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EU Ethics Body Will Not Have Sanctioning Powers, Commission Says

The new EU Ethics Body will harmonise transparency standards for EU politicians in nine EU institutions but will not have investigative and sanctioning powers, EURACTIV has learned from an EU Commission senior official.

The proposal for the new body will be published at the end of June, and seek to define standards for institutions and monitor whether they are applied “in the same way” in all cases. 

If the ethics body recognises that a breach of the rules occurred, the EU institution in question will be responsible for prosecuting the case with its own independent sanctioning system. 

This is because it is “legally not possible” to give the body legally-binding powers on its decisions, the source said. 

The EU Ethics Body debate has ranked high in the EU agenda since the Qatargate corruption scandal that engulfed EU institutions last December. Several MEPs and officials were arrested for allegedly taking money from Morocco and Qatar, in exchange for political influence.

According to the EU executive official, the body cannot investigate or sanction people on its own because of the risk of overlap with other bodies, such as national institutions, and other EU entities, like the EU Court of Justice, Court of Auditors, European Public Prosecutor Office and the European Anti-Fraud Office.

However, the standards to be applied will be “legally binding” to institutions once the proposal becomes a legislative act, and will be applied like other EU law.

“Institutions comply with legislation,” the Commission official said. In the scenario of an institution failing to apply Ethics Body rules, the case would go to the EU Court of Justice.

The body will set minimum standards with which institutions have to comply, allowing institutions to “go beyond” the ethics rules with stricter ones if they want.

It will have a monitoring and transparency mechanism to check whether the standards are respected and to inform the public of its activities.

According to the Commission official, the ethics body will focus primarily on asset declarations, external activities, acceptance of gifts, hospitality and travels, acceptance of awards, honours or any other form of prize, activities of ex-members, and meetings with groups of interest representatives.

The creation of an Ethics Body has been one of the European Parliament’s main demands of the Commission since the scandal.

However, EU transparency commissioner Vera Jourová, who is responsible for preparing the new legislation, urged for patience.

“To regain the trust of people after Qatargate, it will take some time,” Jourová told delegates at the ALDE Congress in Stockholm, which gathered Europe’s liberal parties, at the weekend.

“I am now working on the ethics body for the EU institutions, and I will do my best to establish or help establish something which will be meaningful,” she said. 

“But I really hate listening to some, especially members of the European Parliament, who say that without having the ethics body we cannot behave ethically.” 

Next steps

The proposal will be published by the end of June and it will then require the approval of MEPs and national ministers.

The EU executive expects the proposal to be approved before the next EU elections, which will be held in early June 2024. The Ethics Body will then start its activities with the new EU legislative mandate.

Source: Euractiv



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