Parliament signs up for new EU Body for Ethical Standards : a significant first step towards fostering a common culture of integrity and ethics

On Thursday, the European Parliament approved the creation of a new EU body to strengthen integrity, transparency, and accountability in European decision-making.

The essentials - achterground

> MEPs have approved agreement between eight EU institutions and bodies

> A significant first step towards fostering a common culture of integrity and ethics
> Common minimum ethical standards to be developed
> Five independent experts to contribute to the body’s work, and deliver opinions on individual written declarations on request.

since september 2021

The European Parliament has been calling for the EU institutions to have an ethics body, one with real. investigative authority and a structure fit for purpose.

MEPs reiterated the call in december 2022, in the immediate aftermath of the allegations of corruption involving former and current MEPs and staff, alongside an array of internal improvements to enhance integrity, transparency and accountability

Rapporteur Daniel Freund (Greens/EFA, DE) commented: “Without the tireless efforts of the European Parliament pushing for more transparency, we would not have come this far. The fact that the new body can also deal specifically with individual cases is an enormous negotiating success. Today, we are creating more transparency, laying the foundation for greater citizen confidence in European democracy.”

The agreement was reached between Parliament, the Council, the Commission, the Court of Justice, the European Central Bank, the European Court of Auditors, the European Economic and Social Committee, and the European Committee of the Regions. It provides for the joint creation of a new Body for Ethical Standards. This Body will develop, update, and interpret common minimum standards for ethical conduct, and publish reports on how these standards have been reflected in each signatory’s internal rules. The institutions participating in the Body will be represented by one senior member and the position of Chair of the Body will rotate every year between the institutions. Five independent experts will support its work and be available for consultation by the participating institutions and bodies about standardised written declarations, including declarations of interest.

A successful push for watchdog functions

Parliament was represented in the negotiations by Vice-President Katarina Barley (S&D, DE), Chair of the Constitutional Affairs Committee Salvatore De Meo (EPP, IT), and rapporteur Daniel Freund (Greens/EFA, DE). They improved significantly the Commission’s proposal, described as “unsatisfactory” by MEPs in July 2023, by adding to the tasks of the independent experts the competence to examine individual cases and issue recommendations. The agreement was approved by the Conference of Presidents.

Only the first step

The accompanying report by Daniel Freund (approved with 301 votes in favour, 216 against, and 23 abstentions) underlines that final decision-making rests with the signatories and that any consultation of the independent experts on an individual case begins with a request by a signatory. MEPs also point out that the declarations of financial interests of Commissioners-designate should as a rule be subject to examination by the independent experts.

Parliament reiterates its commitment to developing the independent ethics body in the future so it would be capable of carrying out investigations on its own initiative and of issuing recommendations for sanctions. A body like this should be composed of independent experts as full members, and cover members of EU institutions and bodies before, during, and after their term of office or service, as well as staff. MEPs are disappointed the European Council declined to join the agreement, and regret the unwillingness of the Council to allow the Body to cover at least the representatives at ministerial level of the member state holding the Council Presidency, and provides arguments against the relevant reasoning.

The text includes Parliament’s positions on financing provisions, the criteria for the consensus-based appointment of the experts, the existing legal pathways for the Body’s information-gathering, and the modalities of the independent experts’ work. It also sets out the need for the Body to lead by example by publishing its work-related information in a machine-readable open data format accessible to citizens, while protecting the privacy of the individuals concerned to an appropriate extent, and the presumption of innocence.

Finally, MEPs stress the need to define how the mandate of the Vice-President (and the alternate member) representing Parliament will be determined, and to put in place accountability mechanisms (which should include the Constitutional Affairs Committee) to ensure MEPs will have a say in the development of standards that will be binding for them.

Next steps

The agreement needs to be signed by all parties before it can enter into force. The agreement will be reviewed three years after its entry into force to improve and enhance the Body.

Further information

Mots clés

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