EU Commission probed by ombudsman over lobbyists

EU Commission in Brussels - Berlaymont building
Image caption Several activist groups have urged the Commission to be more transparent

The European Ombudsman has begun investigating the European Commission's links with lobbyists amid concern about alleged conflicts of interest.

The Commission, which drafts EU laws, has been accused of allowing officials to take up consultancy jobs without a sufficient "cooling off" period.

The ombudsman - the EU's main transparency watchdog - has asked to see Commission files on cases where outside interests may have won favours.

Brussels is a major hub for lobbyists.

A coalition of activists, including Greenpeace and Corporate Europe Observatory, welcomed the move by ombudsman Nikiforos Diamandouros.

Jorgo Riss, director at Greenpeace EU, said the investigation, based on the coalition's complaint, "is good news for transparency".

"For too long, the Commission has turned a blind eye to the conflicts of interest that can arise when EU bureaucrats change job to become lobbyists, or when lobbyists start working in the EU administration. The Ombudsman's investigation should lead the Commission to close the revolving door to private lobbyists who put the public interest at risk."

Concerns raised by some MEPs about vested interests lobbying the Commission also prompted an investigation by the EU Court of Auditors last year.

The audit studied four EU agencies responsible for aviation safety, food safety, chemicals and medicines, to see whether they were adequately preventing conflicts of interest.

The conclusion was that "none of the selected agencies adequately managed the conflict of interest situations", and the audit made recommendations to tighten up procedures, to prevent influence-peddling.

A row over lobbying cost the EU health commissioner his job last year. John Dalli, from Malta, was criticised over his links to a Maltese entrepreneur in connection with new tobacco legislation. He denied wrongdoing and alleged that he was forced out unfairly.

Commenting on the ombudsman's inquiry, a Commission spokesman was quoted by AFP news agency as saying: "There are very strict rules and mechanisms in place to prevent conflicts of interest."

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