WDM activists who took part in the successful campaign to tackle food speculation may well remember the name of Sharon Bowles MEP, a Liberal Democrat who chaired the European Parliament's economic affairs committee (also known as ECON). ECON played a key role in co-drafting EU law and regulations for the financial industry in the wake of the economic and banking crises, including the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive (MiFID), to regulate speculation in commodities.
Sharon Bowles takes part in a seminar on EU anti-cartel policy. Credit: flickr.com/ALDE
Back in 2012, Bowles provoked the ire of WDM activists when she refused requests to meet representatives of 11 WDM local groups from her constituency region of the south-east of England to discuss MiFID, despite meeting with numerous financial lobbyists. After public pressure including a letter in the Guardian, she finally agreed to a short-notice meeting with a handful of WDM staff and local group members.
Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) which worked with WDM on the food speculation campaign has analysed Sharon Bowles' on-line diary from the time. It turns out that Bowles had 10 meetings with the London Stock Exchange (LSE) in two years (2012-14) including four meetings with its chief executive Xavier Rolet, two of which were over lunch. She also spoke at the LSE's Christmas lunch in December 2012. From mid-2011 to spring 2014, Bowles' staff had a further eight separate and additional meetings with the LSE, at least three of which were on the topic of MiFID. Both Bowles and her staff also met with numerous other representatives of the financial industry sector during this period.
Further research by CEO shows that during the revision of the European Market Infrastructure Regulation (EMIR) in 2011 (which included regulation on controversial financial instruments such as derivatives) Bowles “tabled several amendments that were also tabled by other MEPs and which were probably the result of industry lobbying”.
Not surprisingly, Bowles' revolving door move has provoked significant criticism from fellow MEPs. Sven Giegold, who also sits on the ECON committee, said: “ECON is at the heart of the parliamentary work on all European legislation to regulate financial markets after the crisis. Sharon Bowles has personally chaired almost all crucial negotiations between European Parliament, member states and the European Commission... She knows all people and is adept to all tricks of the game. Her swapping of sides is scandalous. It is bitter to see how she is selling her good reputation to the London Stock Exchange.”
Another MEP from the committee, Werner Langen, is quoted in the German media as saying that Bowles, whilst chair of ECON, always had “documents from the City of London for every topic we discussed” during legislative negotiations and “she has always insisted that the position of the City of London does not perish”.
Defending her new role, Bowles has told CEO that her new role requires her to “constructively challenge and help develop proposals on strategy” and that her “extensive regulatory knowledge will allow me to provide counsel and challenge the Executive management on how they are adapting their business to an evolving regulatory landscape”. She has rejected any accusation that her move represents a potential conflict of interest.
Bowles is also pocketing the generous transitional allowance to which former MEPs are entitled (likely to amount to €60,000) saying “I regard this as part of my contract when I was elected as I gave up a much higher earning profession”.
This is a very sorry saga but Bowles is not the only ex-ECON MEP to now join the private sector. In May, Dutch MEP Corien Wortmann-Kool joined the supervisory board of AEGON, the insurance multinational. In July, Arlene McCarthy, a UK MEP who is a former ECON committee vice-chair and also worked on MiFID, joined UK lobby firm Sovereign Strategy as deputy chair for European strategy.
MEPs need to face tough new rules to block problematic revolving doors moves such as these ones, and as more ex-MEPs consider their next career moves, these new rules cannot come fast enough.