The special advisers who shape policy at the highest level in Brussels are to be named for the first time, after one was dismissed for a perceived conflict of interest.
The existence of 55 part-time counsellors to Europe’s commissioners was confirmed only last month, and the identities of many of them have been kept secret for data protection reasons.
An industry lobbyist advising Andris Piebalgs, the energy commissioner, had his contract terminated after failing to clarify there was no conflict of interest between the roles. Rolf Linkohr, a German former MEP who runs a Brussels-based consultancy and is on the board of two power companies, had been working for Mr Piebalgs for two years. While in parliament he chaired the European Energy Forum, a club for MEPs funded by the industry, and he recently hosted a conference in Berlin lauding nuclear energy.
Siim Kallas, vice-president for administrative affairs, audit and anti-fraud, sent letters to all 55 special advisers last month asking them to confirm there was no conflict of interest between their roles. Mr Linkohr did not reply within the deadline so lost his job, Mr Kallas’s spokesman said. He could not say how many others had replied so more advisers could lose their jobs. “We have asked them to sign that there is no possible conflict of interest to remind them of the rules,” he said.
Mr Linkohr always declared his various posts, including board positions at EnBW and Vattenfall Europe, on his website. He said he would only comment once he had been informed by letter of his dismissal.
However, a staff member at Mr Linkohr’s Centre for European Energy Strategy said his original contract stated he could take other paid work. He wanted to get legal advice before signing the letter, she said.
Mr Kallas acted after a transparency pressure group called Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) wrote to him, Mr Piebalgs and José Manuel Barroso, Commission president, last month saying it believed there was “a serious conflict of interest” in Mr Linkohr’s dual role.
A spokesman for Mr Piebalgs said he knew Mr Linkohr only as an energy expert. “He declared that there was no incompatibility between his jobs. The commissioner followed procedure.” He has one other adviser, from Latvia.
Herbert Bösch, an Austrian MEP, was promised the names of advisers by Mr Kallas in December. “How can this be secret?” he said.
Mr Kallas said they would have to be told first but there were 55 advisers, working between three and 60 days a year. Seven are retired senior Commission staff. They and 19 others are unpaid. The rest get up to €612 ($805, £410) a day. His spokesman said legal issues had been clarified and the names would soon be forwarded to Mr Bösch.
CEO has asked for clearer rules on employing advisers to prevent perceived conflicts of interest. Mr Kallas, who has embarked on a drive to open up EU decision-making, also believes they need to be tightened.
Get alerts on News when a new story is published