Verheugen failed to inform the Commission about the setting up of the European Experience Company (EEC) as he was required to do by the then code of conduct for commissioners. When his involvement with the EEC was uncovered by the German weekly newspaper Wirtschaftswoche in August 2010, Verheugen explained that this did not constitute a paid job, despite the fact that he owned half the shares in the company and so could benefit from his position. Verheugen disregarded the fact that the Commission had explicitly asked him to inform it about any planned activities early in advance.
The ad hoc ethical committee, which can be asked by the Commission to scrutinise revolving door requests made by former commissioners during their 12 month notification period, did not approve Verheugen's involvement with the EEC. However its advice to the Commission is non-binding and the Commission authorised the role.
Verheugen's four other positions (listed below) were also approved by the Commission, which concluded that the jobs “do not entail any risk of conflict of interests”.
In April 2010, Verheugen founded the European Experience Company (EEC), a new consultancy firm, alongside his former head of cabinet Petra Erler who also features on RevolvingDoorWatch. Verheugen is an (unpaid) managing director of this firm but holds 50 per cent of the shares. In 2011 (the most recent year for which figures are available), the EEC posted a profit of approximately €135,000.
While the EEC is not listed in the EU's Transparency Register and the EEC's website says: “We will not engage in any kind of lobbying activity”, the EEC offers services which would appear to fit within the Commission’s definition of lobbying. For example, the company offers to design “the best strategy for your success in dealing with European institutions”. This implies that the EEC is likely to provide advice on lobbying strategies, rather than carrying out lobbying directly on behalf of clients.
In addition, Verheugen is also senior advisor and vice chairman of global banking and markets in Europe, Middle East and Africa at the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), Niederlassung Deutschland. At the time of his appointment, RBS Executive Ingrid Hengster said:
"Professor Verheugen is known as a great supporter of the European idea and has made himself, not least in the European industrial policy a name … His experience in European politics and its national and international contacts are very valuable for RBS … We are delighted that Professor Verheugen's future as a senior advisor to us. This shows once again how important the German and European market for the RBS”.
Verheugen holds a number of additional roles. These include: European affairs adviser for the Federation of German Co-operative Banks (BVR) and a member of lobbying consultancy FleishmanHillard’s international advisory board. FleishmanHillard in Brussels currently works for, amongst other major clients, Exxon-Mobil, Association for Financial Markets in Europe, Standard and Poors and Barclays Capital.
For each of the four roles listed above (EEC, RBS, BVR and FleishmanHillard), Verheugen told the Commission that lobbying was not to be part of the role. Verheugen also acts as an adviser to the Turkish Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges.
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. Verheugen did not claim this transitional allowance as he was instead in receipt of a Commission pension. This meant that, according to the rules, when he applied for authorisation for his new roles, he was not required to provide the Commission with information about his remuneration for the roles in question.
CEO contacted Professor Verheugen for his views before publishing this article. He said:
“I am not involved in lobbying-activities of any kind. The same is true for the European Experience Company, of which I am a shareholder. This company explicitly rules out lobbying as it is stated on its website. This rule is part of every contract, which the Company made in the past or still has. The same is true for all my personal activities. Consequently, neither the EEC nor I myself did ever contact the European Commission, the European Parliament or the Council on behalf of a client …
I have never considered the foundation of a private company and my advisory role for different entities as a potential conflict of interests with my former responsibilities. I share my life-long experience in politics since 1969 with the general public by publishing articles, giving interviews, delivering speeches, participating in conferences and seminars and, as the most time consuming of my activities, teaching at the European University Viadrina in Frankfurt (Oder) (without financial compensation by the way). I cannot see which conflict could arise if I share the same experience with institutions or companies ….
Please be aware that I am now nothing but a private citizen who is no longer involved in policy-making at European or national level.”
His full response is available to read here.
For more information see: Revolving door provides privileged access
For more information see Petra Erler's entry on RevolvingDoorWatch
“In CEO's view, the Commission should have blocked Verheugen's spins through the revolving door. Verheugen's attraction to clients and employers is highly likely to be based on his 10 years in the European Commission and assertions that these roles will not involve direct lobbying, do not dispel the high risk that conflicts of interest could arise. The European Experience Company does not disclose its clients or the specific work it does for them, but it is likely to include providing lobbying advice on how to influence EU decision-making.”