Robert Madelin retired from the European Commission in July 2016 at age 59, after a career of over 20 years at the EU institution during which he held various high-responsibility positions. According to documents released by the European Commission, he sought authorisation for eight new roles (documents here and here). Of these, seven were authorised with conditions, while one authorisation request was withdrawn by Madelin himself.
Madelin was authorised to take up a single remunerated role as Director of his own company Eurohumph, which he planned to launch later on. Madelin had sought authorisation for the role in March 2016, the Commission green-lighted it on 14 June 2016 – a time at which he was still working at the Commission - subject to conditions:
For two years, he was to not provide advice to clients on specific files which were under the responsibility of his former service during the last three years of service.
For two years, he was to refrain from professional contacts with the Commission departments for which he had worked during the last three years – the Directorate General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology (DG CNECT), as well as the European Political Strategy Center.
For 18 months, he was to refrain from any work relating to calls for proposals falling under the scope of DG CNECT Research and Innovation Horizon 2020 Work programmes 2016/2017, and from participating in any projects funded by the EU Research and Innovation Horizon 2020 programme.
For 12 months, not to engage in lobbying or advocacy vis-à-vis staff of the Commission on matters for which he was responsible during the last three years in the service.
Madelin eventually set up a consultancy firm with a different name in October 2016, Madelin Innovation. In the same month, media reports announced that Madelin had become Chief Strategist of major Brussels lobby firm FIPRA International; in May 2017 he then added the title of Chair and Director. Both roles are performed as a consultant via his firm, Madelin Innovation.
Corporate Europe Observatory requested to see the authorisation documents for this move, but we were told by the Commission that it had no record of a request by Madelin for the authorisation of any FIPRA work. Instead, the Commission told us that the authorisation for Madelin to set up his own firm in fact precluded engagements with clients, specifically “direct contract work with operating companies and in sub-contract work via-larger consultancies, focusing in a number of areas such as strategy”.
As becomes apparent in this response, the Commission has not requested in its conditions that Madelin seek authorisation per client, which suggests it considered the clearance for his role as FIPRA’s Chief Strategist (October 2016) and then Chair and Director (May 2017) as well as the authorisation of any other work for the clients of FIPRA or Madelin Innovation apparently unnecessary.
In effect, the Commission has given Madelin a blanket authorisation through its surprisingly vague reference to work “focusing in a number of areas such as strategy”. This fails the minimum requirement of listing which activities are covered by the authorisation
The blanket clearance provided to Madelin presents a strange contrast to other authorisation conditions in cases where former Director Generals were permitted to set up a consultancy company, yet had to seek authorisation for each new activity (e.g. Jonathan Faull, a former senior official with a career comparable to that of Madelin).
The non-remunerated roles that Madelin was sought authorisation for include: Honorary Fellow at the Royal College of Physicians, Visiting Fellow at Oxford University Department of Politics and International Relations, member of the World Economic Forum, adviser pro-bono to the managing board of the European Health Forum Gastein (EHFG), and member of the Advisory Council of the Euractiv Foundation in Brussels. You can find information about the authorisations, including the conditions placed on Madelin, here and here.
Read CEO's full correspondence with Robert Madelin here.
Robert Madelin joined the Commission in 1993 after a career in the British civil service. His first role in Brussels saw him working in the Cabinet of then British Commissioner Leon Brittan, followed by assignments as Director of Directorate General Trade (DG TRADE) - where he negotiated the controversial Multilateral Agreement on Investment for the Commission, Director of the Directorate General for Health and Consumer Policies (DG SANCO), and finally Director of the Directorate General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology (DG CNECT).
At DG CNECT, Madelin was in charge of a portfolio of growing importance that gave him responsibility for policies under the Digital Agenda for the EU and the Digital Single Market packages, which were subject to heavy lobbying by tech industry players. According to his agenda between December 2014 to July 2015, he hosted over 90 meetings, most of which with corporate interests.
In 2015, Politico reported that, during the first five months after Commission President Juncker’s publication requirement for lobby meetings came into force, Madelin was the Director General who held the most lobby meetings. This was both a result of industry lobbies’ growing focus on the Digital Single Market Packages, but also as a consequence of Madelin’s declared policy of being accessible to stakeholders. At the time he was quoted as saying, “My personal approach is that if I am free and in Brussels and there are appropriate interlocutors who want to meet me, then I find time for them.”
That year, Madelin was one of the directors affected by the senior staff shake-up implemented by the Juncker Commission, which saw him leaving DG CNECT to join the Commission’s newly created in-house think tank The European Political Strategy Center as Senior Adviser on Innovation.
At the time, in an interview with Euractiv, Madelin explained that his new role required him first of all to act as adviser to President Juncker’s staff, particularly on how to make Europe more pro-innovation. The main outcome of his work was to be a general policy review which would involve “working with the three vice-presidents: Katainen, Ansip, and Šefcovic. So, five core DGs: EAC, GROW, CONNECT, JRC, RTD (not necessarily in that order). And of course there might well be other DGs that have innovative things to share as well.”
