The European Commission has authorised Günter Verheugen, who for ten years until February was Germany’s European commissioner, to take up four advisory positions to banks and business.
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Verheugen, who was commissioner for enterprise in 2004-09 and commissioner for enlargement in 1999-2004, has been cleared to take up a position as a political adviser to the Bundesverband der Deutschen Volksbanken und Raiffeisenbanken, an association of savings and co-operative banks, and as adviser and vice-chairman of the Royal Bank of Scotland’s German division. He is also being allowed to join the international advisory board of Fleishman Hillard International Communications, a global public-affairs company, and to become an adviser to the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey.
A Commission spokesman said that the decision, made on 6 July, to allow Verheugen, was taken following a positive opinion from the Commission’s ad hoc ethical committee that assesses if there is a possible conflict of interest between a former commissioner’s new activities and previous work.
The spokesman said that Verheugen had given assurances that he fully subscribed to the code of conduct for commissioners and stressed that his new roles excluded any sort of lobbying or direct involvement in business activities.
The decision was criticised by a left-wing MEP and pro-transparency campaigners.
Thomas Händel, a German far-left MEP, said: “The decision by the Commission to approve the request of Günter Verheugen to take up these positions is exactly the opposite of what the people in Europe expect from politicians, namely to decide independently from the pressure of lobbyists.”
Olivier Hoedeman of Corporate Europe Observatory, a group campaigning for more lobbying transparency, said it was no surprise that the Commission had approved Verheugen’s new jobs because the Commission had a “narrow definition of conflict of interest”.
Hoedeman said the Commission should make more use of cooling-off periods before former commissioners took up new posts. He said that was the most effective way to ensure that former commissioners were not able to influence former staff. He said that commissioners should also be banned from directly lobbying EU institutions.
This week’s decision follows earlier decisions allowing former commissioners Joe Borg, Meglena Kuneva, Louis Michel and Benita Ferrero-Waldner to take up posts with banks, insurance companies and public-affairs companies.