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Diana on the European Parliament's Transparency Register and the new Code of Conduct

November 17, 2011 4:27 PM

Diana speaking at the UCL Transparency eventRecently, Diana who of course has been instrumental in establishing the European Parliament's Transparency Register, gave a keynote speech to an audience of over 100 people at University College, London.

Details of her speech and a video of the entire event can be found here:

https://www.ucl.ac.uk/public-policy/events/EU-transparency_lobbying

Diana was a member of the European Parliament's Bureau Working Group that helped to frame the European Parliament's Code of Conduct due to go to the full Plenary of the Parliament for voting on 1st December. Read an extract from a recent article by Diana:

Code of conduct for MEPs - setting an example for Europe

On 1st December, this Parliament's plenary will vote on a new Code of Conduct for MEPs - a resounding majority of MEPs need to support this proposal, if the European Parliament is to take the lead in Europe in terms of rules on good conduct for its parliamentarians.

The proposed text for this Code of Conduct is the fruit of concentrated political discussions with all the political groups involved over the last months. Each point was established using a comparison of the rules that exist in various national parliaments in Europe - each time trying to put the Parliament one step ahead.

The focus throughout our deliberations was public disclosure rather than banning any particular activities. "Why?" you may ask. Simply because the resounding arguments that we could all agree upon, whatever our political family, were: transparency is the best tool to fight corruption and the public, who we represent and who elect us, are the best placed judge of an MEP's work and activities. They can only do this if they have proper information and disclosure from their parliamentarians.

Therefore our focus was on improving the clarity and visibility of Members' financial declarations, and enforcing the rules and policing of these declarations.

An Advisory Committee* has been created in order to advise Members - in confidence - on their queries about any ethical issues, and in the last analysis will report to the President of Parliament where there seems to have been a breach of the new code.

The AFCO committee resoundingly approved our work today, making some clarifying technical changes that have improved the text.

We will need to put these rules into practice as early as possible, for this message of transparency to be taken seriously. We should start the second term of our Parliament as we mean to go on, giving out a message of intent, and making a good New Year's resolution for 2012.

The year 2011 may always be coloured by the cash-for-amendments scandals, involving journalists from the Sunday Times. Looking back however, it seems that we could so easily have avoided this situation. If the MEPs firstly had thought to check whether or not the 'lobbyists' were on the joint Transparency Register, and secondly alarm bells would have been raised if one of the 60 MEPs approached would have been able to seek advice from an Advisory Committee about what was being proposed. Blatant misconduct can never be condoned, but at least in cases of doubt, if MEPs need assistance and advice, it will now be available to them.

Whilst this code may not satisfy everyone's aspirations, it lays down what we set out to achieve: guidance for our MEPs. Indeed in my own work, I have increasingly relied on the Transparency Register for guidance when it comes to who to meet. Before agreeing to discuss legislative dossiers with interest representatives, I check their name and/or organisation against the register, and if they are listed, I know that they have signed up to operate in a transparent manner.

I also choose to write up legislative footprints in annexes to my reports, listing much like in a bibliography, who I have discussed the report with. I also list my daily meetings on my website, but I am aware that this is a personal choice; it is my personal attempt to respond to the political climate and public expectations in my own country. Like Europe as a whole, our Parliament is richly culturally diverse. Expectations of parliamentarians vary in different Member States and indeed the view of different political parties will vary, but now we all have a substantial agreed basis to work from. This basis is a conglomerate of what exists in varied forms across Europe, but is the most complete code of conduct compared to our national parliaments.

Whilst our European Parliament is unique in that it must rely on laws of Member States to determine which sanctions can be imposed on MEPs, it can still determine how its own House is run. It will publish on its website breaches of the Code by any MEPs, and conflicts of interest will be taken into consideration when determining who rapporteurships are bestowed upon.

Each MEP will wish to retain the right to meet who they wish, as this is the basic part of the free exercise of our mandate as elected representatives. If however, we want to encourage public confidence and indeed public interest in our work, the more we can disclose transparently, the better.

Like everything related to a culture of « openness », new habits need to form to help build this culture in a lasting manner.

*This committee will be made up of 5 Members, appointed by the President at the beginning of his or her term of office, from amongst members of the bureaux and coordinators of the AFCO and JURI committees. Political balance will be an important consideration, as will be the experience of these Members. Each member of the Advisory committee will serve as chair for 6 months on a rotating basis. Reserve members shall also be appointed, one for each group not represented on the committee. In this way the relevant reserve Member shall serve as a 6th Member of the committee, when it considers a breach of the code of conduct by an MEP of a political group not represented on the committee.