Nikiforos Diamandouros, the European ombudsman, has called on the European Commission to improve the way it vets the appointment of special advisers.
He criticised how the Commission had taken on Pat Cox, a former president of the European Parliament, as an unpaid special adviser in 2007-10.
Cox’s appointment to advise Meglena Kuneva, who was European commissioner for consumer protection, was challenged by Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), a campaign group for transparency, which protested to the ombudsman in 2010 that Cox’s consultancy work for the likes of Michelin, Microsoft, Pfizer and APCO posed a potential conflict of interest for the Commission. The group claimed Cox’s links with big business were not properly reviewed by the Commission before his appointment.
Issuing his opinion on Monday (18 July), the ombudsman sided with CEO and said the Commission had “failed adequately to follow its own procedural rules” for handling potential conflicts of interest involving special advisers. A spokesman for the Commission would say only that it was reviewing the opinion.
The European ombudsman is appointed by and answerable to the European Parliament and Cox was president of the Parliament when Diamandouros first became ombudsman in April 2003. But the balance of power has shifted a bit since then. Cox left the Parliament in June 2004 whereas Diamandouros was reappointed in January 2005 and then again in January 2010 for a second five-year term. Perhaps Cox’s mistake was to have left the Parliament so early in life that he had to seek other amusement – whether working for Kuneva or Microsoft. He is still only 58, and he left the Parliament when he was just 51.
Angela Merkel might think that all Greeks retire early, but Diamandouros is 69 and still going strong.