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Ethics and conduct

What kind of conduct can you expect of Commission staff?

Broadly speaking, we are expected at all times to act objectively and impartially in the Community interest and for the public good. In practice, we operate within a framework of rules that govern our professional lives. These include largely common-sense standards of conduct that are expected from civil servants whose independence and sense of public responsibility are fundamental to carrying out their duties correctly. The rules in question are contained in the Staff Regulations (Articles 11 to 26bis), detailed implementing rules, and a specific code of conduct.

Relations with the public

Openness and transparency are the leitmotifs which guide our relations with the public. An overview of the initiatives which have been undertaken in this field are described in the transparency section.
In carrying out our activities we have to respect the Code of Good Administrative Behaviour, which has been in place since October 2000. This code specifically governs the way in which we deal with the public and aims to ensure a high-quality public service. The rules include a deadline of 15 working days for replying to public correspondence. Our replies should be in the language of the correspondent, if this is one of the European Union official languages.

Conflicts of interest and outside activities

We may not accept favours or gifts from third parties without obtaining prior permission. We must not have an interest in any businesses or organisations which have dealings with the EU Institutions if this has the potential to compromise our independence. Any outside activities must first be approved and we must also tell our employer if and how our spouse is employed. We are also required to inform our employer if, in the performance of our duties, we are called upon to decide on a matter in which we have a personal interest which might impair our impartiality.

We have the right to freedom of expression, with due respect to the principles of loyalty and impartiality. If we intend to publish any matter dealing with the work of the Institutions, we are duty bound to inform our employer in advance. At the same time, and for obvious reasons, we cannot divulge restricted information and we enjoy immunity from legal proceedings relating to our work for the Institutions. Of course, when it comes to proceedings before national courts (civil or criminal) relating to our private life, we are subject to the same rules as any other EU citizens.

When we leave the service, we are still subject to certain obligations. In particular, we must behave with integrity and discretion and cannot accept any duties or professional activities that would be incompatible with the interests of the institution (Article 16(2) of the Staff Regulations). If we plan to engage in a new occupational activity within two years of leaving the service, we must inform the Commission. If that activity is related to the work carried out during our last three years of service and might conflict with the legitimate interests of the Commission, the Commission could refuse permission to do it, or allow it subject to a number of conditions. Senior officials are specifically prohibited, in the twelve months after leaving the service, to engage in lobbying or advocacy vis-à-vis the staff of their former institution on matters for which they were responsible during the last three years in the service (Article 16(3) of the Staff Regulations).  Since 1 January 2014 the Commission, in compliance with Article 16 (4) of the Staff Regulations, is required to publish information each year on the application of this measure.

Commissioners are not above these principles: they have to declare their interests and are bound by a specific code of conduct for Commissioners.

Financial liability of staff

The Staff Regulations stipulate that we may be required to make good, in whole or in part, any damage suffered by the Communities as a result of serious misconduct in connection with the performance of our duties. Financial liability may thus be invoked where a member of staff has breached a legal obligation, caused financial damage and is guilty of deliberate misconduct or gross negligence. Of course, all surrounding circumstances are taken into account before any decision may be taken.

Safeguards: ensuring high professional standards

What systems are in place if someone fails to live up to these standards?

  • Administrative inquiries and disciplinary procedures

    The disciplinary system applies to any failure to comply with obligations under the Staff Regulations, whether intentionally or through negligence. The Commission's Investigation and Disciplinary Office (IDOC) conducts impartial administrative inquiries and prepares disciplinary proceedings. IDOC deals with all matters falling outside the remit of, or not already being investigated by, the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF). Ultimately administrative enquiries may lead to the opening of disciplinary proceedings. These can lead to a range of financial or non-financial penalties proportional to the misconduct in question. Financial penalties could involve a delay in advancement to a higher salary step, removal from post, or reduction of pension.

  • Whistleblowing

    Based on the new Staff Regulations, we are duty bound to report possible fraud or corruption, detrimental to the interest of the Communities, or a serious failure to comply with professional obligations, either within the Commission or directly to OLAF. We may also report the matter outside the Commission, to the other European Institutions, provided we act in good faith and allow OLAF a reasonable period to react.

  • Professional incompetence

    The Commission's annual staff appraisal monitors achievements, skills and conduct. If a member of staff finds it difficult to meet the standards required, he/she will be expected to follow a remedial coaching programme, which includes specific targets to be achieved within a certain time frame. In the worst case scenario, where underperformance persists after efforts to remedy the situation have been exhausted, a dismissal or downgrading procedure can be launched under article 51 of the Staff Regulations.

Commission civil service