Ethics and integrity in the European Civil Service
Ethics, integrity and better governance are core principles for the European administration and the European civil service. Civil servants prepare and take decisions directly affecting the citizens; they conceive policies, conduct negotiations, determine the use of various public resources and have access to sensitive information. The citizens are entitled to expect ethical behavior and integrity from them, and the reputation and performance of the European institutions as well as the political fate of public office holders depend on these qualities.
The core rules applying to the civil servants of the European Union in this regard are laid down in European Union law, in particular the Staff Regulations and the Conditions of employment of other servants. These rules guarantee the impartiality, loyalty, discretion and integrity of all those who work for the European institutions. Breaches of these rules can be sanctioned by the institutions and – in case of a criminal offence - by national law enforcement authorities.
To build trust in the institutions, the European Commission:
- promotes transparent governance through the European Transparency Initiative;
- supports the application of the current legal framework to all new institutions and bodies of the Union;
- supports best practice in professional ethics for staff;
- continually enhances internal controls and audits to detect, monitor and, whenever possible, remove risks;
- fights fraud and corruption involving funds managed by its staff and partners;
- does so jointly with its partners in the Member States and worldwide.
Professional ethics at the Commission
The core ethical rules for Commission staff as well as for staff of all other European institutions are reflected in the Staff Regulations . The Commission has adopted in addition various internal rules which implement the Staff Regulations in a more detailed manner and which are binding for its staff.
In line with best international practice, the Commission is moving towards a system of professional ethics based on principles, since rules and regulations are a necessary basis, but can never explicitly cover every possible situation. Ethical principles are the most important foundation for appropriate conduct.
The staff regulations and the internal implementing rules are supplemented, for example, by a code of good administrative behaviour and ongoing awareness-raising activities (e.g. "Ethics Days"organised in the Commission or individual services, trainings for staff in general and target groups like newcomers or managers to raise awareness on these issues, a network of ethics correspondents in each service to deal with practical questions, comprehensive online information for staff on ethical issues).
As a result of this, the Commission in March 2008 adopted a communication on standards of professional ethics for its staff. The key focus is on developing skills in ethical judgement, in order to deal with any problems they encounter. This also means setting common standards and ensuring staff accept the same basic ethical reflexes. This policy will have the added benefit of improving flexibility, simplifying administrative procedures, and supporting effective sanctions.
There are three main actions which the Commission has taken to strengthen ethical principles. These are:
- Awareness-raising — including the discussion of basic principles of professional ethics, supported by a single thematic website and training programmes targeted to key groups of staff;
- Creation of an ethics "infrastructure" — each DG appointed an ethics correspondent to act as a first contact point and to set up an electronic "one-stop-shop" for managing requests for authorisations in various areas;
- Clarification of rules — the internal rules on potential conflicts of interest are reviewed with respect to gifts, favours and outside activities.
Action on good governance
To promote good governance, the Commission has in recent years:
- modernised administrative procedures, staff rules and internal control and accounting systems;
- developed a new accounting system;
- established a disciplinary office (IDOC) to investigate breaches of ethical rules by staff;
- introduced an obligation for staff to report suspicions of irregularities to the hierarchy in their institution and arranged for whistleblower access, to help staff members report suspected fraud and protect them when they do.
- The Transparency Initiative has stimulated a general debate about integrity. As part of this debate, a comparative study on codes of conduct for public-office holders was published in December 2007
- Press release of 11 December 2007 IP/07/1901