EU Commission proposes new ethics body in wake of Qatargate
The European Commission has proposed the creation of a new body to set common ethical standards for all European institutions. "Democracy can thrive only if citizens trust their institutions," said Commission vice-president Vera Jourova, who hopes the body will be in place before the 2024 European elections.
Commission president Ursula von der Leyen advocated an inter-institutional ethics body when she took office in 2019, but most institutions rejected the idea. Each institution has its own rules and codes of conduct, and the roles of a commissioner, an elected representative, a judge or an auditor are vastly different, they argued.
The idea gained momentum after the Qatargate corruption scandal broke at the European Parliament late last year. "People around Europe do not distinguish whether a scandal has originated in one or the other institution. Therefore, if we want to remain credible in their eyes we need all to be subject to common ethical standards," Jourova said on Thursday as she presented her proposal.
"Democracy can thrive only if citizens trust their institutions"
The new body should develop standards on gifts and travel, contacts with lobbyists, declaration of interests, post-mandate activities and many other issues to fill the gaps between the diverse and sometimes opaque existing standards. The standards will then be legally binding on all institutions, which will have to enforce them and impose sanctions for violations.
What the body will not do is encroach on the territory of the European Anti-Fraud Office, the European Public Prosecutor or police and prosecutors' offices. Nor will it conduct individual investigations. "This proposal the Commission has put forward today is for a body that is not independent, will not have investigatory powers and will not be able to sanction breaches of ethics rules," said German MEP Daniel Freund.
"If we want to remain credible in their eyes we need all to be subject to common ethical standards"
The body would initially cover the Commission, the European Parliament, the European Council, the Council, the Court of Justice, the European Central Bank, the Economic and Social Committee, the Committee of the Regions and the European Court of Auditors. They will each have one representative on the board, in addition to five independent experts. Other institutions, such as the European Investment Bank, may join the board after it enters into force.
The heads of the various institutions will meet on 3 July to consider the proposal. The hope is that they will ratify their membership as soon as possible and reach an inter-institutional agreement. Once the body is in place, it should draw up ethical standards within six months.
Vera Jourova, vice-president of the European Commission for Values and Transparency © KENZO TRIBOUILLARD / AFP