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Transparency watchdog tells EU to get tough on lobbying

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By Euronews  with Reporting by Reuters
Transparency watchdog tells EU to get tough on lobbying

The European Parliament must bar departing members from moving directly to lobbying former colleagues, Transparency International said on Tuesday after finding dozens of ex-MEPs had taken jobs with lobbyists.

Citing France and Canada as models for the supervision of the risks from “revolving doors” – when officials and elected representatives move between the public and private sector – the watchdog group also called on the European Commission, the EU executive, to tighten its own rules after a recent controversy.

It recommended extending “cooling off” periods after public service, during which new jobs must be approved by a regulator with many more powers and resources than any today in Brussels.

At present, the Parliament places no restrictions on former members, although it does on their staff.

Of 485 MEPs who left the 751-seat chamber at the 2014 election, at least 171 found new jobs outside public service, Transparency International found, of whom almost a third were now working for firms on the EU’s register of lobbyists. There was no data for nearly 100 of the ex-MEPs.

The report highlighted U.S. tech giant Google, the subject of antitrust investigations and close regulatory scrutiny by the EU, as leading a league table of firms having meetings with top EU officials and noted that it employed many former EU staffers.

While conceding there were benefits from an exchange of personnel and knowledge between the public and private sectors, Transparency International said real or perceived conflicts of interest raised public concerns and that EU rules had not prevented scandals.

“All organisations can benefit from the experience and insights that former politicians bring, but there is an issue with those who one minute are drawing up EU laws and the next are lobbying their former colleagues on the exact same issues,” said Daniel Freund, the group’s Head of Advocacy, EU Integrity.

Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker responded to an outcry over his predecessor Jose Manuel Barroso taking a job with U.S. bank Goldman Sachs last year by proposing to extend the period during which former commissioners need approval for new posts.

He wants to raise it to two years from 18 months, and to three years for former presidents of the EU executive.

Transparency International also recommended that the Commission, and ultimately Union institutions overall, should establish a powerful and independent ethics supervisor.

That would replace, for example, the ad hoc three-person Ethical Committee which makes non-binding recommendations to the Commission