Conflicts of interest – EU Commission and the Institut für Europäische Politik (IEP)

Conflicts of interest – EU Commission and the Institut für Europäische Politik (IEP)

The Institut für Europäische Politik (IEP) is a German political think tank. Former Commissioner Günther Oettinger and other high-profile Commission staff – former Secretary-General Martin Selmayr and Director-General of DG Trade Sabine Weyand – are all members of the Board of Trustees.

The IEP received EUR 567 141 worth of subsidies in 2018 according to the Financial Transparency System (FTS).

This means that people with very influential roles inside the Commission might be able to give subsidies to organisations they belong to as members.

On 24 June 2020, Dutch Member of the European Parliament (MEP), Derk Jan Eppink of ECR Political Group posed a parliamentary written question to the European Commission. MEP Eppink asked the Commission “is the total that the IEP received in 2018 correct and, if not, what was the exact amount?” and “how does it ensure that staff members with such important positions in both the Commission and the IEP remain independent and politically neutral, and is this in line with the staff regulations?”

Lastly, the European Parliamentarian enquired “how can the Commission be sure that the IEP is conducting independent research and that it is not being used to pursue political goals, such as to advocate for more European political integration?”

These questions were responded to by Commissioner Didier Reynders, responsible for Justice, on behalf of the European Commission on 23 November. His responded that “the figures from the Financial Transparency System accurately reflect the level of funding for this organisation”.

Commissioner Reynders further answered that the “Commission staff must comply with ethical rules to meet the highest standards of independence, integrity, impartiality and objectivity” and that ”the Commission staff referred to complied with the obligations imposed on Commission staff engaging in an outside activity”. He added that “they received authorisation to become members of the Board of Trustees of the Institut für Europäische Politik, with the usual ethical reminders, notably to make it clear to their interlocutors that they intervene in their own capacity not representing the Commission’s opinion or interests. Staff must report any conflict of interest that would arise in relation to an outside activity”. In closing, Commissioner Reynders stated that “in accordance with Article 180(2) of the Financial Regulation, grants may be awarded to finance actions that help achieve a Union policy objective or the functioning of a body that supports a Union policy. Grants were awarded to the Institut für Europäische Politik under different funding programmes, specifically: (i) ‘Europe for Citizens’ Programme that aims to raise awareness of the common history and values of the Union, and to encourage democratic and civic participation; and (ii) Horizon 2020 — the framework Programme for Research and Innovation, which aims, under the specific objective ‘Europe in a changing world — Inclusive, innovative and reflective societies’, to foster a greater understanding of Europe’.

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