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Authorisation for a former Commissioner to take up a post in the private sector

Summary of the decision on complaint 1533/2010/(KM)MMN against the European Commission

This case concerns the authorisation given to a former Commissioner to take up a specific post in the private sector after she had left the Commission. Article 245(2) TFEU imposes on members of the Commission the "duty to behave with integrity and discretion as regards the acceptance, after they have ceased to hold office, of certain appointments or benefits".

The complainant (a Brussels-based NGO) was of the opinion that the Commission failed to deal properly with the matter and turned to the Ombudsman, who opened an inquiry. In the complainant's view, the former Commissioner's intended occupation in the re-insurance business was incompatible with the Treaty because, when still in office, she had been active in the area of renewable energy, which was of direct interest to her intended employer. The Commission, however, stressed that matters relating to renewable energy were not at the core of her activities or responsibilities.

On the basis of his inquiries, which included two inspections of the Commission's file, the Ombudsman concluded that the fact that the former Commissioner may have expressed political support for renewable energies, in general, or for the Mediterranean Solar Plan, in particular, was not sufficient to establish a conflict of interest, given that the former is a legitimate goal and the latter is a project supported by the EU. Therefore, no maladministration was found as regards the substantive aspects of the case.

As regards procedural aspects, the Ombudsman concluded that the Commission had respected the procedure it had established for such cases, by asking its Ad Hoc Ethical Committee to look at the matter before deciding on it. It was true that it did not appear that the issue of renewable energy had been examined in great depth at the time. However, the Committee had asked for and obtained certain clarifications on this issue. Moreover, the Commission had reconsidered the matter after concerns had been voiced, inter alia, by the complainant.

Therefore, the Ombudsman concluded that there were no grounds for further inquiries into the procedural aspects of the allegation and the complainant's claim that the Commission should carry out a reassessment with the assistance of a group of international experts. However, he made a further remark in connection with the procedural aspects of the allegation.

As regards the claim that the Commission should strengthen its rules on conflict of interest and explicitly ban lobbying activities by former Commissioners, the Ombudsman noted that the Commission had in the meantime amended and strengthened the relevant rules and introduced a ban on lobbying.