12.10.12 @ 09:22
Conflicts of interest in four EU agencies authorising food, medicines, chemicals and aviation security standards might be putting people’s safety at risk, an audit has shown.
“None of the four agencies under review manage conflicts of interest adequately,” Igors Ludborzs, a member of the European Court of Auditors, told a press conference in Brussels on Thursday (11 October).
He said the court had selected these four agencies because of repeated media reports and inquiries by the European Parliament about alleged conflicts of interest.
The Cologne-based European Aviation Safety Agency scored the worst, while the other three fared a little better, as they have at least some policies “on paper” on dealing with conflicts of interest.
“Situations of conflict of interest can occur in any workplace at any time. If not addressed, they can affect decisions, cause reputation damage and may affect the safety and health of consumers,” the auditor said.
Within the recommendations, detailed in a report the Court of Auditors suggests candidates should be screened before their appointment to see if they are married to lobbyists or industry representatives or if they do any consultancy work for companies which could profit from their work.
Ludborzs said that in the European Chemicals Agency auditors had found sealed envelopes with declarations of interest submitted by new staff, which had “never been opened.”
The same agency had one senior staff member rent out an apartment to a company submitting a “large number of applications” for chemicals to be authorised by the agency.
At the food safety agency, Efsa, “the majority of members of a scientific body have been advocates of a concept … subject to analysis by the same scientific body.”
Asked what this panel was dealing with, a member of the auditing team told journalists it was about toxin thresholds in food products, for instance the cocktail effect of additives in food.
The auditors said that most agencies have taken several measures, including limiting the voting rights or even firing staff found in serious conflicts of interest, however.
“Field work for this report has finished in October 2011, we did not include what has happened since,” Ludborzs added.
He promised the court would follow up on the situation in the coming years and recommended that other EU agencies – which were not named – should include better provisions on limiting the influence of the private sector on regulatory standards and authorisations.
“When there is corruption and fraud we have an obligation to notify Olaf [the EU’s antifraud office]. This was not the case with this report,” he said.