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Ex-commissaris Verheugen begint eigen 'lobbybedrijf' (en)

Met dank overgenomen van EUobserver (EUOBSERVER), gepubliceerd op dinsdag 31 augustus 2010, 10:34.

Germany's Guenter Verheugen, one of the top baggers of lucrative private-sector lobbying posts among ex-EU-commissioners, has now gone one step further by setting up his own public relations consultancy, directly drawing on his EU experience.

With Brussels already suffering a reputation for having a culture of revolving doors in which officials move directly to private sector jobs related to areas they were responsible for regulating, German weekly Wirtschaftwoche has reported that Mr Verheugen in April, two months after he officially left his Brussels job, set up a firm with the name "The European Experience Company."

The company's website says that it will "not engage in any kind of lobbying activity." However, it offers "intensive management seminars for institutions and enterprises" with experts from European institutions. It also offers "analytical background papers and strategy recommendations" on EU policy.

"Small and medium-sized enterprises can be sure that we will fully take into account their special interests and needs," says the "values" section of the website.

Mr Verheugen was industry commissioner for five years and strongly made the case for small businesses while in office. In total, Mr Verheugen has 10 years of Brussels contacts at his disposal having previously been EU commissioner responsible for enlargement.

The co-founder of the enterprise is Petra Erler, a former head of cabinet for Mr Verheugen. During his time in office, Mr Verheugen came under fire for promoting Ms Erler to the top position after pictures emerged in the German and Lithuanian press appearing to show that they were in a relationship.

Reacting to news of Mr Verheugen's company, Erik Wesselius of Corporate Europe Observatory, a transparency watchdog, said: "Several of the services offered on the website are what we would define as lobbying services."

"We find it problematic that a former commissioner is now offering lobbying services ... this should be against the rules."

Mr Verheugen is not alone in peddling his EU experience in the private sector. Some seven commissioners from the former EU commission have joined private firms, although not all of them are seen as problematic by transparency lobbyists.

Among those seen as crossing the line are Austria's Benita Ferrero Waldner, formerly in charge of external relations, who is now working for insurance company Munich Re and fisheries ex-commissioner Joe Borg, from Malta, who has joined Fipra, a PR consultancy actively lobbying on maritime issues.

Mr Veheugen himself has already secured executive jobs with Raiffeisen Bank, the Royal Bank of Scotland, US lobbying consultancy Fleischmann-Hillard and the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey.

EU rules do not prevent former commissioners from joining the private sector but they must run any new appointments via an ethics committee.

This committee defines "conflict of interest" too narrowly, said Mr Wesselius, as it almost never rules against former EU officials. According to CEO, there should be a blanket ban on EU commissioners joining the private sector for two years after they leave office.

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