The European Commission will draft new guidelines following Gong’s appeal

Following Gong’s complaint to the European Ombudsman concerning the participation of President von der Leyen in a HDZ election campaign video, the European Commission decided to develop guidelines for the participation of its members in national election campaigns.

The European Ombudsman, the body to which Gong reported Ursula von der Layen‘s participation in the HDZ’s national election campaign, informed us that they had received a letter from the European Commission announcing that the Commission will establish guidelines for the participation of its Members in national election campaigns.

“On 5 and 6 July 2020, the organisations Gong and The Good Lobby submitted complaints to the European Ombudsman concerning the participation of President von der Leyen and Vice-President Šuica in a video clip supporting the election campaign of HDZ. 

The complainants questioned whether this was in line with the Code of Conduct for the Members of the European Commission and expressed distrust about the explanation that such a recording had been done in the President’s and Vice-President’s personal capacity. The complainants also raised concerns on the oversight mechanism regarding the Code of Conduct for the Members of the European Commission“, is stated in the Ombudsperson reply to the complaint. 

It will be recalled that the European Ombudsman immediately forwarded the complaint to the European Commission and the European Parliament and asked them to take appropriate measures.

In its statement, the Commission emphasizes that political activities and the participation of public office holders in election campaigns are indeed important democratic and institutional issues. They claim that von der Layen did not make her – extremely short – contribution to the video in her capacity as President of the Commission, but as a politician in the context of her affiliation to a political party, and that her conduct was not contrary to the Code of Conduct.

“Unfortunately, the President had not been aware of the conditions under which her intervention would be broadcast. However, as the public reactions have shown, the video as such was easily identifiable as a campaign video of a political party, which showed a number of European politicians belonging to the same European political party to which HDZ belongs. The context made it therefore clear that this was not a Commission video or an official call of the Commission to vote for a specific party.

The Commission has also made clear that the use of Commission resources was a mistake, even if this use of resources was minimal and did not create additional cost for the Commission, as the short recording was part of a series of other recordings.“

The Code of Conduct for the Members of the European Commission recognises that Members of the Commission have a responsibility to maintain political contacts in view of the accountability of the Commission to the European Parliament and the European electorate and in view of the role of European political parties in the democratic life of the Union. However, this participation must not compromise their availability for service in the Commission and the priority given to their Commission duties over party commitment. Members must temporarily withdraw from the work of the Commission if they stand for election or play otherwise an active role in the campaign.

In order to clarify the practical modalities for the participation in national election campaigns in the future, the President has decided that the Commission will establish guidelines for the participation of its Members in national election campaigns after consultation of its Independent Ethical Committee, as previously done for the participation in the European election campaign in 2019.

It remains the responsibility of every individual Member of the Commission to decide if he or she wants, or deems opportune, to participate in a national election campaign. If a Member decides to do so, the participation has to comply with Article 9 of the Code of Conduct and the future guidelines.“, reads a letter signed by Maroš Šefčovič, Vice President of the Commission.

Gong je korisnik operativne potpore – strukturne podrške europskim think-do-thanks u cjelini “Demokratska i građanska participacija” u sklopu programa Europa za građane.

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