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Childers calls for stronger Code of Conduct for MEPs.

Navigating the lobby labyrinth

News item

Tuesday 31 Mar 2015

Dublin Independent MEP, Nessa Childers, has joined with ALTER-EU to co-host a debate in the European Parliament about the need to strengthen MEPs Code of Conduct.

At the event, ALTER-EU also launched their policy recommendations for a strengthened Code of Conduct for MEPs, with a presentation of  their publication “Navigating the lobby labyrinth: A guide to transparency and ethics for MEPs”.

Speaking at the event Ms Childers said that lobbying and the representation of interests may be an inescapable part of life for elected officials, but conflicts of interest are not.

‘MEPs need to ensure that as elected representatives we are independent and free to represent our voters without undue influence.’

‘Lobbying is part of the democratic process, but it must be open and transparent, and the public need to know who is meeting the MEPs and for what purpose.  Since I was first elected to the Parliament in 2009 I have witnessed the power of corporate lobbyists, particularly in the policy areas of public health and environment.  I see how well resourced certain corporate interest groups are, such as the tobacco industry, and how forceful they are in pursuing their goals!

‘The guide which ALTER EU has prepared shows that navigating the lobby labyrinth, as they rightly call it, in an ethical and transparent manner is not a difficult or unreasonable task.  But is rather a matter of upholding basic principles and democratic values that our citizens would expect of their representatives, though conscious – and conscionable – daily practice.

‘But I would go even further than ALTER EU’s choice of words. What they call a lobby labyrinth, I would call a minefield.

‘The damage caused by the 2011 ‘cash-for-amendments’ scandal went beyond any worn clichés about the democratic deficit in the EU.  It is bad enough to be faced with deceptive or underhanded practices, without having to witness the spectacle of public representatives taking part in the sort of criminal behaviour that prompted President Buzek to start the work that culminated in the creation of the first Code of Conduct for Members of the European Parliament in January 2012.

Like my colleagues Richard Corbett and Sven Giegold, whom I thank in advance for agreeing to take part in today’s discussion, I too regularly publish an exhaustive list of the players I or my staff meet online, on my website, and likewise refuse to engage with those who are not registered in the Transparency Register, unless they are national actors who only very rarely approach us to discuss policy matters.

Background

Debate and launch of ALTER-EU policy recommendations for a strengthened MEP Code of Conduct, plus presentation of “Navigating the lobby labyrinth: A guide to transparency and ethics for MEPs” 31 March 2015.

Four years after the 2011 ‘cash for amendments’ scandal in the European Parliament, and three years after the adoption of the Code of Conduct for MEPs, it is time for a review of the rules for MEPs to ensure that conflicts of interest and undue influence are avoided.

The Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU) is a coalition of over 200 civil society groups and trade unions concerned with the increasing influence exerted by corporate lobbyists on the political agenda in Europe.

ALTER-EU has produced this guide to help Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) navigate the Brussels bubble while maintaining their independence and integrity, especially when it comes to contacts with lobbyists or interest representatives.

The guide is intended to help MEPs demonstrate their commitment to transparency and fulfil their obligations to be receptive to public opinion, open to public scrutiny, and fully independent in order to defend the public interest. It contains tips on what MEPs could do if they want to show leadership in ethics and transparency and highlights potentially problematic lobby areas where ALTER-EU recommends that MEPs exercise caution.

The guide highlights examples of good practice in the fields of ethics and transparency and includes suggestions that go further than the current MEP Code of Conduct.

Since the Code of Conduct for MEPs was introduced in 2011 after the cash-for-amendments scandal, which was widely reported in European media and which caused citizens to question the integrity of the European Parliament, ALTER-EU has been calling for its improvement.

ALTER-EU recommends that the MEP Code of Conduct be revised and strengthened, specifically to avoid and address conflicts of interest. While this paper provides guidance to MEPs on how best to handle lobby contacts, we believe that revising and strengthening the Code of Conduct, as well as its enforcement mechanisms, is the only way to properly ensure full compliance by all MEPs with sound ethical practice.

To read ALTER-EU’s detailed recommendations on reforming the MEP Code of Conduct, visit our website: www.alter-eu.org