More clarity, greater financial transparency, strict rules on harassment and stronger sanctions for non-compliance. On 28 January 2021, the members of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) voted for major changes to their Code of Conduct. This is the first milestone in the reform of the Committee that the new EESC leadership is undertaking.
The new rules contain a number of improvements to effectively prevent harassment and to efficiently handle possible cases of misbehaviour. While prevention is the number one priority, it will now be possible to impose a range of sanctions on a Committee member in the event of confirmed wrongdoing.
The EESC President, Christa Schweng, promised to strengthen the Code of Conduct last October, at the beginning of her Presidency.
Today, we are delivering on this promise. The great work of the Rules of Procedure panel has ensured broad support for this proposal. This proves our commitment to high ethical standards and to modern, transparent working methods, said Ms Schweng.
Where there is an allegation of misconduct, the matter will be investigated by the new Ethical Committee, which will have clearly-defined investigative powers. Both EESC members and staff will be able to submit complaints to the Ethical Committee. Should an investigation take place, any recognised whistle-blowers will be protected and the Committee will cooperate closely with OLAF.
Depending on the outcome of an investigation and the seriousness of the misconduct, members may face a number of sanctions, including:
- removal from one or more of the offices they hold in the Committee
- repair of any damage caused
- temporary loss of allowances that members receive
- suspension from participation in some or all of the EESC's activities or missions
- prohibition from representing the EESC in any national, interinstitutional or international forums
- loss of the right to access confidential or classified information
In the most severe cases, it will also be possible to expel a member from the EESC.
The updated rules also further increase financial transparency, especially in relation to the reimbursement of members' missions and activities. Every year, members will be obliged to submit a financial declaration that will be made publicly available on the EESC website. The document also clarifies cases of potential conflict of interest.
The changes follow the European Parliament's requests and recommendations as well as the recommendations from the European Ombudsman and the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF).
"Today's changes are the first but not the last reforms to strengthen the EESC's working methods. The Committee is changing to adjust its role, defined in the Treaties, to the current reality and the needs of the institutions we advise," concluded Ms Schweng.
The updated Code of Conduct will enter into force after its publication in the Official Journal of the European Union in the coming weeks.