On the occasion of his 2017 State of the Union address today, President Juncker announced a new Code of Conduct for Members of the Commission. The modernised rules set new standards for ethical rules in Europe. The announcement continues President Juncker's push for greater transparency since the beginning of his mandate and his recent proposal to extend the "cooling-off" period from currently 18 months to two years for former Commissioners and to three years for the President of the Commission.
The proposed modernisation goes further by setting clearer rules and higher ethical standards as well as introducing greater transparency in a number of areas. It will also create an Independent Ethical Committee replacing the current Ad hoc Ethical Committee, to reinforce its status, to strengthen scrutiny and to provide advice on ethical standards.
The new Code of Conduct for Members of the Commission features, in particular, the following improvements:
- Post-office activities: As announced in November 2016 in a letter to the European Parliament, the new Code of Conduct extends the "cooling-off" period from currently 18 months to two years for former Commissioners and to three years for the President of the Commission. During the cooling-off period, former Members of the Commission need to inform the Commission before taking up a new job and will also be subject to restrictions in certain activities, such as lobbying members or staff of the Commission.
- Preventing conflicts of interest: The new Code of Conduct defines, for the first time, what a "conflict of interest" is and sets as a principle not only that Commissioners avoid situations of conflict of interest, but also situations that might be seen this way. In case former Commissioners intend to work in areas which are related to their former portfolios, the Independent Ethical Committee needs to be consulted first. As of now, both the Commission's decisions and the Committee's opinions related to such decisions will be made public.
- Financial interests: Stricter rules will also apply to the financial interests of Commissioners. They will have to declare investments above €10,000 irrespective of whether there could be a conflict of interest. In case of a conflict of interest due to a Commissioner's particular asset, the President will be able to request its divestiture or placement in a blind trust. Commissioners should update their declarations at the beginning of each year, as it is already the case today.
- Transparency and accountability: Commissioners are the best ambassadors of the European Union across the Member States and around the world which is why President Juncker encourages them to continue travelling. They must do so in the most cost-effective manner. Information about each Commissioner's travel expenses will be published every two months.
- Enforcing the rules: In the application of the Code, the College will be assisted by a new reinforced Independent Ethical Committee, which will be able to give advice on all ethical issues and make recommendations related to the Code. In case of a breach of the Code which does not justify taking the matter to the Court of Justice, the Commission can express a reprimand and make it public. This is a novelty recently used by the Juncker Commission and which will now be enshrined in the new rules.
President Juncker's proposal from November to allow Commissioners to be candidates to European Parliament elections without having to take a leave of absence is also part of the new rules.
President Juncker is now, on the basis of the Framework Agreement between the European Parliament and the Commission, consulting the European Parliament. The proposed Code of Conduct will enter into force on 1 February 2018. It will then be applicable to all current Members of the Juncker Commission.
In the spirit of transparency and accountability, the Commission will publish annual reports on the application of the Code.