The Commission approved this role whilst setting-out a general requirement to “ensure full discretion with regard to the sensitive and confidential information acquired within the context of your functions as a member of the European Commission”.
When the Commission’s ad-hoc ethical committee was asked to look at Meglena Kuneva’s proposed move to become a member of the board at BNP Paribas, they found that it “could possibly present a link” with Kuneva’s previous responsibilities within the Commission, “notably concerning studies related to bank tariffs in Europe”. However, it further claimed “that such [a] situation would not create a conflict of interest” although no arguments were given to back this up. The Commission wrote back to Kuneva to say that they needed more information on the specific tasks she would undertake at BNP Paribas before they could formally approve it but that she might “conditionally accept the offer”.
Ultimately, the ad hoc ethical committee suggested one condition that Kuneva should inform the Commission if she were to join one of the committees set up within the BNP Paribas board. If she joined “say a ‘consumers committee’ with the board, this might have to be further evaluated” they determined. Remarkably, the Commission did not include this or any other condition in its approval letter to Kuneva, aside from the general requirement to maintain confidentiality relating to her Commission work.
Whilst commissioner, Kuneva had worked on a major EU directive on consumer credit loans, intended to boost the cross-border market in retail financial services. Kuneva had also led a crack-down on European banks for their lack of transparency, detrimental to consumers. While banks were not directly under the auspices of Kuneva’s former portfolio, she had considerable and important dealings with the sector, creating a potential conflict of interest when she served on the board of BNP Paribas.
Kuneva was on the board of BNP Paribas until 2013 when she stepped down to focus on the Bulgarian elections. In April 2013, whilst campaigning in these elections, Kuneva defended her role at BNP Paribas saying that she had received full Commission authorisation for the role and that she had not been involved in the direct supervision of the bank.
Kuneva is also an unpaid special adviser on passenger rights to Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas. The Commission additionally authorised her requests to become chair of the governing board of the European Policy Centre and several other NGO posts.
Kuneva attracted controversy when, as commissioner, she employed former MEP Pat Cox as a special adviser from 2007-09. The European Ombudsman found that the European Commission had “failed to adequately examine potential conflicts of interest” when it employed Cox because of his lobby consultancy work with APCO and his own lobby firm “European Integration Solutions”.
All ex-commissioners are entitled to between 40 and 65 per cent of their final basic salary for the three years after they have left office. In addition, the transitional allowance scheme provides for commissioners to earn up to a further €9000 (approximately) a month from other sources without their pay-out being affected. In CEO’s view, the transitional allowance, the purpose of which was to enable ex-commissioners to not have to seek out immediate new employment, and thus avoid the risk of possible conflicts of interests, clearly needs to be reformed.
Ms Kuneva was contacted in advance of publication of this article, but no response was received.
For more information see: Revolving door provides privileged access
“Mrs Kuneva’s move to BNP Paribas was shocking, coming as it did in the middle of the EU’s economic and banking crises. Once again, the Commission’s procedures to scrutinise such revolving door moves lacked credibility and the approval for this role was handled in a way which implied that it was keener to provide a speedy and positive response to Ms Kuneva, rather than to ensure a thorough analysis of the role for possible conflicts of interest.”