Thursday, September 28, 2006

TI came out with an analysis of how access to information laws can be used as an anti-corruption tool. One place where this argument needs to be used is in the European Parliament.

At the moment, the financial interest statements for Members of the European Parliament are woefully inadequate and do not ask enough questions about Members' affiliations, and does not acknowledge the possibility of trade in influence, not just money. Thus, unpaid positions and affiliations also count in deciding whether there is a case for conflict of interest. See for instance, this declaration of financial interest from Robert Evans. Only affiliations that are remunerated are considered relevant, and when they are listed, they are mostly illegible.

But the biggest problem is that some MEPs are able to refuse to publish their declarations on the website, leaving voters with the one option of visiting the parliament and going to a small room in the depths of the building to look at the declaration...which cannot be photocopied. Check out for instance MEP Lauk from Germany: no declaration there. And there is a whole list of similarly private MEPs that was published in the European Voice last year.

And the gist of what Commissioner Kallas said last year, mostly in relation to MEP Elmar Brok's role at Bertelsman AG, was that the conflict of interest can be dealt with (they cannot speak or vote on any thing related to the interest they are affiliated with) but that the most important thing is that people know about it. Now, whether there is good enforcement of keeping people from speaking, voting or using their position to get favorable regulation for their interest, that is another story. And I think that problem should be handled in conjunction with new rules about how the interests of legislators are made public, because it is just as important.

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