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A new code of conduct for members of the European Parliament was unanimously endorsed by the Constitutional Affairs Committee on Thursday. The code sets out rules and principles which MEPs will need to follow in their contacts with outside interests, so as to avoid any conflict of interests.

The code's guiding principle is transparency. MEPs will have to provide clear declarations of their paid activities outside Parliament and their remuneration, as well as of any other functions which might constitute a conflict of interest. The code also includes an explicit ban on receiving payments or other rewards in exchange for influencing parliamentary decisions. There are clear rules on the acceptance of gifts and on the position of former MEPs working as lobbyists.


Parliament's President Jerzy Buzek said after the vote: "I strongly welcome the adoption of the report on the new code of conduct for MEPs by the Constitutional Affairs Committee.  The vote, with all MEPs in the committees voting in favour with only one abstention, shows the strong commitment by all Members of the European Parliament to ensure full transparency in the performance of their duties. The vote is an excellent indication that whole EP will approve it in December. 


Increased power of the European Parliament must be accompanied by increased responsibility and transparency on behalf of its members.  The report adopted today by the committee represents a major improvement to the status quo.  The code of conduct will provide a strong shield against unethical behaviour."


Committee chair and rapporteur Carlo Casini (EPP, IT) said "I believe the most significant aspects of the newly-adopted code of conduct are the unanimous consensus behind it and the speed with which it was approved. The broad consensus is also due to the preliminary work done by all political forces at the highest level, while the speed is also a consequence of a reaction to unjustified criticisms of MEPs. Having compared the new code to all existing national ones in the EU, we can say that it guarantees the highest level of transparency."


Financial declaration


MEPs will have to state, publicly and on line, any professional activity performed during the three years before election, as well as any membership of any board of companies, NGOs and/or associations held during that period or at present. Any remunerated activity undertaken during the term of office, including writing, lecturing and providing expert advice, even if occasional, will have to be made public if it earns more than €5,000 a year.


Financial support of any nature and any financial interest that may cause a conflict of interests will also have to be disclosed. Any change to the declaration must be notified within 30 days and in the event of failure, the member will no longer be eligible to hold offices within Parliament.


Gifts


Any gift or benefit valued at more than €150 received by a MEP during the performance of his or her duties must be refused or, if the MEP was officially representing Parliament, passed on to Parliament's President. Reimbursement of direct costs will not be deemed a gift, if the event is attended further to an official invitation.


Sanctions


Should the code be breached, and upon a decision by the President after having consulted the Advisory Committee, a member may be sanctioned with a reprimand, a forfeiture of the daily allowance from two up to 10 days, temporary suspension from Parliament's activities (not including the right to vote) for a maximum of 10 days, or the loss of the role of rapporteur or other elected offices within the EP (for the latter two latter sanctions, a confirmatory decision by the President is needed ). Any such sanctions will be published on Parliament's web site.


Former MEPs


Former MEPs who start working as lobbyists in a field directly linked to EU affairs will not benefit from the facilities otherwise provided to former, during the time of such activity.


Advisory committee


An advisory committee will provide guidance to MEPs and advise the President on what steps to take in the event of alleged breaches of the code. Thursday's committee decision followed the unanimous adoption by the Conference of Presidents (made up of the EP President and the political group leaders) on 7 July 2011. The EP Bureau (presidium) working group which drew up the draft code, modelled it on the best practices of a number of national parliaments.


Next steps


The EP Bureau will lay down measures for implementing the code of conduct, and in particular for the introduction of a monitoring procedure. The vote in plenary, by qualified majority, will take place during the mini-session in Brussels on 1 December. The new rules should enter into force on 1 January 2012.