EU proposes new ethics body following cash-for-influence scandal

  • World
  • Thursday, 08 Jun 2023

FILE PHOTO: European flags fly outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium March 13, 2023. REUTERS/Yves Herman/

BRUSSELS (Reuters) -The European Commission proposed on Thursday a new ethics body to set standards of conduct across EU institutions whose image has been tarnished by a cash-for-influence scandal that affected the European Parliament at the end of last year.

However, two parliamentary groups immediately criticised the planned body, with the Greens saying it did not have enough powers.

The creation of an ethics body became more urgent after Belgium charged MEPs and others linked to parliament with receiving cash from World Cup host Qatar to influence decisions. The Gulf state has denied wrongdoing.

The new body, with representatives from the institutions and five independent experts, will seek to agree common standards before parliamentary elections in June 2024, which will trigger an overhaul of top jobs in Brussels.

"Democracy can thrive only if citizens trust their institutions. People around Europe do not distinguish whether a scandal has originated in one or the other institution," Commission Vice President Vera Jourova said in a statement.

In a survey on Tuesday, 60% of EU citizens said they were dissatisfied with EU efforts to fight corruption in general, a 12 percentage point increase from mid-2019.

The rules will apply to more than 1,000 EU posts, including European Central Bank board members, judges at the European Court of Justice and members of the European Parliament (MEPs).

The new body will not launch investigations, as some wanted, but will set standards regarding acceptance of gifts, hospitality or travel, meeting lobbyists, financial interests, and on conditions for activities after terms have ended.

The Greens group in parliament said the proposal was "totally underwhelming" as the ethics body would not be independent and not have powers to investigate or sanction.

The centre-right European People's Party, the largest parliamentary group, said the ethics body would not have prevented the cash-for-influence scandal and warned against creating a politicised "Polish-style disciplinary chamber" for MEPs.

The standards would be seen as a minimum and not water down higher guidelines, such as regarding financial interests of high-level ECB officials. They might tighten rules for MEPs who are not required to declare travel and other perks or expenses paid by third parties.

Each institution would likely need to update current procedures to deal with breaches, with the ethics body monitoring compliance and promoting transparency.

(Reporting by Philip BlenkinsopEditing by Bernadette Baum and Angus MacSwan)

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