Opinion letter on the MEP Code of Conduct

Strong code is only way to regain trust says Friends of the Earth Europe

29.11.2011 - 09:51

On 1 December, MEPs will vote on the proposed MEPs' Code of Conduct, following its approval by the Constitutional Affairs Committee.

Friends of the Earth Europe welcomes European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek’s efforts to introduce tighter rules in Parliament after the “cash for influence” scandal last spring, and has supported his consensus approach ever since.

Under the proposed rules, MEPs would not be allowed to receive money in order to lobby their colleagues and they would have to declare their outside financial interests in a strict way. Hopefully, the dark days of unethical lobbying in the Parliament are behind us.

However, an important loophole on the definition of gifts remains and, if approved in plenary, it is likely to weaken the rest of the progressive proposals. In the current text, MEPs are not allowed to receive gifts of more than 150, but the reimbursement of direct costs is excluded from this definition.

Thus, they can continue to accept travel and hospitality paid by corporate lobby groups. It is exactly these kind of costs, which can include invitations to conferences in exotic locations and exclusive trips paid by rich industrialists, that have raised strong questions about corruption in the past.

As MEPs have their own travel budgets, they can and should pay for their own travel and accommodation costs. MEPs should amend the proposed definition of gifts to make sure the new code provides safeguards against all types of abuses.

We urge MEPs not to waste this opportunity to tackle the entirety of the problem that allowed the cash for influence scandal to undermine their reputation.   The proposed code must be part of a genuine overhaul of the Parliament’s ethics rules which responds to the concerns of citizens about transparency at a time of crisis and growing distrust towards European decision-makers. Half measures will not satisfy the need for proper ethics and transparency rules.