June 18
2021
Trajan Shipley
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24th May 2021
Institutional law

Ombudsman launches broad inquiry into Commission handling of staff ‘revolving doors’ cases

The European Ombudsman has launched a broad inquiry into the European Commission’s handling of so-called ‘revolving doors’ cases among its staff, by which former EU public servants take up positions in the private sector, and which in some cases are closely related to their prior areas of responsibility.

According to the Ombudsman, the inquiry will inspect 100 personnel files covering 14 Directorate-Generals, in addition to all Commissioner Cabinets, the Commission’s Legal Service, Secretariat-General, its internal think tank and the Regulatory Scrutiny Board. The files relate to decisions by the Commission further to requests by senior and mid-level managers for approval of either new employment or of unpaid leave in order to undertake another activity. 

The Ombudsman’s goal is to ascertain in a broad and systematic way how the Commission takes decisions on cases with revolving doors implications, and to raise more awareness among EU officials on the effects and impressions such cases have on the public.

As explained in this Insight by Dolores Utrilla, EU law contains provisions on the independence and integrity of EU officials, such as Articles 245, 298 and 339 TFEU, Article 41 of the Charter or Articles 16 and 17 of the Staff Regulations. The European Commission also has its own code of conduct for staff, providing guidance on the application of Articles 16 and 17 and setting out additional requirements. However, the shortcomings of the current enforcement mechanisms make the actions of the European Ombudsman more relevant in this field. 

In May 2020, in case 2168/2019/KR, involving the European Banking Authority’s former Executive Director, the Ombudsman found that the EBA had committed acts of maladministration. It reasoned that the EBA had not mitigated the risks of conflicts of interest stemming from the approval of his request to become CEO of a financial lobby association, by approving the request and not immediately putting in place sufficient internal safeguards to protect its confidential information when the planned move became clear. Another case (OI/3/2021/KR) concerning the European Defence Agency’s handling of its former Chief Executive ‘post-employment’ application to take up a position in Airbus is currently pending. 

Read the Ombudsman’s press release here.

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