The resulting review, 'Opportunity Now: Europe’s Mission to Innovate', was published in July 2016, at the same time as Madelin officially retired from the Commission.
In March 2016, while still at the European Political Strategy Center, Madelin sought authorisation from the Commission to set up his own firm, Eurohumph, and was granted a blanket authorisation allowing him to take on new clients and activities without notifying the Commission. Madelin finally left the Commission in July 2016, and on the 11th of October, four months later, registered a consultancy firm under a different name, Madelin Innovation
In reply to an email from Corporate Europe Observatory, Madelin described his new consultancy as “a Belgian startup offering professional services” which include “ pro-bono as well for-profit consultancy on a very wide range of public policy, public affairs, management and organisation issues, as well as moderating, speaking, writing, mentoring, conceptual, horizon-scanning and management advice”.
Read the full correspondence with Robert Madelin here.
That means that the consultancy includes lobby services, yet, when Corporate Europe Observatory sought information from the European Commission on the authorisation, we were told that Madelin had been authorised to take on activities “focusing in a number of areas such as strategy”.
On the day the firm was registered in Belgium, it was also added to the EU Transparency Register. While the firm currently has no website, the entry in the lobby register lists its work as relating to the policy areas of “trade and investment, innovation, health and healthcare, technology and innovation, competition, food and drink, data, Internet, behavioural science” - areas on which Madelin had developed professional expertise during his time at the European Commission.
Madelin explained via email that “[s]ervices are offered to all sorts of organisations: corporations, startups, trades unions, academia, civil society, think tanks. There are no sector or client or geographical limitations in the Madelin Innovation statutes. As a matter of policy, the business done must match my own outlook on life, and my sense of capability. So tobacco clients are off-limits, as are aspects of public policy for which I am not able to offer real value added. Madelin Innovation’s clients are reported on the Transparency Register.”
So far, only one of Madelin Innovation’s client is in the register: lobby consultancy FIPRA International, which reportedly brings in an estimated revenue of less than €9,999 per year for Madelin Innovation for EU lobbying activities.
In correspondence with CEO, Madelin also confirmed that he has been hired, via Madelin Innovation, as a fellow at Plusvalue, a firm that provides research, consultancy and policy influencing services. According to Plusvalue’s website, fellows “are invited to propose ideas, projects, and new contacts within the scope of our shared mission, as well as partner with us on a project-by-project basis in order to best realise our mutual goals”. Another company that has hired Madelin Innovation’s services via his consultancy company is Rtesian, an EU recruitment firm which has also employed former MEPs such as Graham Watson (who lists Rtesian as a lobby client) and Silvana Koch-Mehrin. Madelin, like Watson and Koch-Mehrin, is listed as a member of the Rtesian advisory board, who according to their website the company calls on for “their knowledge and insight to pinpoint candidates, check credentials and get second opinions”. It is not clear whether Plusvalue and Rtesian should have been listed as clients in Madelin Innovation’s EU Transparency Register entry.
So far (as of 22 January 2017), Madelin Innovation does not have any own European Parliament lobby badges (but Robert Madelin does have one via FIPRA, see below), and is listed as having had one meeting with Direct General Lowri Evans from DG Internal Market, Industry, Entrepeneurship and SMEs (DG GROWTH) in October 2017. According to the public meetings’ list, they discussed Industry Policy Communication.
Madelin’s authorisation to start a consultancy company was granted under the condition that he would not contact his former colleagues for two years. But this ban was limited to his direct colleagues at DG CNECT and the European Political Strategy Center. So, while the DG GROWTH meeting took place during the two-year moratorium and DG GROWTH dossiers did feature in the policy review Madelin conducted for the European Political Strategy Center, he was nonetheless able to hold a lobby meeting with them. This illustrates very well the weakness of lobbying bans that are too narrowly defined.
Madelin’s work for FIPRA is conducted as a consultant, based on a service contract between FIPRA and Madelin Innovation. He originally joined the lobby firm in October 2016, months after leaving Commission’s think tank, EPSC. In May 2017, less than a year after leaving the Commission, he also became FIPRA’s Chair and Director.
FIPRA is a lobby consultancy that advises “companies and non-corporate clients on how best to engage with government and public institutions on questions of policy, legislation and regulation that concern them”.
It ranks among the top 20 lobby firms active in Brussels, according to its declared spending of at least €1.5 million on EU lobbying in 2016.
FIPRA’s EU clients work in various sectors in which Madelin gained competence while at the Commission, from digital dossiers (Uber is its biggest client, generating a turnover of at least €300,000 for FIPRA, but it also counts Oracle, Apple, Amazon and many other big tech players mong its clients) to the health and pharma sector (including among many others the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA), Gilead Sciences, and Novartis, each generating at least €50,000 annually for FIPRA).
