The week of 11-15 November 2013 is Ethics Week in the European Commission, a chance to remind all staff about the ethical principles that guide their work as European civil servants.
During the week, my services in the Directorate General for Human Resources and Security, in collaboration with other DGs and services, will be organising a wide range of activities right across the Commission.
We’ve also created a new website on the Commission’s intranet to help guide staff through the week and clarify some of the more common ethical dilemmas that Commission civil servants can face in their work.
Why are we doing this? Well, as public servants, it is of course vital that we maintain the highest ethical standards in all that we do. Without the trust of citizens, our social partners, our political partners or our international contacts, the work of the Commission would count for nothing. And as we all know, trust is difficult to gain and easy to lose. That’s why we must at all times act, and be seen to be acting, to the highest standards in all aspects of our work.
Contrary to what you sometimes hear or read, I can say from my personal experience that there is no problem with ethical behaviour in the Commission. The standards are high and staff live up to them. But we don’t leave this to chance, of course. We have a wide range of guidelines and rules covering every aspect of civil servants’ work, from the avoidance of conflicts of interest to whistleblowing. We offer training on these issues to new staff, managers and other staff and provide permanent information on the intranet. And every DG has its own Ethics Correspondent, whose role it is to raise awareness of the specific ethics issues that might affect staff working in a specific policy area.
Some of the guidelines for Commissioners and Commission staff can be found on the Europa website via the Transparency Portal.
Ethics Week is about raising awareness of all these features. In addition to the intranet site, there will be a number of special events throughout the week, such as training sessions for staff on the particular risks in financial management, conferences on how to avoid conflicts of interest and a lunchtime debate on “Are rules sufficient to ensure ethical behaviour?”.
I am proud of the extremely high standards set by Commission staff in their day-to-day work, and thankfully there have been only very few cases of malpractice or unethical behaviour (for example, the recent report by the European Court of Auditors found a 0% error rate with the management of the administration budget).
But it is nonetheless important that staff are aware of their obligations, and the framework we have put in place to help them meet those obligations – for example, rules on accepting gifts, the obligations which continue to apply when staff leave the service or the information about lobbying at EU level provided in the Commission’s and Parliament’s Transparency Register.
And at a time when public administrations are under close scrutiny over their ethics – it certainly does no harm to remind both staff and the general public at large of the high ethical standards that are not only expected on EU civil servants but which, more importantly, are maintained on a daily basis.