Enforcement is real test for MEPs' code of conduct
by Kevin Doran
The new president of the European Parliament will have take a tough approach to applying the new code of conduct to win the confidence of the public
The candidates for the presidency of the European Parliament presented their manifestos to a sell-out audience at a hustings yesterday afternoon. Martin Schulz, Diana Wallis and Nirj Deva were each eager to demonstrate that they would deliver a programme of reform. Last year the credibility of the parliament took a knock from revelations that three MEPs appeared to accept offers of payment for amendments in an undercover sting by a British newspaper. They have since resigned their positions.
In December, the parliament voted overwhelmingly to adopt a new Code of Conduct, designed to improve the transparency of MEPs' financial interests; and it came into force from January 1 this year. Although the new rules are quite far-reaching, the presidential candidates did not address the code of conduct and how it should work in practice. And yet, the implementation of the code should be one of the major challenges for whoever becomes the new president. Perhaps this is because there is already overwhelming support for the code in the parliament – only two MEPs voted against the measures when the vote took place on December 1. Maybe the presidential candidates believe it has become a non-issue.
All MEPs will have to declare any appointments to a company board and any remunerated outside work amounting to more than €5,000. They will be barred from accepting gifts worth more than €150. Any financial interest that may cause a conflict of interests will also have to be disclosed and notifications have to be made within 30 days. There are penalties too. They could lose allowances up to 10 days and even lose elected positions within the parliament – such as Rapporteur roles. Diana Wallis, the EP vice-president for transparency, and now wild-card candidate for president of the parliament, said that anyone contravening the code would "find their names in big, red lights flashing up on the parliament's website".
The new measures on transparency go beyond international standards and have been welcomed by campaigners such as Transparency International – although they criticise the absence of rules to prevent former MEPs from going straight into lobbying positions. What is remarkable about the new code of conduct is that it was adopted so quickly and so comprehensively. It has received overwhelming support and was drawn up in just 10 weeks. Quite a feat when compared to the marathon negotiations that were conducted on the Member's Statute. The parliament was shocked by the Sunday Times expose and President Jerzy Buzek admits that this was the spur for action. However, apart from a few bad apples, the financial dealings of MEPs are above board.
But with increasing powers and responsibilities, the parliament must accept more transparency and scrutiny. As such, the new measures aim to reassure voters and restore some credibility. The real test is in the policing of the new rules. The new president will have to demonstrate a tough line on the application of the code of conduct if it is going to be relevant to a cynical public.
Kevin Doran is managing director of Grayling Brussels, but writes here in a personal capacity