rules is a key contribution to strengthen the ties of trust between the European Parliament and European citizens. Christian Democrats, Social Democrats and Liberals have to give up their blockade against lobby transparency and tougher integrity.”

MEP Max Andersson adds:

“The problem is not lobbyism per se, it can in fact be essential for politicians, when forming their positions on various policies. But lobbyism becomes problematic when the resources, and consequently the political influence, of corporate interests exceed considerably the resources of organisations working for the public interest. We therefore need a strong set of rules to avoid a skewed decision-making and to guarantee that ethical standards are upheld.”

All Green amendments to the rules of procedure:
https://sven-giegold.de/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Green-AMs-final-Transparency-RoP.doc.pdf

All new amendments, here 863-1078: https://sven-giegold.de/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/1104994XM_Corbett-AM863-1078.pdf

All new amendments, here 1079-1283: https://sven-giegold.de/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/1105232XM_Corbett-AM1079-1283.pdf

 

Green Plan for Transparency and Integrity in the European Parliament

(DOWNLOAD as PDF file including the green amendments to the Corbett report)

The Green Plan

The European Institutions are being criticized for a strong and intransparent influence of lobbyists on their decision making and questions concerning conflict of interest. The European Parliament operates already a voluntary transparency register for lobbyists and has rules against conflict of interest. The transparency register provides more transparency than in member states’ parliaments. While, the rules on conflict of interest and their disclosure are rather teethless and many member states went further in disclosing and tackling conflict of interest in national parliaments.

The European Parliament has been negotiating on the report “transparency, integrity and accountability in EU institutions” for now nearly a year. The report is ready to be voted, but has been blocked by Conservatives (EPP), Liberals and Social Democrats (S&D). The report, drafted by Sven Giegold – spokesperson of the German Green delegation, contains many practical suggestions to come to bitterly needed improvements in all EU institutions. Nevertheless, Conservatives (EPP), Liberals and Social Democrats (S&D) have agreed to proceed with the ongoing negotiations on the changes of the rules of procedure of the European Parliament, in order to vote this package of changes before the report of Sven Giegold. The obvious objective is to avoid or delay the implementation of all changes in the European Parliament itself.

This is why the Greens have now tabled a complete set of proposals to gear the rules of procedure of the European Parliament towards transparency and integrity. European democracy deserves more trust by the citizens. Walking the talk when it comes to our own rules is a key contribution to strengthen the ties of trust between the European Parliament and European citizens.

Our proposals

Mandatory lobby transparency: No registration, no meeting

Lobby transparency: No meetings with unregistered lobbyists

Commissioners and their cabinets do not meet unregistered lobbyists to incentivise lobbyists to get on the Transparency Register. Parliament would strengthen this effect significantly by joining Commission in this welcome measure. At least rapporteurs, shadow rapporteurs and Committee Chairs should adopt the systematic practise to meet only registered lobbyists. (Rule 205, para 4.1a)

Lobby transparency: invitation to MEPs to publish their lobby meetings on Parliament’s website

The more MEPs publish their lobby meetings, the more Parliament will become transparent. While the freedom of the mandate conflicts with a too strict rule, MEPs are hereby explicitly invited. Parliament’s administration should facilitate this by providing the necessary infrastructure. (Rule 116, para 7a)

Legislative footprint: showing who the lobby is

Legislative footprint as a rule for rapporteurs and committee chairs

Legislative footprints are lists of lobbyists who have been consulted while drafting a report and are attached to the respective file. MEPs may practise this lobby transparency already. But making it a rule for rapporteurs and committee chairs as the leaders of legislative processes inside Parliament raises significantly the incentives for lobbyists to register. (Code of Conduct for MEPs, Rule 4)

Legislative footprint: include written input by lobbyists

Rapporteurs and Committee chairs receive plenty of lobbying on what they should write into EU laws. Some of the suggestions are taken up verbally. The public should know where the content of their laws come from. Therefore all written input to rapporteurs and committee chairs should be collected and disclosed by Parliament. (Rule 205, para 4.1b)

Shadow rapporteurs to be checked for conflicts of interest

Rapporteurs for a dossier in Parliament should loose their function in case they breach the code of conduct e.g. due to a conflict of interest. This present rule should also include shadow rapporteurs since they hold nearly the same influence on the dossiers as the main rapporteur but so far face no scrutiny. (Rule 21, para 2)

MEPs should be allowed to say where their amendments come from

Some amendments tabled by MEPs are originally drafted or inspired by lobbyists. This is legitimate but sources should be public. Present rules do not allow MEPs to add this information to the official documents published by the Parliament for most of the reports. The current limitation to legislative reports should be dropped. (Rule 169, para 1.3)

 

Cooling off period for MEPs: integrity after the mandate

Cooling off: No lobby jobs short after the mandate, obligation to notify

Depending on how long MEPs served they receive a transitional allowance for 6-24 months after their mandate, without any obligation. During this period they should not be allowed to take up work as a lobbyist. They should have to notify any new job to the Parliament and the Advisory Committee (on the Code of Conduct for MEPs) should check if it violates this rule. If they are found to breach this cooling off period they should be named and shamed. (Code of Conduct for MEPs, Rule 6, para 1)

 

Closing back doors for lobbyists

More public information about finances of intergroups where MEPs meet special interests

In many of the so called intergroups MEPs meet with lobbyists on a regular basis. Parliament’s rules call intergroups to make transparent who finances the activities of the intergroups. Yet many declarations are not up to date. Obligatory annual updates should ensure that the information is up to date. (Rule 34, para 2.2)

More enforcement for rules on intergroup transparency

Intergroups are important for the cooperation of MEPs accross political groups, but existing transparency rules are not properly implemented. Quaestors, MEPs elected to lead the administration, should become responsible to enforce the rules. (Rule 34, para 2.3)

No entourage badges for lobbyists

Lobbyists falling into the remit of the EU’s Transparency register should not be able to get EP entrance badges that disguise them as the entourage of an MEP. At the moment there is no safeguard against lobbyists receiving one of the about 730 entourage badges. (Rule 11, para 5a)

Lobbyists who refuse invitations by the European Parliament lose their entrance badges

Lobbyists of stakeholders, who refused the invitation of the European Parliament to speak in a committee without giving a proper reason for it, should loose their entrance badges. IKEA e.g. declined to speak at the Parliament’s special committee on tax rulings in public but then invited the same MEPs to lobby them in a side meeting. (Rule 11, para 8)

Integrity with teeth: repairing Parliament’s Ethics Committee

More teeth for the decisions of the advisory committee

So far 11 times the Advisory Committee recommended sanctions. The parliament’s president rejected all of them. Since all investigations happen behind closed doors, the president has to justify his decisions to no one. An obligatory publication of not applied sanctions decisively changes the incentives for the president: If he does not apply a recommended sanction he faces public scrutiny for his decision. The currently dysfunctional system can finally yield effects. (Code of Conduct for MEPs, Rule 8)

Scrutiny by external experts, free of conflicts of interest

At present those MEPs who should scrutinise their peers as members of the Advisory Committee are handpicked by the president of the Parliament. In order to avoid the obvious conflict of interest external experts should be chosen to check if MEPs abide by the rules. Similar to the Ombudsman they should be chosen after an open call based on their qualification as a judge, auditor and anti-corruption expert. The choice should be done by the Parliament’s bureau which includes all political groups, not just by the president alone. (Code of Conduct for MEPs, Rule 7)

Investigations independent of a presidential permission

So far the Advisory Committee can scrutinise MEPs only if the president asks them to do so. Suggestions by members of the advisory committee were already rejected, protecting MEPs with doubtful activities from being questioned internally. In the future the Committee should not depend on such a permission but may act on its own initiative. (Code of Conduct for MEPs, Rule 7 and Rule 8)

Pro-active checks on MEP’s declarations of interest

At the moment the Advisory Committee will check the declarations of interest when alarmed by the public and allowed to do so by the president. They should instead pro-actively deal with an annual sample of at least a quarter of the 750 MEPs and check their declarations for completeness and understandability. If necessary they should consult additional documents. (Code of Conduct for MEPs, Rule 7)

Accepting complaints from citizens

As long as a complaint is substantiated by facts, anyone should be able to address them directly to the Advisory Committee without detours through the office of the Parliament’s president. (Code of Conduct for MEPs, Rule 8)

Renaming the ‘Advisory Committee’ as ‘Ethics Committee’

The British House of Commons has an Ethics Committee and thanks to the full power to legislate also some more rights to sanction breaches of integrity rules. Renaming the ‚Advisory Committee on the Conduct of Members‘ to an Ethics Committee expresses the stronger role we want for it. (Code of Conduct for MEPs, Rule 7)

Defining conflicts of interest

An expensive lobby invitation abroad, a well-paid advice for a big company: MEPs might not know what constitutes a conflict of interest. The Committee should clarify the definition of conflict of interest including a transparent list. (Code of Conduct for MEPs, Rule 7)

Develop the rules with the challenges

Those who check the rules know best how to improve them. Nevertheless, at the moment only the Parliament’s bureau is called to recommend changes. This call should also include the most experienced. (Code of Conduct for MEPs, Rule 8)

 

No financial ties between MEPs and lobbyists

Toughen the ban on lobby side jobs of MEPs

MEPs are already forbidden to accept cash or similar for voting a certain way or influencing it. Yet many argue work as consultant explaining others how to influence EU legislation would be still allowed. Therefore, the rules should be more precise to ban MEPs from any payment for “any activity which purpose is to influence or enable others to influence EU policy or decision-making”. (Code of Conduct for MEPs, Rule 2, para 1.1b)

No payments for speeches, articles or extra functions of MEPs

To further strengthen existing anti-corruption rules the ban for MEPs to accept money should also include speeches, articles or appearances. They belong to the core job of MEPs to explain policies and should need no extra remuneration. Similarly, serving on a board of an association, corporation or similar should not be a reason for any payments. (Code of Conduct for MEPs, Rule 2 para 1.1b)

No external financing of MEPs’ staff

MEPs should have the same opportunities. Therefore, there should be no external money to finance MEPs’ staff. (Code of Conduct for MEPs, Rule 2, para 1.b)

MEPs to declare property and debts, not just side income

Following best practise of France, UK and other countries, MEPs should make transparent also what they own or owe, not just what they earn. MEPs’ declarations of interest should also contain property, debt and liabilities. Similar rules already exist for Commissioners. Due to their important role in EU law making this should also apply for MEPs. (Code of Conduct for MEPs, Rule 4, para 2.1)

Full transparency about MEPs’ side income: without upper ceilings or brackets

MEPs already have to delcare their side incomes yet not in exact numbers. Rapporteur Corbett proposed that MEPs should declare the nearest 10.000 € to what they earn. This is an improvement compared to current rules, but still allows more vagueness for the largest amounts than for lower ones. Following best practise from France and other countries, MEPs should declare their exact side incomes. (Code of Conduct for MEPs, Rule 4, para 2.2)

Rapporteurs and Committee Chairs to state their independence when taking their role

Rapporteurs and Committee Chairs have key influence over Parliament’s decision making. They are supposed to be free of conflicts of interest yet this is hardly checked. To strengthen scrutiny, they should sign a declaration of independence before starting their special role. (Code of Conduct for MEPs, Rule 4)

 

Reconnecting to citizens: Transparency has to be understandable

 

Transparency about MEPs’ side jobs which citizens can understand

MEPs have to declare all their side jobs to allow their peers and the public to judge if they might have conflicts of interest. Yet some only declare to work as consultant or lawyer without naming their clients who they lobby for. Such disguise has to stop, information has to be sufficiently comprehensive. (Code of Conduct for MEPs, Rule 4, para 3)

Declarations of interest at least in English, French and German

Beside some hand writing present declarations of interest are regularly inaccessible to most citizens by language. Administration should in future translate them at least in English, French and German to strike a balance between access and translation cost. (Code of Conduct for MEPs, Rule 4, para 3)

 

Trilogue transparency: bringing light into legislative decision making

Parliament to publish results of each informal meeting on legislation

Trilogues between Parliaments rapporteurs and shadows, Council’s presidency and Commission happen behind closed doors despite their decisive role in legislation. Forseen reporting to Parliament’s committees remains too limited to achieve sufficient transparency. Therefore, Committee Chairs should publish documents reflecting the outcome of each meeting proactively. (Rule 73, para 4.2)

clarifying rules towards full access to documents

Parliament is the most transparent of all EU institutions when it comes to access to documents. Trilogue documents are harder to access for the public because of the informal character of such meetings. Yet since trilogues are about legislation all documents in the negotiations should not be treated differently from the usual transparency in legislative processes. (Rule 116, para 2.1 and para 3.1)

 

Strengthening minority rights as guardian of Transparency

Limit big groups’ veto against committees of inquiry

While many Parliaments know the start of an inquiry committee as a right for the opposition as the Parliamentary minority, in the European Parliament any such decision has to pass through the conference of group presidents. This effectively gives the big groups the power to stop or weaken any inquiry that might go against their interests. Instead, Parliament should be able to vote on a proposed inquiry committee without an additional role of the groups’ leadership which is not required by the Treaties. (Rule 198, para 3)

Transparency for agenda setting in committees

Some decisions of Parliament are not made in the open but by those who set the agenda. Committee coordinators are decisive to set these agenda decisions. Therefore, the minutes of their meetings should be public and available in all official languages. (Rule 205, 2a)

Supporters of amendments in plenary should be transparent

Amendments to decisions of the European Parliament’s plenary can be submitted by Committees and Political Groups yet also by 40 individual MEPs. Their names should be public as are the members of Committees and Political Groups. (Rule 169, para 1.1)

 

Strengthening Parliament: getting serious by following up on decisions

Parliament calls in many reports on Commission, Council and Member States to take specific actions or to deliver certain policies. Too often nothing happens because we do not follow up enough on our own decisions. A register on the follow up can strengthen the pressure for action and add on Parliament’s limited rights for initiative. (Rule 25, para 12a)