Revolving Doors: Frequently Asked Questions
There are different rules for Commissioners, MEPs and officials. For Commissioners, there is a Code of Conduct which is drawn up by the Commission. For MEPs, there is a different Code of Conduct which has to be agreed by a plenary vote of the Parliament (although in truth, it has little to say about the revolving door). For staff and officials across the EU institutions, there are the Staff Regulations which contain a range of rules governing the revolving door. Revisions to the Staff Regulations have to be approved by both the Parliament and the European Council and these rules apply to all staff working across the European institutions, including the agencies.
For Commissioners in 2014, the Code of Conduct says that when they leave office they must abide by an 18 month notification period, during which time they must seek Commission authorisation for any new job. They are also banned for 18 months from lobbying the Commission on matters for which the commissioner used to be responsible. Lobbying is not defined.
For MEPs, the Code of Conduct only says that former MEPs will not use their life-long Parliament access pass for the purpose of lobbying. However, there is no process to monitor or enforce this part of the Code.
For staff in 2014, the Staff Regulations say that any official leaving an EU job should inform them of any new roles for the next two years. If there is a risk of a conflict of interest, the EU institution may either forbid job or give its approval subject to conditions. The most senior officials are prohibited, for 12 months on leaving the EU, to engage in lobbying on matters for which they were responsible during the last three years in the service. However, contract agents (who make up maybe 25 per cent of the Commission workforce) are largely excluded from these rules. Incoming staff to an EU institution should be screened for possible conflicts of interest.
Of course, it is important that the EU institutions benefit from a workforce which brings with them experience from many different walks of life. The European institutions should include people who have had experience of working in the public sector, private sector and civil society. But it is also important that the EU institutions are vigilant in preventing conflicts of interest which occur as a result of the revolving door and they need new rules to do this.
Tough revolving doors rules would not prevent staff joining and leaving the institutions but they would regulate those who wish to join, or who come from, specific categories of jobs ie. lobby jobs or those jobs which provoke conflicts of interest. There will be many other kinds of jobs which would not be affected by effective revolving door rules.
Of course NGOs and trade unions carry out lobbying activities, although in truth their numbers are far smaller than the number of industry lobbyists in Brussels. A particular concern for ALTER-EU is the direct revolving door between the EU institutions and the lobby consultancy industry in Brussels. Nonetheless, the revolving door rules which ALTER-EU proposes would cover lobbying carried out by all types of organisations, including NGOs and trade unions.
Publishing a list of revolving doors cases will not infringe individuals' privacy or their right to data protection. We do not want to see personal data such as dates of birth or home addresses published. In the UK, a monthly list is published of revolving doors cases which simply lists the official's name, their old and new job titles and organisations, the dates of the move and what the authority has decided about that role. This seems adequate.
ALTER-EU considers that the following cooling-off periods should apply to different categories of people: Commissioners (three years) and staff and officials across the EU institutions (two years, but three years for the most senior officials). This is because we consider that the risk of conflicts of interest vary. Commissioners and the most senior EU officials develop legislation and are privy to a lot of confidential information and thus should attract the longest cooling-off periods. They are supposed to be wholly independent and to act solely in the public interest.
Ex-Commissioners are entitled to a transitional allowance after they leave office so that they are not forced to accept jobs which might provoke a conflict of interest. ALTER-EU considers that the period of time that transitional allowances apply for should relate to the cooling-off period on lobbying jobs. For example, Commissioners are currently entitled to between 40 and 65 per cent of their final basic salary for the three years after they leave office; hence ALTER-EU believes that ex-Commissioners should abide by a three year cooling-off period on lobby jobs.
Transitional allowances do not apply to officials. Thus the institutions will not incur expensive costs of paying ex-officials after they have left their employment. Former officials will not be “not allowed to work”, but some may be prevented from accepting a limited category of jobs for a period of time.
All of the current EU revolving door rules need substantial improvement.
ALTER-EU thinks that Commissioners should have a three year notification period and a three year cooling off period on lobbying roles and any other role which could provoke a conflict of interest. This would match their transitional allowance period (see other FAQ). Terms such as lobbying should be carefully defined and a fully independent ethics committee should oversee the rules and make judgements on specific cases.
For EU staff in 2014, the loophole in the rules concerning contract agents (who make up maybe 25 per cent of the Commission workforce) who are largely excluded from the revolving door rules should be tackled. Officials should have a two-year cooling-off period (three years for the most senior officials) on lobbying and any other role which could provoke a conflict of interest. Monitoring and enforcement of these rules also needs far greater attention.