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Decision on how the European Central Bank (ECB) deals with ‘revolving door’ cases (OI/1/2022/KR)

Friday | 28 October 2022

The European Ombudsman has long identified ‘revolving doors’, whereby public officials move to the private sector, as a phenomenon that can potentially damage public trust if not managed properly.

This own-initiative inquiry sought to look at how the European Central Bank (ECB) deals with revolving door moves of its staff members.

Given the ECB's role in ensuring price stability and supervising financial and credit institutions, any moves by (former) ECB staff members to private financial or credit institutions, in particular those that fall under the ECB’s supervision, can pose conflict of interest and reputational risks, and cause public disquiet.

The Ombudsman’s inquiry assessed one specific case, which had raised public concerns, and also reviewed 26 cases of requests by staff members to take up occupational activities, either while on unpaid leave or after finishing work with the ECB. In all but one of the files reviewed ECB staff members moved to the private sector, including entities and banks that are under ECB supervision.

The Ombudsman concluded that the ECB should apply a more robust approach in relation to revolving door moves of its (former) middle ranking and senior staff to private sector jobs, in particular in the financial industry.

To address shortcomings that arose in the individual case and more generally in how the ECB tackles this challenge, the Ombudsman set out a series of suggestions on how the ECB can strengthen its rules, including in the context of the ongoing revision of the ECB’s Ethics Framework.

Specifically, the ECB should widen the scope of those staff who are subject to stricter notification and/or cooling-off requirements or opt for a general minimum requirement for all staff akin to the provisions of the EU Staff Regulations related to post-service occupational activities.

The ECB should also lengthen, from six months to one year, the prohibition on former senior ECB staff members lobbying their former colleagues.

The ECB should further improve its monitoring of the compliance of (former) staff members with their ethics obligations and conditions imposed by the ECB, for example by making public the conditions for authorising the post-employment activities of former senior staff members so that alleged breaches can be flagged.

The Ombudsman furthermore suggested that, where the ECB considers that a request from a staff member to take up an occupational activity while on unpaid leave poses risks that cannot be adequately mitigated by restrictions or when restrictions cannot be effectively monitored or enforced, it should not authorise such a request.


Decision on the European Banking Authority’s refusal to grant public access to the votes and debates of its Board of Supervisors on an alleged breach of EU law by national supervisory authorities (case 615/2021/TE)

Monday | 07 February 2022

The complaint concerned the European Banking Authority’s (EBA) refusal to grant public access to the voting records of its Board of Supervisors (Board) on two draft Breach of Union Law (BUL) recommendations. BUL recommendations can be made following investigations by the EBA into potential breaches of EU law by national supervisory authorities. The draft BUL recommendations in question, addressed to the supervisory authorities of Malta, Denmark and Estonia, related to alleged money laundering by the Maltese Pilatus Bank and the Estonian branch of the Danish Danske Bank.

The complainant also alleged that there were conflicts of interests as he suspected that members of the Board representing the national supervisory authorities of Malta, Denmark and Estonia had participated in the relevant votes.

In reply to the Ombudsman’s preliminary assessment of the case, the EBA released the two voting records in question. The Ombudsman welcomed this step and considered that, by disclosing the documents, the EBA resolved this aspect of the complaint. The Ombudsman takes the view that disclosing such voting records helps ensure that EBA Board members act independently and in the EU interest. She encourages the EBA to do so in future.

On the conflict of interest issue, the inspection of documents by the Ombudsman’s inquiry team revealed that the Board members in question had indeed voted on whether the EBA should issue a BUL recommendation concerning their own respective supervisory authorities. While the EBA said that the rules in force at the time did not foresee any member of the Board being excluded from voting, the Ombudsman took the view that the requirement to act independently and in the EU interest meant that the Board members should not have voted.

As the EBA adopted, in January 2020, new rules of procedure for its Board and a new policy on conflicts of interest for non-staff, which seem to prevent the conflict of interest situation arising again, the Ombudsman considers that no further inquiries are justified at this stage. She therefore closed the inquiry, again welcoming the significant progress made as a result of the EBA governing bodies’ readiness to embrace greater transparency.