In a strongly worded decision, the appointment process of Edmund Stoiber as a high-level special advisor to the European Commission President Juncker has been labelled "misleading", and constituting maladministration.
The decision, made by Emily O'Reilly, the European Ombudsman, is welcomed by Friends of the Earth Europe and Corporate Europe Observatory. The two organisations lodged an initial complaint in September last year, claiming Stoiber's appointment broke internal rules in the Commission, and bypassed checks for potential conflicts of interest.
Paul de Clerck, campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe said: "We welcome the Ombudsman's confirmation of our concerns about Mr Stoiber's appointment. It highlights that the appointment process was misleading for the public and constituted maladministration. The Commission did the necessary checks on Mr Stoiber only after President Juncker and Vice-President Timmermans had publicly announced the appointment. It's a wake-up call for the European Commission – time for them to take potential conflicts of interest seriously and minimise the risk of undue influence on European policy at the highest levels."
The Ombudsman also announced a more general inquiry into how the Commission carries out conflict of interest assessments for its special advisers. This inquiry comes after a further complaint by Corporate Europe Observatory detailing additional cases where there were serious questions about the handling of potential conflicts of interest .
Vicky Cann, campaigner for Corporate Europe Observatory said: "This inquiry is very welcome news. It has been clear for some time that the Commission is not rigorous enough when scrutinising special advisers for conflicts of interest. This is problematic, especially when you consider the one-to-one relationship that advisers have with commissioners. The Commission needs tougher rules, but crucially also, a far deeper understanding of the risk posed to EU decision-making by corporate capture."
Today's statement from the Ombudsman also made important suggestions regarding lobby transparency. It calls for a legally-binding register, including the possibility of financial sanctions, full funding disclosure, and improved data accuracy.
Vicky Cann continued: "The Ombudsman's recommendations on lobby transparency provide a clear and strong vision for the way forward. The question is, will the Commission accept them? We are not yet convinced that the political will exists to bring forward a legally-binding register, and in that case, the register will continue to be riddled with dodgy data."
 Corporate Europe Observatory's complaint to the European Ombudsman concerned the Commission's handling of potential conflicts of interest in the following cases: