BBC News, 7 July 2011
- Fourth Euro MP in lobbying probe
- Two MEPs quit amid lobbying claim
- Brussels revises rules for EU schmoozing
The political leaders in the European Parliament have agreed on a new code of conduct aimed at thwarting unethical behaviour by MEPs.
|Lobbying and expenses scandals have hurt|
the European Parliament's image
The code bans rewards for influencing votes and says MEPs will have to specify extra payments they receive.
The decision to tighten the rules was prompted by a "cash-for-laws" scandal which erupted in March.
The parliament has been investigating corruption allegations against four MEPs, who have denied wrongdoing.
A report by an undercover team from the UK's Sunday Times newspaper alleged that the MEPs had accepted offers of cash in exchange for influencing laws.
A parliament statement on Thursday said the new code was based on best practice from several national parliaments.
A vote by the full parliament is still required to put the code into effect.
Parliament President Jerzy Buzek said the rules were drawn up in 10 weeks and "we now have a strong proposal for the first-ever code of conduct for the European Parliament".
The code spells out rules for former MEPs who work as lobbyists and requires current MEPs to declare any activities that might constitute a conflict of interest. It also bans any gifts worth more than 150 euros (£135).
MEPs will be able to consult a new five-member advisory committee about the code, and that parliamentary panel will also examine alleged breaches of the code.
Where the committee finds that the rules have been broken, it will recommend penalties, ranging from a reprimand to depriving an MEP of an official parliamentary post.
Alter-EU, a coalition of civil society groups, trade unions and academics pressing for more EU transparency, welcomed the new code of conduct.
But it regretted that "there is no cooling-off period for MEPs, allowing them to become lobbyists as soon as they leave elected office". It also regretted that the advisory committee would not include any independent experts.
In June the parliament and European Commission decided to merge their listings of lobbyists, by creating a "Joint Transparency Register".
It is still not compulsory for lobby organisations to register, but doing so can make access to EU officials easier.
Poland, now steering EU business for the next six months, says it will encourage the Council - the grouping of EU governments - to join the register.