Water view of a swimming pool and sun loungers in tropical jungle in the morning in Bali, Indonesia. (icon picture)Photo: iStock
Dutch MP Gert Jan Koopman, one of the most senior officials at the European Commission, bought a hotel in Bali in 2009 and had it expanded into a luxury property. The EU Commission sees no problem with this.
The European Commission requires its employees to disclose their “off-duty activities” in order to identify potential conflicts of interest at an early stage. However, according to research by Politico Europe, buying a hotel in Bali does not appear to be considered such an activity.
The Dutchman Gert Jan Koopman, EU Director General for Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, therefore had the exclusive in 2009 Munduk Moding Plantation Nature Resort & Spa acquired in Bali. Although he was the owner of the hotel – ownership had apparently now passed to his family – he was never required to report his activities to the Commission, as required under the conflict of interest rules.
The fact that Koopman embodies a top EU official can be seen from the fact that he invited Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to a strategic state visit to Tunisia, which was also attended by Giorgia Meloni and Mark Rutte. This comes from one Twitter post of the Dutch MEP. According to Politico, Koopman earns more than 17,700 euros net per month.
“Being an owner is not considered a secondary activity…”
Back to Koopman’s extra-political concerns, who is apparently not only the ex-owner of the Bali luxury hotel mentioned, but also seems to be there regularly himself. At the request of „Politico“ an employee of the hotel still named Gert Jan Koopman as the “owner” of the hotel. In addition, the 57-year-old was also referred to as the owner of Munduk in a blog post from April 2022.
The Commission’s rules set some parameters for the secondary activities of its employees. First of all, the employees are not allowed to earn more than 10,000 euros per year with any “sideline work”. According to a 2011 document from the Commission’s Investigation and Disciplinary Committee, employees are also prohibited from accepting “assignments and work” for commercially-oriented companies.
When asked about this by Politico in Brussels, a spokesman replied: “Being an owner is not considered a sideline, as it does not mean ‘doing something’ (an activity) in the sense of an investment of time that has an impact on the fulfillment of the tasks could have at work,” said a spokesman for the EU Commission.
The Commission’s financial disclosure rules also appear to be worded rather vaguely. Employees do not have to disclose their own financial interests, but are expected to report potential conflicts of interest themselves, according to Politico.
The rules also do not specify sanctions for non-compliance. In this specific case, this means that Koopman did not have to disclose ownership of the hotel or his financial interest. This is at odds with practices in the US or France.
Transparency International speaks of a “broken system”
According to Politico, the EU Commission’s response to Koopman sounds implausible to transparency activists, as it highlights the problem with EU rules on conflicts of interest. If the Commission does not believe that owning and helping to run a hotel is something it needs to know about, how is it supposed to properly determine whether or not there is a conflict?
The Brussels representative of the NGO “Transparency International”, Nick Aiossa, therefore tends to distance himself from the EU Commission, which gives “hotelier” Koopman carte blanche. In this regard, he spoke of a “broken system”.
As “Politico” further announced, the commission finally acknowledged that the Koopman family “is in contact with the management team on issues that require the approval of the owners in order to review progress”. According to the spokesman for the European Commission, these contacts would only “occupy a limited part of the Director-General’s time and would not interfere with his work in the Commission”.