Banking reform bribery exposed in European Parliament
2011 03 21
On the front page of the Sunday Times this morning you will see the headline "Euro MPs exposed in "cash-for-laws" scandal" (£). Journalists from the respected Insight investigative team have posed as financial lobbyists and have approached MEPs offering them large sums of money in return for watering down banking reform legislation.
Three MEPs took the bait and were employed by the fake lobbying company on a yearly salary of €100,000. One of those was 56 year old former Romanian deputy prime minister, Adrian Severin, who apparently emailed the journalists posing as lobbyists writing “Just to let you know that the amendment desired by you has been tabled in due time”. He then sent an invoice for €12,000.
The other two MEPs caught up in the scandal was Slovenian foreign minister Zoran Thaler, and former Austrian interior minister Ernst Strasser. It is said that Ernst additionally boasted about serving at least five commercial clients who each paid him €100,000 per year.
These are pretty shocking revelations. But the most telling quote in the Sunday Times expose comes from Adrian Severin, “I didn’t do anything that was, let’s say, illegal or against any normal behaviour we have here”. As organisations that WDM works with like Spinwatch and Corporate Europe Observatory have long shown, dodgy lobbying by big corporations in this way is commonplace all over Europe, and the world.
But the bigger picture is even more alarming.
We all know the banks are in urgent need of reform. Unchecked speculation was responsible for causing the greatest economic crisis in several generations, throwing hundreds of thousands out of their jobs, and resulting in the current mass cut backs in vital public services across the world.
Now, as our report The Great Hunger Lottery has shown, the speculative activities of investment banks and hedge funds are also pushing up the price of food. With prices again rising we are at risk of seeing another food crisis, similar to that of 2007-2008 which pushed millions into deeper poverty.
WDM is campaigning hard for this speculation to be curbed, with proposals for regulation currently being discussed in the European Parliament. Today’s Sunday Times investigation is incredibly worrying as it once again demonstrates what we’re up against. The banks have some of the most well-funded and powerful lobbyists in the world and they are hard at work trying to stop any reforms to their speculative activities.
But don’t be fooled into thinking this is just a Brussels problem. London - at the heart of the banking industry - is home to some of the biggest and most influential financial lobby groups. In Brussels banking reform is currently high on the agenda, with MEPs recently supporting a Robin Hood tax, while in the UK the government seems intent on climbing into bed with the banks. Over here the lobbyists are winning.
We must continue to campaign and call on our political representatives to finally stand up to the banks for the good of the economy and for some of the poorest people in the world.
European Parliament member resigns over 'cash for laws' scandal
By Bruno Waterfield | telegraph.co.uk
Ernst Strasser stressed he was standing down to prevent 'damage' to Austria's coalition government
An Austrian member of the European Parliament has resigned after being exposed in a newspaper sting for taking £87,000 a year in a "cash for laws" scandal.
Ernst Strasser, a former Austrian interior minister, has stepped down after accepting money for successfully submitting legislative changes to EU banking regulations.
He was one of three MEPs who were willing to push through legal amendments on behalf of a firm of "lobbyists", Taylor Jones Public Affairs, a fake company set up by The Sunday Times.
Mr Strasser, who led the Christian democratic Austrian People's Party (OVP) in European elections two years ago, has said he has done nothing wrong and stressed he was standing down to prevent "damage" to Austria's coalition government.
"I have decided to take this step because there has been a campaign against me in Austria," he said.
Josef Proell, Austria's vice-chancellor and OVP leader, yesterday demanded the MEP's "immediate resignation from all political posts".
"All of Ernst Strasser's justifications so far ring completely hollow given today's revelations," he said.
Mr Strasser boasted to undercover journalists that he earns £436,000 a year for lobbying on top of his MEP salary and personal allowances of over £190,000.
He also explained that if he was to change laws in the European parliament then he must take precautions to avoid suspicion. "The problem is, a lobbyist is a lobbyist, yes," he told a hidden camera. "And a lobbyist has some special smell. It's true to be said I am myself something like that. So we have to be very careful."
Two other MEPs were implicated by the newspaper, Adrian Severin, a former Romanian deputy prime minister and Zoran Thaler, a former Slovenian foreign minister.
The three MEPs had pushed through two amendments to alter draft banking legislation aimed at protecting millions of consumers across Britain and Europe.
European Parliament rules, which are rarely enforced, call on MEPs to "refrain from accepting any gift or benefit in the performance of their duties".
Diana Wallis, a Liberal Democrat MEP and vice president of the parliament, said: "This needs to be fully investigated."
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