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Commission failed to fully implement conflict of interest rules for finance expert group

The Commission failed to properly apply its rules on managing conflicts of interest when putting together an expert group to give advice and policy input in relation to the EU Capital Markets Union, an Ombudsman inquiry has found.

The inquiry, based on a complaint by an MEP, examined the composition of the High Level Forum on the proposed EU Capital Markets Union, which gathered senior industry executives, international experts and scholars. The Commission took the Forum’s recommendations into account for its CMU Action Plan.

The Forum had two types of members - those appointed in their personal capacity to act independently and in the public interest, and those appointed to represent the interests of different stakeholder organisations. 

During its own assessment of applicants to be appointed to act independently, the Commission found that five had interests that compromised, or could be perceived as compromising, their capacity to act independently and in the public interest. However, it then did not follow its own rules on managing these conflicts of interest, and the measures it put in place to mitigate potential conflicts of interest were general and insufficient.

This meant that only seven of the Forum’s 28 members could be considered truly independent. This was a significant deviation from the Commission's claim that the group had a "balanced" representation, with 12 independent members and 16 stakeholder members.

The Ombudsman found that the fact that the Commission did now follow its own rules, and the fact that the actual composition of the Forum strongly differed from its stated composition amounted to maladministration. To ensure members of expert groups are independent and comply with the highest standards of integrity, the Ombudsman asked the Commission to ensure it diligently applies its rules on managing conflicts of interest.

Looking ahead, the Ombudsman also proposed that any report by an expert group should also specify the types of members of the expert group.  In addition, if the Commission makes proposals for public policy based on an expert group’s input, the declarations of interests of its independent members should remain public for as long as co-legislators are considering the matter.

The Ombudsman has asked the Commission to respond to her findings by 31 August 2021.