Tuesday, 28 April 2009

EP elections ahead, how fast will the revolving door spin?

With the European Parliament elections now just five weeks away, the first election posters have started appearing in cities across Europe. As it becomes clear who will run for (re-)election, it also emerges who is stepping down from being an MEP. Many will return to national politics, retire or look for a new job. What will be really interesting to watch in the coming weeks and months is which of the current MEPs will go through the revolving door into new jobs as industry lobbyists.

After the previous Parliament elections in 2004, Elly Plooij van Gorsel, former vice-president of the European Parliament, became senior counsel at lobby firm Blueprint Partners, shortly after leaving the Parliament. Both UK Labour MEP David Bowe and UK Liberal Democrat MEP Nick Clegg joined the Brussels team of lobbying firm GPlus Europe (Mr. Clegg has since returned to UK politics). Pat Cox, former president of the European Parliament, joined public affairs giant APCO as well as the Brussels-based consultancy firm European Integration Solutions. Pat Cox is also an adviser to Microsoft, Pfizer and Michelin. German MEP Rolf Linkohr established the ‘Centre for European Energy Strategy' (CERES) a 'think tank' that specialises in lobbying advice for large energy corporations, including the nuclear industry.

These examples are probably just the tip of the iceberg; the EU lobby transparency register does not include names of lobbyists, let alone is there the obligation to disclose whether lobbyists are former public office holders (required in the US, which has mandatory lobby disclosure rules).

For MEPs elected in 2004, the revolving door in fact started spinning last year, when Finnish MEP Piia-Noora Kauppi became the head of the Finnish banking lobby. Kauppi benefited from the fact that there is no ‘cooling off’ period (nor any other rules) for MEPs going through the revolving door. She won an award for Worst Conflict of Interest in last year's Worst EU Lobby Awards as a result.

Earlier this year, the European Parliament's Secretary General Julian Priestley joined EPPA (European Public Policy Advisers), a Brussels-based public affairs consultancy. After more than a decade in the most powerful administrative function of the European Parliament, Priestly now leads EPPA which, among others, lobbies on behalf of chemical industry giants like Bayer CropScience, Cheminova and Syngenta. EPPA's offices are located in the Place du Luxembourg, less than 100 metres from the Parliament entrance.

Ingo Friedrich (German Christian Democrat MEP since 1979) is not a candidate for re-election, but will remain active in Brussels as a lobbyist. Friedrich will work for the European Economic Senate (EES), a hybrid group of politicians and German businesses. He will also lobby for the Taxpayers Association of Europe, a coalition that seems inspired by the Republican crusade against 'big government' in the US. TAE has links to the neoconservative Heritage Foundation and European Resource Bank, which helps develop US-style radical 'free-market' think tanks in Europe.

The European Parliament currently has no rules to prevent conflicts of interest around the revolving doors phenomena, unlike in the US where the members of the House of Representatives are banned from lobbying for two years after leaving the House. House and Senate staffers are banned for a year from lobbying their former employer.

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