|Jean-Luc Deheane. Photo: European Movement Belgium. Used under Creative Commons license|
“This Bud’s for you,” is a popular Budweiser ad jingle. Apparently Jean-Luc Dehaene, a Member of the European Parliament from Belgium, takes it personally, since he recently accepted shares worth $4.2 million in the company that makes the beer. What’s remarkable is that he forgot to mention this as a potential conflict of interest.
Dehaene is a former prime minister of Belgium and now a Member of the European Parliament. In this position, he has the ability to vote on regulations on the European food and drink industry, including the brewery sector.
When Dehaene served on the board of Anheuser Busch InBev – a Belgian company which manufactured and sold $39 billion worth of goods last year including Budweiser, Stella Artois and Beck’s beer – he was given stock options worth as much as €3 million. He left the board in March 2011 and as of April 30th is now able to cash in.
Yet Dehaene has failed to mention the shares in his official declaration of interests which he filed on February 12 of this year, despite the official rules that state that “a conflict of interest exists where a Member of the European Parliament has a personal interest that could improperly influence the performance of his or her duties as a Member.”
In a letter issued Tuesday and addressed to Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament, four activist groups – Corporate Europe Observatory, Friends of the Earth Europe, Lobby Control and SpinWatch – drew attention to this discrepancy. They write: “How will the parliamentary authorities guarantee that proper safeguards are put in place to avoid potential situations of conflict of interest in this particular case?”
Dehaene has come under scrutiny in the past as chairman of Dexia bank, which was bought up by the Belgian government for €4 billion euros ($5.4 billion) last October when it was on the verge of collapse because of its purchases of Greek government bonds and U.S. sub-prime mortgages. Dehaene refunded his compensation from the company to prevent any appearance of impropriety although he “signaled” that he did not wish to resign from his position.
“Jean-Luc Dehaene and Pierre Mariani, the chief executive officer, are responsible for the fiasco at Dexia,” Paul de Grauwe, a member of the economic advisory group to Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, told the Mail on Sunday. “It is dangerous to speculate, to gamble with the money of ordinary citizens. The big problem is that Dexia abandoned traditional banking and started speculating to earn more. That ended miserably.”
“Known as ‘the plumber’ during his time as Prime Minister of Belgium, due to his ability to resolve crises, this time he appears to have drilled through the main standpipe,” commented the Mail.
Dehaene was also heavily criticized as prime minister for ordering the retreat of Belgian troops in Rwanda in 1993 just prior to the mass slaughter of the minority Tutsis.
A number of MEPs have recently come under close scrutiny for conflicts of interest after four of their number agreed to put forward “amendments” for fictitous clients in exchange for cash, by a team of reporters at the Sunday Times newspaper.
“You send me the amendment and what your client wants to change. Yes?” Ernst Strasser, former Austrian interior minister, told the reporters. “Of course I’m a lobbyist, yes, and I’m open for that, yes?” Strasser was forced to resign after the report was published.
Under a new code of conduct, approved last December, the politicians are now expected to list potential conflicts of interest that amount to over €5,000 a year. There is no law against such conflicts, however, and several have been discovered.
For example EuroPolitics notes that Klaus-Heiner Lehne, earns over €10,000 as a lawyer and partner at international law firm Taylor Wessing, while he chairs the Committee on Legal Affairs. Elmar Brok, who earns between €5,001 and €10,000 per month as an advisor at Bertelsmann AG, the media conglomerate, is chair of the Committee on Foreign Affairs.
That’s small beer compared to what Dehaene might make from selling his Anheuser Busch InBev stock.