The European Parliament building in Brussels

The European Parliament building in Brussels.

NGOs submit complaint about risk of MEP's conflicts of interest

Corporate Europe Observatory, Friends of the Earth Europe, LobbyControl, and Transparency International EU have today written to European Parliament President Roberta Metsola to raise concerns about potential conflicts of interest regarding Angelika Niebler, an MEP from the centre-right EPP group. The NGOs raise concerns about the MEP's side-jobs and her work, particularly on the Corporate Sustainability and Due Diligence Directive currently being negotiated in the Parliament, and demand that President Metsola undertake an urgent investigation accordingly.

The Corporate Sustainability and Due Diligence Directive (CSDDD) seeks to hold companies accountable for human rights abuses, climate change, and environmental destruction in their overseas operations and supply chain. It has been heavily lobbied by corporate interests keen to limit their duties and liabilities. Our concerns about conflicts of interest relate to the paid side-jobs of this MEP.

Angelika Niebler MEP (a CSU member of the EPP) is a member of the Board of Trustees of the TÜV SÜD Foundation. This foundation is one of the two owners of TÜV SÜD AG, a German company which provides certification services, including overseas. One of the projects that TÜV SÜD certified was the dam at an iron ore mine owned by Vale near Brumadinho, in Brazil. In January 2019 the dam burst, killing at least 270 people. Only four months earlier, the Brazilian subsidiary of TÜV SÜD had confirmed the dam’s safety. TÜV SÜD is registered in the EU lobby transparency register and it is active on the “Sustainability and due diligence law”.

Additionally Niebler has a side-job at the Munich office of the US law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher where she provides legal and strategic advice on European and international law to companies with European and global interests. More widely Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher is known for having represented large corporate clients facing law suits from communities in the global south affected by those clients’ operations. Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher also represented Uniper in its arbitration case under the Energy Charter Treaty when the Dutch Government sought to introduce policies to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.

The NGOs are concerned that as part of her work as an MEP on the CSDDD Niebler tabled a series of amendments which relate to civil liability, the climate crisis, and other proposals to generally weaken the scope of the directive. We consider that Niebler’s amendments to the CSDDD could benefit her two side-job employers and that she is in a position of a potential conflict of interest. Niebler has responded to our request for comment and has denied that any conflicts of interest exist. Sidenote MEP Niebler has told us: “As a member of the Board of Trustees of the TÜV SÜD foundation, I do not supervise, control or influence the operative activities of TÜV SÜD AG and its corporate entities. Instead, I supervise and advise the TÜV SÜD foundation and its Management Board in pursuing and fulfilling its charitable purposes. Further, I am “Of Counsel” in the Munich office of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher since 2015. I do not represent Gibson Dunn & Crutcher vis-à-vis European institutions. There are no conflict of interests as regards my parliamentary work and my “Of Counsel” activity. I am primarily engaged with in-house activities at Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, such as female lawyers' empowerment and diversity management.”  

Brumadinho dam collapse

Brumadinho dam collapse

Ibama from Brasil, CC BY-SA 2.0 <;, via Wikimedia Commons

NGO responses

Vicky Cann of Corporate Europe Observatory said:

 "After Qatargate there can be no excuses for the European Parliament not to investigate potential conflicts of interest such as this. It's imperative that President Metsola takes urgent action as the Corporate Sustainability and Due Diligence Directive is being negotiated right now, and it must become a robust tool to hold EU companies accountable for their operations."

Paul de Clerck of Friends of the Earth Europe said:

"We have seen Niebler do her utmost to dismantle the CSDDD and completely remove climate obligations and civil liability for businesses from the text. The amendments she put forward would strongly benefit the companies that they work for. It is unacceptable that after Qatargate MEPs continue to have side-jobs with companies that have a direct interest in weakening EU laws. This is ruining the reputation of the European Parliament.”

Verena Leyendecker of LobbyControl said:

"Missing information on side-jobs and related clients is a gateway for illegitimate influence. This case clearly shows that we need more transparency and a strong enforcement of the existing ban on lobby side-jobs for MEPs."

Nick Aiossa of Transparency International EU said:

"MEPs holding paid side jobs with companies or organisations that seek to influence EU policy constitutes a breach of the European Parliament's own rules and poses a threat to the integrity of the EU decision-making process. This case should be thoroughly investigated, and if found guilty, the MEP in question should be sanctioned. In order to prevent future conflicts of interest, it's best to ban paid side jobs for MEPs altogether. MEPs are paid a full-time salary for a full-time job, and voters rightly expect them to focus on that."

Stop press! 15 January 2024

After a lack of response from the European Parliament authorities, the European Ombudsman has now asked the Parliament to respond to this complaint (and one concerning MEP Voss) by the end of February 2024.

Stop press! 21 March 2024

Following the intervention of the Ombudsman, the office of President Metsola of the European Parliament wrote to the NGOs but has maintained its refusal to provide any meaningful response to the complaints that had been submitted, including refusing to confirm whether or not they had been referred to the ethics committee and the outcome of any investigations undertaken. 

On 20 March the Ombudsman wrote to President Metsola. As the Parliament has changed the ethics rules since our original complaints (following the Qatargate scandal) the Ombudsman will not take further action. But she says the following: 

"... I note the improvements in the Parliament’s framework, in particular, that citizens can now bring what are described as ‘signals’ to the Advisory Committee directly. I note that you say that this new arrangement is now fully in force and at the disposal of citizens. I have frequently stressed the importance of the reinforced Advisory Committee for the proper functioning of the Parliament’s Code of Conduct.
I also note, however, that there is no guidance available to the public on how to direct such ‘signals’ to the Advisory Committee. In order for this right to be effective and concretely in force, this information should be published in a clearly visible place on the Parliament’s website. Citizens should also know how their complaint/signal will be dealt with, and how, and if, the outcome will be communicated to them.
I trust that the Parliament will reflect further on how to ensure adequate transparency around this new and welcome initiative. In the event of a request for
information about the conduct and integrity of MEPs, the Parliament should rigorously assess the balance as between certain legitimate interests of MEPs and a public interest such as, for example, the need for citizens to be assured of the impartiality of EU decisionmakers.
I am confident that such an approach would allow for the right balance to be struck between transparency, data protection and the confidentiality of any investigations."

This article continues after the banner

Subscribe to our newsletter