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EU Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly calls for a ‘robust’ approach to EU’s big business links

The Irish woman is investigating the appointment of former EIB vice-president Emma Navarro to the board of Iberdrola


European Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly

European Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly

European Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly

Europe’s Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly has launched another ‘revolving doors’ probe into links between former EU top brass and big business.

The Irish woman is investigating the appointment of former European Investment Bank (EIB) vice-president Emma Navarro to the board of Spanish energy giant Iberdrola, a company that has received more than €1bn in EIB loans.

Announcing the inquiry yesterday, Ms O’Reilly said the EU institutions “need to take a robust approach” to former senior staff moving to the private sector.

“Political lives used to end in failure now they end in lobbying,” she told the Irish Independent in an interview earlier this week.

“Are people beginning to go into politics or public service with a view to post-service employment in lobbying? It’s becoming embedded in the career life-cycle of politicians.”

High-profile exits from the EIB have raised concerns among MEPs.

Ms Navarro took up a post as a non-executive director of Iberdrola last December, three months after she left the bank.

The EIB’s own code of conduct recommends a 12-month cooling off period.

She left around the same time as fellow vice-president Andrew McDowell, ​a former advisor to Enda Kenny, who now works at consulting firm Strategy&, part of PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and had been considered for the top job at the Central Bank of Ireland.

He has made strict commitments not to lobby the EIB during his first 12 months in the job.

The Luxembourg-based PwC EU Services, a division of PwC,  has won several management consulting contracts with the EIB over the years.

“We didn’t know that, actually, otherwise we would have treated him equally,” said German MEP Sven Giegold, who drew Ms O’Reilly’s attention to the Navarro case.

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“There is a lot wrong in the EIB when it comes to dealing with the staff and conflicts of interest. The list is really long and this is just one example of a whole longer list of issues.”

A recent report by Dutch MEP Bas Eickhout expresses “concern over reports that several former vice-presidents have taken up employment at entities associated with the EIB without respecting a cooling-off period”.

MEPs also want to prevent EIB vice-presidents from overseeing lending to their home countries. The EIB invested a record €1.1bn in Ireland in 2019 and over €1bn again last year.

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