In response to Corporate Europe Observatory's query, Madelin described the activities covered by his FIPRA contract as follows:
“I have a varied set of client and non-client tasks, which evolve as needs emerge. This makes it harder to predict the shape of any working day than when one has a set ‘job description’ in a full-time position. There are no a priori restrictions on which FIPRA clients I work with, and FIPRA clients are all listed in the Transparency Register. I also advise FIPRA as a firm on business strategy, convene FIPRA internal management, and take part under the FIPRA logo (on both a pro-bono and a fee-paid basis) in policy seminars and public speaking events.”
Data from the Lobbyfacts.eu archive show that the former official has had a European Parliament lobby badge via FIPRA since October 2016, when his consultancy firm Madelin Innovation was first launched.
Even though Madelin got a lobby badge mere months after leaving his role at the European Commission, he did not thereby break the very narrow lobby ban imposed on him, since the restrictions on his lobby meetings apply only to his direct former colleagues. Madelin is thus allowed to lobby other institutions, even other parts of the Commission, on issues that he worked on before. This kind of set-up still allows former officials to use their know-how, contact list, and clout to influence policy-making on behalf of clients - a clear loophole of article 16 of EU staff regulations.
FIPRA is an active lobbyist in Brussels, having attended 26 lobby meetings with high-level Commission staff since the end of 2014 - a relatively large number for a lobby firm, as they often help clients prepare for lobby meetings but do not necessarily attend them.
Madelin himself had been a target for FIPRA’s lobbying back when he was Director at DG CNECT. Public meeting lists of the period from December 2014 to July 2015 show that FIPRA was the firm that lobbied him the most, with five meetings to discuss mostly the Digital Single Market. No other high level staff has given as much access to FIPRA as Madelin (5 out of 26). While at DG CNECT, Madelin also met with several of FIPRA’s current clients including King.com an online gaming provider, Dow, Oracle, and Novartis.
There is an overlap between FIPRA’s areas of work and Madelin’s previous responsibilities at the Commission, including his tasks in the last three years prior to his departure, the time period taken into consideration in Commission ethics assessments of future roles. Plus, FIPRA did back then and still does now actively lobby Madelin’s former departments. And yet, because the Commission provided Madelin a general approval to take on clients via his consultancy firm, he never even had to seek specific authorisation to join FIPRA as a consultant. Such a blanket approval for a role so vaguely defined as the Commission gave Madelin is surprising, and goes against best-practice standards for preventing conflicts of interest.
In a letter to CEO, the former EU official said that “these constraints [the conditions placed on Madelin by the Commission] are real, in the sense that they do have the effect, desired by myself as well as by the institutions, of avoiding certain substantive discussions which might seem inappropriate. I think I can also say that these formal constraints are pretty well aligned with my own sense of what would be ethical or not.”
The official did specify that he has, however, kept some contacts with his former colleagues, especially as he was invited to contribute “as an ‘active senior’” on issues related to his work at DG CNECT, and that he has recommended “ young talent, visiting speakers or researchers who could be helpful”.
In response to CEO’s questions about any overlap between public office and his current private-sector career, Madelin pointed out his “pursuit of common good” and “to help others find sustainable societal answers to intractable questions.” He added:
“Good public policy depends on all these actors [corporations and civil society] getting their voice heard, and that requires engagement skills that are sometimes absent in even large corporations, as well as smaller players of all sorts. So it is good both to solicit input as a policy-maker and to offer inputs to policy on behalf of all other interested parties.”
The former official responded to concerns over potential conflicts of interest, saying:
“My short response would be that working is in itself desirable, and it is no harder, even for an ex-official, to behave ethically as a private actor than it is to be an ethical senior official. There are always pressures and you always need a moral compass.
Multi-stakeholder deliberation is a good thing: there is not enough of it.
[...]I have lived all my professional career with a strong awareness of the issue of ‘interests’, of the need for interests of individuals always to be transparent (hence the Transparency Register) and of the need for any possible scope for conflict to be managed carefully by the authorities.
Finally, I have an equally clear sense of confidentiality, and know how to keep secrets secret."
You can read the full correspondence with Robert Madelin here.
While senior officials are granted the right to work after leaving public office, the prevention of actual and potential conflicts of interest requires a firewall between regulator and regulated, especially in cases such as Madelin’s where the transition comes after a long career at EU institutions.
Yet, Madelin’s case perfectly illustrates how weak current EU staff regulations for the prevention of conflicts of interest are and, worse, how poorly they are implemented. As a consultant, Madelin has been able to become Chair and Director of major lobby firm FIPRA, which actively lobbies the EU Institutions on issues he was previously responsible for – and he did not even need to seek authorisation for this role.
It is particularly bewildering that the Commission gave Madelin a blanket approval to take on any client and activity via his own consultancy firm . This goes against the Commission’s own norm and best practices when dealing with conflict of interest prevention. Madelin should have been required to seek authorisation for each client and each new activity, at least, during the two year notification period imposed on all EU senior officials. We believe that had Madelin tried to get authorisation to become Chair and Director of FIPRA, the Commission should have rejected his request.