THE BLOG

Brussels Revolving Door Leads Straight to the City

10/09/2014 13:00 BST | Updated 09/11/2014 10:59 GMT

This article has been jointly written with my colleague Sven Giegold, Green MEP

Few cases better exemplify the rapidly revolving door between a public political mandate and private interest than the case of Sharon Bowles. As ex-chair of the highly influential European Parliamentary Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs (ECON) she has effortlessly moved from gamekeeper to poacher to become a non-executive director at the London Stock Exchange.

Until the European elections in May, Ms Bowles was ECON chair with exceptional influence and was well respected, tackling financial interests on behalf of European citizens. But by selling her good reputation to the London Stock Exchange she has now seriously damaged her standing.

ECON is at the heart of parliamentary work on all European legislation to regulate financial markets in the wake of the financial crisis. Bowles has personally chaired almost all crucial negotiations between the European Parliament, member states and the European Commission. She represented the ECON committee in other institutions, including at meetings of the member states' finance ministers (ECOFIN). Clearly this has left her with a network of invaluable contacts and a thorough knowledge of how to play the game of negotiation. Such knowledge can now be used to help financiers rather than citizens.

The London Stock Exchange has been quick to boast about just how useful Ms Bowles will be. The press release was brazenly bluntly:

"Sharon brings extensive knowledge of European political and regulatory trends impacting our business. Her experience and insight will be of great value to the Group, as we operate in an increasingly complex and evolving regulatory environment."

Sharon Bowles is just one example of an unacceptably long list of top EU politicians, officials and commissioners, who walked through the revolving door to work for private lobbyists after their term in the parliament. The process of transforming knowledge acquired in public office into private income for personal gain, and to the benefit of a private company, not only damages personal reputations it also brings the EU itself into disrepute.

An increasing number of citizens are frustrated about the powerful influence private interests exert over European decisions. Sharon Bowles's speedy transformation, without any cooling off period, will only add to these suspicions and further undermine trust between Europe's political institutions and its people.

It is particularly problematic that Sharon Bowles led the negotiations on the EU directive on Markets in Financial Instruments (MiFID 2) for the Liberal group in the European Parliament (ALDE). This directive regulates major parts of the European legal framework for stock exchanges in Europe, including the London Stock Exchange.

As with most EU laws in financial market regulation, a lot depends on the detail of implementing legislation. Hundreds of so-called 'delegated acts' will be adopted in the coming months and years. These implementation measures have a crucial influence on how the laws come into operation. The European Supervisory Authorities and their national member authorities play a crucial role in drafting of these laws.

In the context of MiFID 2, Social Democrats, Greens, the Left and Christian Democrats pushed through stricter EU rules against food speculation than was favoured by the Liberals and the Conservatives (including the British Tories). Whether or not these rules are effective will be determined by the delegated acts. Sharon Bowles will now have the opportunity to water down delegated acts, which are decisive for the implementation of the EU rules on food speculation.

In order to strengthen citizens' trust in democracy, there needs to be extensive and tightly enforced cooling-off periods between the time a person spends holding public office and their move to a job for a private company in a related field. We need to introduce such a cooling-off period across the EU; three years would be a reasonable minimum length.

The example of Sharon Bowles demonstrates that this should not only apply to members of government and senior civil servants, but also to parliamentarians at least for positions with considerable overlap between their public and private roles. As Greens in the parliament we will continue to work in cooperation with NGOs, such as Lobby Control and Transparency International, to ensure that such a policy is implemented.

It is ironic that Greens on ECON pushed through comparatively strict cooling-off periods for the new European Supervisory Authorities in cooperation with Sharon Bowles and other members of the European Parliament against the opposition of the member states. Now it is Sharon Bowles herself who violates the spirit of these rules. Interestingly, her recent speedy passage through the revolving door would be illegal for an EU Commissioner, since they have to adhere to a cooling-off period of 18 months.

Finally, it would appear the rapidly revolving door has great personal financial benefits too. As a member of the European Parliament for some ten years, Sharon Bowles is entitled to receive her MEP's salary for ten additional months, irrespective of whether she finds another source of income. She has decided to accept a payment of €60,000. Surely she cannot claim to need this payment from the European citizens whose interests, it is now clear, have rapidly been supplanted by her own.