Speech by Vice-President Jourová on the EU Ethics Body

Today I want to present a proposal that will make a significant change. It will for the first time in the history of the EU create a truly inter-institutional body to raise the standards of ethical conduct of European politicians. It has never been done before.

First, I will tell you why. This proposal is here to promote democracy. Because democracy in Europe can thrive only if people trust the institutions and such trust is not a given, we have to earn it. We are starting from a decent place. 54 percent of respondents of recent Eurobarometer are satisfied with how democracy works in the EU.

But we have to keep working to improve this level of trust.

In recent months, we have seen some scandals, such as Qatar gate that reminded everyone that there are gaps in our systems.

If a scandal happens, people around the EU will not differentiate between European institutions. So, if the Brussels‘ politicians want to remain credible and accountable, they need to be subject to the same high ethical standards.

We need to have a clear, transparent and common approach to what are the ethical rules in the so called “Brussels bubble”.

I was thinking a lot about ethics in politics. Because politics is a craft which puts us daily into the situations where moral and ethical dilemmas lie in front of us. Many enter politics to do good and serve their citizens, but there are many evils on the way to achieve this and then it is personal integrity that decides.

That is why I propose to create a new Ethics body, to shine a clear light into the ethical conduct of politicians and appointed members of EU institutions by solving the problem of different rules and uneven application of ethical standards around the institutions.

Let’s be clear. There are criminal issues, such as corruption, that are already illegal. And there are authorities like the police, or prosecution services and judges to deal with these issues. Qatar gate is a good example of this.

But, as we all know, opportunity makes a thief. There are circumstances that can make certain crimes easier.

Today’s proposal reduces aims to reduce to the minimum the scope for this opportunity. It reduces the possibility of ill-intentioned actors to abuse the system.

The new Ethics Body will complement existing structures. Just to recall: there is OLAF to investigate fraud and individual misconduct, there is the European Public Prosecutor to investigate crimes against EU budget, there is EU Ombudsperson to investigate maladministration. And each institution has a system and staff dedicated to investigating, enforcing and sanctioning the breaches of their respective ethical rules. In the Commission for instance we have an independent Ethics Committee as well as a Unit dealing with Ethics.

Now, about the new Ethics Body. It will close this gap of different and opaque standards.

I want the standards to be high, clear and applicable to all institutions. That´s why I propose this innovative and first ever ethical authority of the European Union. It will bring together for the first time 9 European institutions to set standards which the institutions shall be bound to implement internally.

The Body will have three main tasks – develop high standards, exchange best practices among the institutions and promote and guard the ethics culture. These standards will have to be transposed into the internal rules of each institution.

We define the areas where we want the new body to work on, such as post-mandate and side activity, declarations of interests and assets, gifts, hospitality and travels, transparency of meetings with stakeholders, dealing with harassment and others.

Importantly, the Ethics Body will also set standards on the implementation of the new standards, including on its compliance and follow up. This means the Body won´t be toothless as there will be mechanisms to ensure that rules are efficiently applied.

It will monitor its enforcement and publicly report how each institution is dealing with it.

For the first time, there will be transparency and public pressure for outliers.

The institutions need to have a strong ownership of the final scope and activities of the body.

And transparency is key. The rules will be public, the body will communicate with the public so that the voters can clearly follow what kind of behavior is acceptable for institutions and politicians and what is not.

This is a step that is unprecedented. It will ensure (and allow EU citizens to be sure) that all members of all EU institutions are subject to the same high and understandable standards.

This is a meaningful and feasible proposal that I have already discussed with the institutions so that it can be agreed to quickly.

Given that elections are in a year’s time, it is pointless to propose a something that will never see the light of day. We have to be fast and effective.

We urge our partners in the European Parliament, the Council and the other institutions to move swiftly with supporting this proposal, so as to develop these common high standards as soon as possible. This is also why we included deadlines in the proposal itself.

It is important to act and to show that we have nothing to hide. Because exactly in one year the voters will decide to whom they place their trust and to whom not.