The European Commission has adopted a proposal for the creation of an interinstitutional Ethics Body, covering members of EU institutions, as announced at the beginning of the mandate by President von der Leyen, and following informal consultations with the other institutions.With the establishment of the Ethics Body there will, for the first time, be common standards for ethical conduct of members and a formal mechanism for coordination and exchange of views on ethical requirements among institutions. Thanks to these changes, EU politicians will be subject to common, clear, transparent and comprehensible standards.
The standards will relate to several fields:
- acceptance of gifts, hospitality and travel offered by third parties: standards will also apply to the acceptance of awards, decorations, prizes or honours.
- conditionality and transparency measures, in particular for meetings with interest representatives: the Commission, the European Parliament and the Council already have common standards as regards meetings with interest representatives and their publication thanks to the Transparency Register. Standards will be expanded to include, for example, access to institutions’ premises.
- interests and assets to be declared, establishing the categories, as well as the procedures applied to check these declarations.
- side or external activities, in order to ensure that members’ availability and independence is not compromised.
- post-mandate activities of former members, establishing conditions, and transparency requirements.
- implementation of the common framework, including on monitoring compliance and follow-up, also as regards possible cases of harassment and sanctions, in case of breaches within each institution.
- on the publicity of information: each institution will need to make public how they apply the standards.
While the Treaties lay down the general rules and principles of conduct, most institutions have detailed them in their own rules of procedure or Codes of Conduct. This has resulted in fragmentation among the institutions’ ethical frameworks, with rules being complex and scattered. While some differences can be explained by the different roles of each institution and by the different risks inherent to different duties, it has become clear that a common culture of ethics, through common high standards and cooperation among institutions, is needed. Once adopted, the Ethics Body will fill this gap by providing common and clear ethical standards for EU institutions.
The new Body will have three main tasks:
- Develop common minimum standards – explained above – applicable to the members of participating EU Institutions and bodies, as well as updating them when needed. They will serve as a minimum baseline, and each institution remains free to apply even stricter internal rules, but the standards cannot be used to lower existing rules.
- Exchange of views on each institution’s internal rules in light of the standards to allow them to learn and benefit from each other’s experience.
- Promote a common ethics culture of all members of EU institutions, facilitating the public understanding of the framework both to those inside and outside the institutions. Transparency will apply also to the application of these rules in the institutions.
All this will be done in a manner that is transparent and accessible to the public. Other Union bodies, offices and agencies will have the possibility to voluntarily apply the entire set of common standards and participate in exchanges of views.
The new ethics body will not deal with individual investigations, it will neither interfere with, or limit in any way, the investigations of well-established existing bodies. Under the treaties, this is the responsibility of the European Public Prosecutor‘s Office (EPPO) as well as national police and judicial authorities, for criminal cases affecting Union’s financial interests. It is the responsibility of the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) for irregularities and breaches of professional duties, of the Ombudsman for cases of maladministration and of each institution when it comes to any breach of their respective rules.
The Commission will invite all the institutions and advisory bodies to a meeting on 3 July in Brussels to start the interinstitutional dialogue and negotiations.
The Commission has adopted the present proposal for an agreement between the institutions and the two advisory bodies mentioned in Article 13 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU).
This proposal will accordingly be transmitted to the European Parliament, the European Council, the Council, the Court of Justice of the European Union, the European Central Bank, the European Court of Auditors, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions. Upon its request, the European Investment Bank or other bodies may also become a Party to this Agreement after it enters into force
Robust ethics and transparency frameworks are an essential part of good governance and contribute to preventing corruption and undue interference into the democratic process, among others. Today’s proposal is part of the Commission‘s broader set of actions to foster integrity and defend the Union’s democratic system and the rule of law.
President von der Leyen supported the creation of an interinstitutional ethics body in her Political Guidelines. In its resolution of 16 September 2021, the European Parliament underlined that ‘a single independent EU ethics body could better ensure the consistent and full implementation of ethics standards across the EU institutions to guarantee that public decisions are taken with a view to the common good and citizens’ trust in the EU institutions’.
The Ethics Body is coherent with the Commission‘s action on rule of law, democracy and transparency, together with other initiatives such as the anti-corruption package presented on 3 May, the upcoming defence of democracy package, and the interinstitutional agreement on a mandatory transparency register concluded between Parliament, Council and Commission in May 2021.
The European Treaties laid down the principles and rules for ensuring the proper conduct of the members of the institutions with regard to independence and integrity.
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