May 23, 2014

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Guy Verhofstadt - Money For Nothing & The Chicks For Free For This EU Candidate

Guy Verhofstadt sits on the board of a multinational looking to gain from the privatization of water utilities in Greece. Frappers, it is widely known that many of Greece’s problems with corruption stem from the cosy relationships that politicians have with business interests. Yet Brussels bats an eye to many EU candidates who also have similar ties with powerful lobby groups or industries. Such double standards!

Guy Verhofstadt's membership of the board of the multi-billion Belgian investment firm Sofina is not his only extra-parliamentary source of income.  Further investigation reveals that the conservative MEP and aspiring President of the European Commission sits on the boards of several for-profit firms, receiving income from these posts that dwarfs his remuneration as an MEP.

As TPPi reported, there is a clear conflict of interest between Mr Verhofstadt’s role as a legislator and his position on the board of the multi-billion euro Belgian investment holding company Sofina which has interests in multiple sectors including a stake in the highly controversial planned privatization of the Thessaloniki water utility.

Further analysis of the former Belgian First Minister's declaration of interests (pdf in Dutch) reveals that this is just one of his ‘sidelines’. In addition to Sofina, Mr Verhofstadt is a member of the board of another two multinational firms and EIPA (the European Institute of Public Administration). Each of these positions is paid.

Specifically Mr Verhofstadt is on the supervisory board of the APG Netherlands - a financial services provider which manages over 30% of all collective pension schemes in the Netherlands (estimated to control over 320 billion euros in assets). The group is currently involved in a political debate at the European level over plans to introduce a transaction tax by certain countries to ‘discourage financial transactions which do not contribute to the efficiency of financial markets or of the real economy.” The APG group is opposed to the tax which it says will cost billions to Dutch pension funds .

Aside from APG Mr Verhofstadt also sits on the board of directors of EXMAR - a leading Belgium shipping company which owns and operates ships specialising in the transport of liquefied natural gas (LNG) and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG).

According to Mr Verhofstadt’s declaration of interests for his work for EXMAR and APG he receives ‘category 2’ income which puts it in the range of 1,000 to 5,000 euros gross per month. His income from Sofina is category 3, putting it in the 5,000 to 10,000 euro per month range (it has been recently upgraded from category 2). He also receives between 1,000 to 5,000 euros per month for his work as chairman of the Board of Governors of EIPA and between 2,000 and 10,000 euros per month in public speaking fees.

All in all this means that, at the very least, from his extra-parliamentary activities Mr Verhofstadt is paid 10,000 euros gross per month, more than his salary as an MEP which is about 8,000 euros per month before tax. The vast majority of the former income comes from private for profit companies.

In reality Mr Verhofstadt income from his private sector work is probably far greater - the maximum it could be according to his statement is 35,000 euros gross per month, or 420,000 euros per year (his parliamentary salary is 96,000 euros per year). Various Dutch news reports put his extra-parliamentary income at over 230,000 euros per year.

It is also unclear if Mr Verhofstadt owns stock in any of the above companies (or in any other for that matter.) While he left blank the portion of the statement, “I declare any other financial interests which might influence the performance of my duties,” it is clear that Mr Verhofstadt has a rather loose definition of what constitutes a conflict of interest.

For while he was elected to the European parliament by voters, the money he gets from actually being an MEP appears to be pocket change compared to that which he gets for his services to large corporate groups.

While Mr Verhofstadt is certainly not the only MEP to have such ‘dual roles’ he is one of the few running for President of the European Commission, and one of the even fewer who sees little problem with the power influential business lobby groups have over European policy.


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