EU commissioner lobbied by energy firm he owns shares in
EU budget commissioner Johannes Hahn owns 2,200 shares in Austria’s largest electricity-provider Verbund AG whilst actively being lobbied by the firm.
Hahn has had those shares since 2014, when he first became enlargement commissioner under Jean-Claude Juncker. They have since more than tripled in value, going from €32,813 in 2014 to €113,190 as of the end of last year.
In January, his head of cabinet met with Verbund AG shortly after the European Commission had unveiled its European Green Deal to go carbon-neutral by 2050.
Verbund AG spends up to €400,000 lobbying Brussels and had received a €2m research grant from the European Commission. Its interest include energy and financial market legislation.
A few days later his cabinet met with the International Association of Oil & Gas Producers and then Eurogas. Both have a history of trying to weaken climate policy.
Hahn had also doubled the value of his shares in the Austrian real estate firm CA Immobilien Anlagen over the same period of time, among a handful of other companies he has a direct financial interest in.
Asked directly if Hahn had sold off his shares since taking his new office in December, a spokesperson from the European Commission talked about procedures, in a somewhat obfuscated response.
“What I can tell you is that the parliamentary process, which led to the appointment of this commission – which involves scrutiny over ethical rules in relation into each individual commissioner – has looked carefully at their situation,” she said on Wednesday (12 February).
The issue has already been raised earlier this week by left-leaning MEPs Daniel Freund and Manon Aubry who demanded the European Commission publish updated declarations of financial interests for all the commissioners.
Freund, who previously worked at Transparency International, an NGO, had accused the commission of breaching its own code of conduct rules.
Those rules require the European Commission to update declarations of financial interests every year on 1 January.
“This is particularly problematic because promises were made during the Commissioner’s hearings, like selling of company shares. This must be corrected quickly,” said Freund, in an emailed statement.
He noted that commissioner candidates Elisa Ferreira and Stella Kyriakides only got the green light from the European Parliament’s legal affairs committee to advance in their hearings after they claimed to have sold their shares. The same committee had demanded that Hahn do the same.
For its part, the commission claims it has done nothing wrong.
It says commissioners are indeed required to submit their updated declarations at the start of January. It says they are then screened, under the authority of European commission president Von der Leyen.
“In the present case, they are expected to be published in February,” said another commission spokesperson, in an email.
Hahn is not alone in owning shares in major corporations. Italy’s economy commissioner Paolo Gentiloni owns shares in Amazon, Campari, Expedia, among others.