The diplomatic door-operers

Publication date: 
mercredi, February 22, 2012
Vicky Cann for Brussels Sunshine

In her Survival guide to EU lobbying Caroline De Cock, an experienced EU lobbyist, calls senior ex-officials who go through the revolving door into commercial lobbying “door-openers” and she writes “They can be of great value, by opening the door to people and offices that would otherwise remain unattainable to your lobbying efforts”.

Brussels Sunshine blogpost

Executive summary / policy recommendations: 

There can be few more effective door-openers than former European member state diplomats who have been tirelessly working in the Brussels bubble for years, often decades. Representing your country at the EU level brings you into close contact with member state colleagues in the European Council, as well as with senior officials at the Commission and other EU institutions. You can develop an extensive contact book, an insider's knowledge of how the EU system works, as well as the authority and influence which comes from using the title 'Ambassador'. 

Take the case of Tibor Kiss, for example who “was instrumental in Hungary's successful accession to the EU and its preparations for hosting the EU Presidency in 2011”. He headed and managed the largest representation of Hungary abroad and “acquired a profound insight into EU policies and institutions, including the challenges of inter-institutional cooperation, political communication and counselling.” He was a diplomat for over 20 years representing Hungary at the European level and in November 2011, he moved to the lobby consultancy PA Europe as a senior policy adviser. 

As PA Europe said when he joined them “Through his work in Council and Coreper Ambassador Kiss knows the main dossiers, the leading persons as well as the national and institutional stakeholders’ positions. His personal insights and profound knowledge of the way Brussels works will be a great asset to PA and its clients”.

Or the case of Jean De Ruyt who until recently was Belgium's Ambassador to the EU, including during their 2010 Presidency of the European Council. He was closely involved in Europe’s response to the financial crisis and the resulting legislation at the European level, and he also facilitated the resolution of a variety of state aid and competition policy disputes for Belgian companies. Now he has joined Covington & Burling LLP, a law firm, with a side-line in European advocacy and lobbying. 

Upon his appointment, Covington & Burling said: “Jean is a tremendous addition to Covington’s existing government affairs capabilities in Europe and internationally. His knowledge of the European institutions and the complex interplay between EU, UN and US policies and his strategic insights on complex matters are second to none and we are confident his arrival will significantly support our legal team and will be welcomed by many of our clients.” 

As former EU ambassadors from member states, the revolving door rules contained in the EU Staff Regulations did not apply to either Ambassador Kiss or Ambassador De Ruyt and this illustrates the need for the European Council and member states to take the revolving door problem seriously and to develop their own rules governing it.

Meanwhile, the UK's own revolving door rules for ministers and for civil servants only cover outgoing civil servants and not incoming. Thus Ivan Rogers who recently joined Prime Minister David Cameron's 10 Downing Street team as adviser on Europe after five years working in the UK finance sector at Barclays Capital and Citigroup, was apparently unregulated under the existing revolving door rules. 

By contrast, the EU's own ambassadors overseas are covered by EU staff revolving door rules. So John Bruton, who was EU ambassador to the US for five years until November 2009 did have to apply for permission to join lobby consultancy Cabinet DN and to undertake his various other subsequent external activities. Yet the evidence implies that the Commission is not as proactive as it should be to ensure the rules are followed by its staff and former staff. John Bruton has written on his own website that "Last December [2010] it was brought to my attention by the Commission that, under their rules, I ought to have sought their consent for any professional activities I undertook in the two years after I ceased to be in their employment. I was unaware of this requirement, as it had not been brought to my attention by the Commission either in the discussions that took place before I accepted the post in 2004, or at any time thereafter until December 2010. While I was aware that such requirements applied to former Commissioners, I was not aware that it applied to persons in my position.” 

All in all this is a situation which needs to change. These former ambassadors turned lobbyists require effective regulation of their moves through the revolving door, whether they have worked on behalf of the EU or their own member state, in order to prevent the risk of conflicts of interest from occurring. The ball is in the court of the Commission, the European Council and member states themselves to regulate these diplomatic door-openers.

Check out RevolvingDoorWatch to see further evidence of how the EU institutions need to better regulate the revolving door. 

The EU institutions are not transparent about the revolving door. If you have information about other revolving door cases, please contact: