EU Policy. Revealed: MEPs’ millions in outside earnings

Guy Verhofstadt at a European Parliament meeting in 2019
Guy Verhofstadt at a European Parliament meeting in 2019 Copyright AP Photo
Copyright AP Photo
By Jack Schickler
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Transparency International has called for stricter controls on EU lawmakers, as a report shows many hold lucrative positions with firms that also lobby Brussels.


MEPs collectively earn more than €8.6 million a year from outside jobs – including from private companies that also actively lobby on EU policy, according to a report published by Transparency International EU today (6 May).

The group has called for EU lawmakers to be banned from moonlighting, as figures show over two thirds of the 705 deputies disclose activities in addition to their core role.

In some cases, they earn more from outside activities than they do from their MEP salary of €10,000 a month, and sit on boards of corporations intimately connected with their day jobs, the study found.

The EU last year tightened its rules in the wake of Qatargate, a scandal over alleged foreign influence on the legislative process – and the reform means lawmakers now publish more fine-grained details of outside earnings.

But for Transparency International EU, the new rules still don’t go far enough to avoid conflicts of interest.

Top of the list

Topping the list is Lithuanian MEP Viktor Uspaskich, who declares €3,000,000 per year working for a company called Edvervita UAB.

The company has been reported in local media as owned by Uspaskich and his children, and with links to significant commercial property interests in Russia.

Uspaskich, who was recently kicked out of the centrist Renew Europe grouping for homophobic remarks, did not respond to a request for comment on the nature of his relationship to the company.

While Uspaskich’s eye-catching earnings appear to come from his own firm, others are paid to advise the boards of established companies. 

Also high on the list is Germany’s Manfred Weber, who declares just over €14,000 a month, mainly from his role as president of the European People’s Party.

Further down, Monika Hohlmeier (Germany/European People’s Party) earns around €75,000 per year for her work for agriculture and energy company BayWa AG, while Axel Voss (Germany/EPP) gets €54,000 as a data protection advisor at Deutsche Telekom and from law firm Bietmann, the group calculates.

EU rules allow MEPs to have outside jobs – but they’re not permitted to work as lobbyists, so waters are muddied when they work for companies that also seek to influence Brussels policy, Euronews was told.

“Perhaps the MEP itself is not involved in this part of the activities” linked to lobbying, Raphaël Kergueno, senior policy officer at Transparency International EU, told Euronews, adding that “the more we have these kind of loopholes, the harder it becomes to actually enforce even the rules that we have.”

BayWa is registered on the EU’s database of registered lobbyists as having an interest in agriculture policy, while Deutsche Telekom’s listing cites data protection and artificial intelligence as relevant policy areas.

Hohlmeier, who chairs the Parliament’s budget control committee, has submitted amendments on agricultural policy during her time as MEP; Voss’ report for the Parliament’s committee on artificial intelligence is peppered with references to privacy issues.

In a statement emailed to Euronews, Voss said, "My activities connected to the declared additional income are rarely connected to my role as MEP."

"When they are, I comment on already completed legislation and their legal interpretation, which does not constitute a conflict of interest," Voss added. 

But those MEPs aren’t the only ones whose outside activities might raise eyebrows.


On top of earnings as a university professor, filings by former Belgian finance minister Johan Van Overtveldt (Belgium/European Conservatives and Reformists) say he earns €2,500 a month working for the board of NBX BV, an Antwerp-based software company, on the “technology surrounding payment systems”.

Though Van Overtveldt sits in the Parliament’s Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee, ECON, which recently passed new laws on payment services, he told Euronews there is “no conflict of interest” from his outside activity, which he said is focused on NBX’s international expansion plans.

Cross-party activity

The top 20 earners are “overwhelmingly” from parties on the right and far-right, Transparency International says. But not exclusively: Marek Belka (Poland/Socialists and Democrats) is the tenth highest earner.

He declares income of €5,000 a month for being on the supervisory board of the Vienna Insurance Group, and a further €2,000 a month for similar work at healthcare company Pelion – duties he says comprise attending four meetings a year.

"The meetings do not interfere with my parliamentary obligations,” Belka told Euronews, who also sits on ECON, which regulates the insurance sector, adding: “My work in Parliament takes precedence.”


To my knowledge, no conflict of interest existed before and exists currently” due to his board work, Belka said, saying the activities fully concentrate on financial management oversight based on his “vast experience as an economist” rather than lobbying or advising on legislation.

Belka’s ECON activities focus on other areas such as payments, banking and macroeconomic policy, and he always votes with his party’s line on insurance sector issues, he said; healthcare policy is dealt with by entirely different committees.

A spokesperson for seventh highest earner Guy Verhofstadt (Belgium/Renew Europe) defended his €5,000 monthly earnings from advising green investment fund Planet First Partners, saying it “in no way clashes with Guy’s views and voting behaviour on environment and sustainability – quite the contrary.”

“In general, there have never been any issues with conflicts of interests,” the spokesperson said of the former Belgian Prime Minister. “With Guy, politics always comes first.”

Outside perspective?

Some lawmakers even argue their salaried positions at big corporations improve policymaking.


“I think it is very important that MEPs also engage in society and business to a responsible degree,” Hohlmeier said. “Politicians should not only be active in the political ivory tower, but also have to engage outside of Parliament ... The whole thing has to happen transparently.”

BayWa is “one of the few large European companies that can stand up to Chinese and American companies in global competition in the areas of agricultural trade and renewable energies,” she said, adding that “I make my political decisions completely independently.”

“The experiences that I have in the various organizations or at BayWa and the knowledge that I generate there enrich me,” Hohlmeier said of the post which earns her an average €6,000 per month plus travel costs, adding that she remained critical of high subsidies paid to large landowning farmers under the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy.

Kergueno doesn’t accuse any individual MEP of acting inappropriately, as he says alleged conflicts of interest can only be adjudicated by an independent body with sufficient resources, as is the case in France.

Many other countries have gone still further, forbidding lawmakers from holding second jobs outright, he notes.


But he dismisses Hohlmeier’s argument that external work can offer a vital extra perspective – as, he says, that’s what lobby groups are there for.

“There are 12,000 organisations active in Brussels who I'm sure are more than willing to raise their concerns with MEPs,” he said. “Whether or not you really need to actually hold a position inside the executive board of said company is a whole different type of activity.”

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