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EU Policy. Commission’s ‘revolving door’ for senior staff may undermine EU interests, Ombudsman says

The EU Ombudsman is concerned over revolving doors at the European Commission
The EU Ombudsman is concerned over revolving doors at the European Commission Copyright European Commission, 2023
Copyright European Commission, 2023
By Jack Schickler
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The move of an experienced senior official to a private law firm has prompted a probe by Emily O’Reilly, responsible for investigating suspected maladministration.

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The latest move of a senior European Commission antitrust official to a private law firm has prompted a probe by the EU’s Ombudsman, who is worried about conflicts of interest.

Revolving doors between the private and public sector can have a “corrosive effect” on public trust, fueling euroscepticism and undermining EU interests, said Emily O’Reilly, in a letter published today (22 May).

In an 8 May press release, law firm Paul, Weiss announced the hire of Henrik Morch, a director in the Commission’s antitrust arm with a 30-year career.

The New York-based law firm cited Morch’s “extensive experience” in handling merger cases as a benefit to the law firm’s clients – a perhaps unfortunate turn of phrase that raised particular hackles for O’Reilly.

“The clear impression is that the Commission has allowed one of its senior officials to work for a non-EU company that anticipates major benefits from that inside knowledge,” said O’Reilly, who investigates suspected maladministration in EU institutions.

“As this move was not forbidden, the Commission should, without delay, publish the restrictions it has placed on the move,” added her letter, dated 17 May.

To make matters worse, she said, Paul, Weiss hasn’t been clear about its Brussels activities, and the Commission hasn’t said if it will impose any restrictions on Morch’s work with it.

O'Reilly called for the Commission to reform its practices in a probe which closed in 2022 – and which specifically concluded that officials from the competition directorate-general, DG COMP, should be banned from moving to work at private firms that work in related issues.

That followed a number of controversial hires, including the move of Carles Esteva Mosso, a deputy director-general at DG COMP, to become an antitrust partner at Latham & Watkins, and that of Adam Farkas, executive director of the EU’s banking agency, to lobby group the Association for Financial Markets in Europe.

Recent research by Transparency International, published just weeks before the bloc goes to the polls, shows that MEPs collectively earn millions of euros from jobs additional to their lawmaker salary.

Those extra paid positions are permitted under current rules – but the lobby group cites concerns over conflicts of interest, particularly when MEPS work for company that lobby the EU.

A Commission spokesperson told Euronews it was analysing the Ombudsman’s questions and will reply.

“The Commission is committed to ensuring there is no risk of conflicts of interest,” the spokesperson said, citing a 12-month bar on former senior staff lobbying the institution, adding: “We are ready to fully cooperate with the Ombudsman."

Morch, and Paul, Weiss did not immediately respond to a request for comment.  

UPDATE (22 May, 17:38): adds Commission comment.

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