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EU institutions could face inquiry into conflicts of interest

The European ombudsman is to investigate allegations of conflicts of interests within EU institutions by examining the “revolving door” behaviour of employees between the public and private sector.

Nikiforos Diamandouros, who is appointed to address complaints about maladministration within the EU, has asked the Commission to provide him with a list of potential revolving-door cases that have occurred in the last three years. The term “revolving door” is used to describe the movement of public sector staff into closely linked jobs with lobby groups or industry, and vice versa.

In a statement, the ombudsman has said he will examine the information provided by the Commission in response to his initial request, and may open an inquiry if he finds “indications of a systemic problem”.

The announcement comes after four NGOs filed a complaint with the ombudsman in October 2012. The organisations Corporate Europe Observatory, Greenpeace, Lobbycontrol and Spinwatch have accused the Commission of failing to properly address conflicts of interest, which they say means private interests are granted undue influence on policy decisions.

Scientific regulatory agencies have been particularly criticised after the European Court of Auditors found that four bodies—the European Medicines Agency, European Food Safety Authority, European Chemicals Agency and European Aviation Safety Agency—had failed to deal adequately with conflicts of interest among employees.

“Many lobby consultancies headhunt Commission staff because they provide them with invaluable inside knowledge and contacts. It is a profitable business strategy and one the Commission cannot afford to ignore,” said Rachel Tansey, a campaigner at Corporate Europe Observatory.

The ombudsman’s announcement comes in the wake of the resignation of the EU health commissioner John Dalli, over allegations that he was aware of efforts by tobacco lobby groups to submit bribes in exchange for influence on health policy.

Jorgo Riss, director of Greenpeace EU, said the ombudsman’s investigation would be “good news for transparency”.