What side incomes have Slovak MEPs declared?
The European Parliament (EP) introduced a new Code of Ethics after journalists had revealed that a number of MEPs were willing to take money for presenting legislative proposals. Changes included introducing a more extensive declaration of financial relationships and interests related to extra-parliamentary activities. The idea is to show the public where individual MEPs worked before taking their office, what paid activities they carry out alongside their parliamentary duties, what companies or NGOs they represent in boards of directors, or in which companies they have significant stakes.
Satisfaction at higher standards quickly gave way to reality. A look at the declarations filed as of March 2012 suggests that such declarations will not work without rigorous scrutiny and enforcement through sanctions (which is, of course, also the long-standing experience in Slovakia). As a recent study by Friends of the Earth Europe shows, many MEPs have not taken their responsibilities to voters and the public seriously.
For example, the Italian MEP Antonio Cancian from Berlusconi’s party filled in the questionnaire about his work activities (“attività”) and membership of boards of directors (“partecipazione”) during three years before he joined the EP as follows:
In other words, instead of stating specific employers and companies (as most MEPs did), which would have helped track his potential conflicts of interest, he just indicated non-specific activities in 2006, some membership in 2006, etc. Thus, there is no chance finding out if he might be lobbying for subsidies or legislative exemptions for his former employer.
The Danish right-winger Jens Rohde also wanted to be funny. His reply to the question on his former occupations was:
He later explained on Facebook that he did not feel bound by the rules of the European Parliament, only by his voters…
As can be seen from these examples, MEPs often filled in the forms in the old style – with their handwriting and in their mother tongue. In total, two thirds of them did so. This means that it is more difficult to process the declarations into a structured database, which would allow for their easy comparison and analysis. Declarations made in national languages make it difficult to scrutinise MEPs from various countries. In addition, some forms are almost illegible.
More importantly, according to Friends of the Earth monitoring, up to 12% of MEPs left the form blank, i.e. they did not even indicate their occupation before taking their office in the EP. When Transparency looked at Slovak MEPs, we found even worse numbers – almost one in four of them did not fill in any information in the document. Specifically, they were Anna Záborská (KDH/Christian Democratic Movement), Monika Smolková (Smer/Direction – Slovak Social Democracy) and Sergej Kozlík (HZDS/Movement for a Democratic Slovakia). Previous occupations and memberships were filled by only six of our 13 representatives.
Monika Flašíková-Beňová from Smer-SD stated in her declaration her income from her post in Bratislava self-governing region as well as her participation in the board of directors of a region-owned company, but she did not state her shares or board membership in three companies, although according to the Business register, she still holds these positions. Two of these companies also have advertising and promotion listed in their scope of activity… In her declaration, she does not mention the foundation Solidarita or the Sanatorium for alcohol and drug addictions, even though according to her own website, she holds positions there of a trustee and a member of the board of directors, respectively. Some conflicts of interest could emerge from these positions too and the new Code of Ethics obliges her to disclose them in her declaration.
(Update from 27/07/2012: Statement of Monika Flašíková-Beňová:
* I sent a notice to TECO INVEST, a.s., stating my resignation from both the Board chair and the Board member as of 19/08/2002
* neither Start Radio, s.r.o. nor Planet Sport, s.r.o. have any business activity, I have no income from them, and I had no income from them in the past, and as my legal representative has informed me, both companies are in liquidation
* I also have no income from the foundation Solidarita, which I have been financing from my own resources for a long time. I submit the annual report to the Ministry of the Interior of the Slovak Republic every year.)
Similarly, Miroslav Mikolášik (KDH), who chairs the EP working group on bioethics, has not declared his position as president of the association Donum Vitae, which fights for abolishing abortions. It is also interesting to note that a few days before the deadline for the declarations, the company Čeladice-Invest, which had been co-owned by Katarína Neveďalová (Smer-SD) from 2007 until March this year, was deleted from the Business register.
Thus, according to the official declarations, Jaroslav Paška (SNS/Slovak National Party) is the only Slovak MEP who has some private business. Only Peter Šťastný (SDKÚ-DS/Slovak Democratic and Christian Union – Democratic Party) stated receiving a donation related to his political activities, as he declared unspecified “material support” from the government of Taiwan during his three-day visit in 2008.
Overall, there is not much to be learned from the declarations about extra-parliamentary activities and commitments of our MEPs. While such conflicts are most probably rather rare, MEPs are still unwilling to even fully disclose the information requested.