European Commission releases list of special advisers, takes action on conflict of interests and fraud

On March 1st 2007, the European Commission for the first time ever published a list of the names and mandates of special advisers to EU Commissioners, 55 in total. Some weeks before, Commissioner Siim Kallas had announced that the contract with Commissioner Andris Piebalgs' special adviser, Rolf Linkohr, was terminated after Mr. Linkohr had failed to declare that he had no conflict of interest. See also: Brussels special advisers to be named, Andrew Bounds, Financial Times, 18 Feb 2007.

In a press release issued on 20 February, CEO welcomed this very important transparency improvement and commented that "Commissioner Kallas has given off a clear sign that the obligation for special advisers to the Commission to avoid conflicts of interest is more than an empty formality".

The Commission's steps followed after a written question to Commissioner Kallas by Austrian MEP Herbert Boesch in September 2006 and two open letters that Corporate Europe Observatory sent to the Commission in January 2007 (to Commissioner Piebalgs and to Commission President Barroso and Vice President Kallas). For more information on the conflicting interests of Rolf Linkohr, see our background paper of January 2007.

Shortly after the Commission had announced the termination of Mr. Linkohr's status as special adviser (e.g. Commissioner Kallas' letter to CEO, dated 15 February 2007), Mr. Linkohr issued a public statement in which he challenged the Commission's decision, while maintaining that he had always been fully transparent. CEO countered that Mr. Linkohr's consultancy had systematically refused to name its clients in the energy sector, saying they were "not obliged to do so". See also our full reaction to Linkohr's statement).

In the list of special advisers, the name of Mr. Etienne Davignon stands out as an another case where conflicts of interest seem very likely to occur. Mr. Davignon advises Development Commissioner Louis Michel on "Africa policy, in particular the role of the private sector in the economic development of sub-sahara Africa" and is also supposed to "mobilise the private sector for development policies". Etienne Davignon sits on the board of water and electricity giant Suez. According to the Suez website, he holds 11,111 Suez shares, which are currently worth more than 350,000 euro. Suez is active in sub-Saharan Africa and has a clear agenda of promoting the privatisation of public services like electricity, water supply or garbage collection.

More about Etienne Davignon's possible conflict of interests: Davignon 'Special Adviser' on African Development: Conflicts of Interest?, Corporate Europe Observatory, March 2007.

All contracts of the Commission's special advisers expire on March 31st 2007, so the big question now is how many of these contracts will be terminated on that date. On 9 March, European Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini announced that he will not renew the contract of his Walter Cretella-Lombardo, due to this special adviser's suspected involvement in a fraud case involving 200 million euro of public money intended for the regional water sector. For more information on this case, see Job setback for EU adviser in fraud probe, Andrew Bounds, Financial Times, 9 March 2007.

To be continued...