The Commission has authorised this role in its meeting on 13 January 2015 “provided Ms DAMANAKI abstained from lobbying the Commission and its departments on any issues with a potential link to her former portfolio on fisheries and maritime affairs for 18 months after leaving the Commission.” Documents released to CEO on this revolving doors case can be read here.
Maria Damanaki was maritime affairs and fisheries EU commissioner for over four years until October 2014. During this time she introduced and implemented the 'blue growth agenda for seas and oceans in Europe' and focussed on rebuilding depleted EU fish stocks.
“lead a global team focused on transforming how the world manages its oceans, including sustainable fisheries management, large-scale protection and restoration of coral reefs and other ecosystems, coastal resilience, and a first-of-its-kind mapping and quantification of the full value of the world’s oceans to people.”
Mark Tercek, president and chief executive officer at TNC said:
“Maria will bring great leadership to our Global Marine team, The Nature Conservancy, and the conservation field overall. Our work will greatly benefit from Maria's extensive experience in marine affairs, fisheries and international policy, as well as her strong diplomatic skills and global network.”
Damanaki has told CEO that:
“... I'll be supervising all the The Nature Conservancy (TNC) marine projects around the world. TNC is a non profitable organization focused on action. They implement projects and policies to achieve good results instead of lobbying governments.”
Rather remarkably, Damanaki has also told CEO that “I do not perceive any overlaps” between this role at TNC and her previous role as EU maritime affairs and fisheries commissioner. She says that she met TNC twice while commissioner, once while attending an oceans conference and once in early August 2014 in the context of an event organised by NGOs. Damanaki also indicates that TNC approached her about post-mandate activities while she was still in office. Specifically she says:
“TNC floated the idea of a possible cooperation after the end of my mandate during our meeting in early August. I answered that I could discuss this only in November. This is what happened. We held a discussion and reached a preliminary understanding with no specific details of course, over the phone in November after the end of my mandate.”
In May 2013, TNC was one of several NGOs criticised by Naomi Klein for its links to fossil fuel companies and its failure to divest. Klein says that TNC is “the richest of all the green groups” and her snapshot research reported that TNC had US$950 million in endowments and US$1.4 billion in investments in publicly-traded securities. Klein said at the time that it refused to answer any questions or to provide any details about its holdings or policies when asked, but according to its 2012 financial statements, it had at least $22.8 million invested in the energy sector. Klein also wrote that the TNC, according to 2010 reports in the Washington Post, “has accepted nearly $10 million in cash and land contributions from BP and affiliated corporations”.
A look at the board of directors of TNC is also revealing. It is full of people with corporate backgrounds including Goldman Sachs, Google, Merck, Alibaba group, Blackstone group and many others. The TNC vice chair is James E. Rogers, the retired chairman, president and CEO of Duke Energy, the US's largest electric power holding company, which is dependent upon coal, natural gas, oil, and nuclear power plants for its supplies. Rogers also serves on the boards of the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations and the World Association of Nuclear Operators.
The head of TNC, Mark Tercek, is a former managing director and partner at Goldman Sachs, where he worked for 24 years.
The TNC website says that it pursues “non-confrontational, pragmatic, market-based solutions to conservation challenges”. In particular, it is working with some of the world's biggest and most controversial companies including Dow Chemical, Coca Cola, Shell, Rio Tinto and Kraft Foods. In 2011, TNC signed a 'deal' with Dow Chemical, thought to be worth US$10 million to the NGO.
TNC appears in the EU lobby register with a total lobby spend of less than €50,000 in the year to June 2014 and no registered staff with a European Parliament lobby pass. TNC lists the “Marine Strategy Directive” as an EU initiative which it is following, as well as other marine issues. Damanaki has told CEO that the TNC “is present in Berlin and London for communication purposes only”.
The Commission's rules
The current code of conduct for commissioners says that when they leave office they must abide by an 18 month notification period, during which time they must seek Commission authorisation for any new professional activities. The code further stipulates that the Commission should seek the view of its ad hoc ethical committee if the new professional activity is related to the commissioner's former portfolio. All commissioners are banned for 18 months from lobbying “members of the Commission and their staff for his/her business, client, or employer on matters for which they have been responsible”. The lobby ban is waived when former commissioners take up public office. In CEO's view, there are several loopholes and problems with these rules. The notification and lobby ban periods are far too short; lobbying is not defined; and the targets and content of proscribed lobbying are too narrowly-drawn.
As an ex-commissioner, Damanaki is entitled to a very generous transitional allowance after she leaves the Commission of between 40 and 65 per cent of final basic salary for the three years after she has 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.
Damanaki has said to CEO that she has accepted the transitional allowance and that it “will be cut if I accept this job”. She also states that all her income is declared to the Greek authorities and such declarations are also published on her website: www.damanaki.gr
Update 28 October 2015: You can read our new report The revolving doors spin again, Barroso II commissioners join the corporate sector on our website. The report includes this case and many others, analyses all the revolving door moves of the Barroso II Commission and includes a spreadsheet which collates all known information about the 100 plus new roles of the former commissioners.
“There is a very obvious overlap between the work Damanaki did while she was a maritime commissioner and her new work as head of oceans at The Nature Conservancy. Such jobs, whether for corporations or not-for-profits, need careful scrutiny for possible conflicts of interest. It is very disappointing that the Commission has not taken a more robust approach in this case. The Commission should have applied a far lengthier lobby ban and seriously considered whether it was even appropriate for Damanaki to take such a role which is so closely associated with her previous portfolio. Even if Damanaki does not directly lobby the Commission for 18 months, she is clearly a high-profile and well-connected individual and she will be able to provide substantial advocacy advice to her new employer. The risk of possible conflicts of interest in this case is compounded by the fact that TNC is an NGO with very close links to major global corporations.”