- The big push towards 2013
- Following the lead to Helsinki: ECHA welcomed lead registrants back for a second workshop
- Smaller companies taking the lead
- Make every effort to share data within your SIEF
- How can I find my co-registrants?
- Candidate List – the way ahead
- ECHA finds over 2 000 potentially non-compliant dossiers
- Reaching the nano scale
- ECHA holds a scientific discussion session on in vivo mutagenicity tests
- The world is watching: ECHA at ICCM-3
- ECHA audited for the management of conflicts of interest: Taking an interest in interest management
- Airing new strategies for REACH implementation
- Executive Director visits authorities in Romania and Bulgaria: "More resources needed for chemicals management"
- Chair of the Risk Assessment Committee appointed
- Highlights of the 27th Management Board meeting
- Substitution of chemicals on the Candidate List for authorisation is already happening
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Päivi Jokiniemi and Paul Trouth
Article related to: News from ECHA
ECHA audited for the management of conflicts of interest: Taking an interest in interest management
Independence and transparency are core values of the Agency. Every day, in all of its activities, the Agency aims to ensure that it is independent from all external interests, takes science-based decisions and that it is as transparent as possible. To ensure this, ECHA has had a system for preventing and handling potential conflicts of interest in place from the very start and has over the past two years strengthened its policy and procedures.
In late 2011, ECHA was audited together with the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA), for the management of conflicts of interest by the European Court of Auditors (ECA). The Court published the special report with its recommendations on 11 October 2012. As a relatively young regulatory Agency, ECHA appreciates the fact that it was audited and welcomes the recommendations of the Court. "We very much welcome the report, as it provides us clear guidance on what we still need to do", says ECHA's Head of Executive Office Alain Lefebvre. Although the Court of Auditors did not find any instances where an ECHA opinion or decision was compromised by private interests, nor any incompliance with EU legislation, there are areas where ECHA can improve. "The audit was done already in 2011 and we have made huge progress in the meantime. We started to review our practice in managing conflicts of interest in early 2011 and a new policy was adopted by our Management Board in September 2011. This new policy, which is based on the OECD guidelines, was not yet included in the audit scope. At the same time, we also introduced a more detailed declaration of interests template, which all persons that work for the Agency have to complete annually or any time their situation changes. The declarations of our managers, Management Board members, and Committee and Enforcement Forum members are published on our website", Mr Lefebvre points out.
MORE EMPHASIS ON DOCUMENTATION
One of the main findings of the Court is that the Agency has not paid sufficient attention to documenting the interest checks performed. "We have already reinforced the implementation of our policy with regard to documentation and recording of what we have done to avoid conflicts of interest in our activities. In June 2012, we prepared a work instruction on the prevention of conflicts of interest to support our process owners, mainly heads of unit, in detecting potential conflicts of interest. In addition, we have a work instruction on how to deal with potential non-conformities. We are committed to improving the implementation of the policy, checking potential conflicts of interest in each of our activities and documenting the whole process sufficiently", Mr Lefebvre emphasises.
ADVISORY COMMITTEE PROVIDES EXPERT SUPPORT
One important element of the policy is the creation of a Conflicts of Interest Advisory Committee. "On request of the Executive Director, this committee gives expert advice in complicated cases, which are difficult to resolve. It has three members: ECHA's Head of Unit of Legal Affairs, Ms Minna Heikkilä, Mr Antonello Lapalorcia, member of the Management Board and Mr Thomas Henökl who is an Austrian academic, expert in the field. The committee submits an annual report on its work to the ECHA Management Board, which will also be published on the ECHA website.", explains Bo Balduyck, legal advisor in the Executive Office.
PROTECTING REPUTATION AND STAFF
Having clear and flexible procedures in place to ensure independence in decision making is vital for the Agency's credibility among its partners and audiences. In addition, it is important for the staff and the external experts working for the Agency. "These procedures are there to protect people working for us from being put in uncomfortable situations. By declaring their private interests in great detail, we make sure that, whenever possible, people are not involved in decision making on issues in which they may appear having an interest. I'm glad that our staff and external experts have been proactive and acted in a very professional and trustworthy way from the very start", Mr Lefebvre says.
Making sure that the decision making is sound is a shared responsibility of managers and staff members. "We have a set of rules in place and now we need to implement it to the full extent, as stressed by the Court of Auditors, and more importantly, document the fact that we are following the rules. We have increased training to our staff. Every newcomer is introduced to ethics and conflicts of interest. In the coming months, we will have a set of obligatory training sessions for all staff to refresh the awareness of these principles and explain in more detail how to prevent conflicts of interest. We have also held a specific workshop on this issue for all managers", says Mr Balduyck.
TRANSPARENCY IN COMMITTEES' WORK
All the committees, the Enforcement Forum and Management Board members have their declarations of interest published on ECHA's website. In addition, all specific interests are declared at the beginning of each meeting. If someone declares an interest on a topic, they will be excluded from the decision or opinion making. "Furthermore, it is important to remember that the Committees and Forum are collegial bodies that work in full transparency. Decisions are taken by consensus or by majority vote, which prevents that an individual can determine the outcome. In addition, stakeholder observers are allowed to follow the discussions and the minutes of each meeting are published online.", says Bo Balduyck.
DEVELOPING AND SETTING EXAMPLES
Introducing policies and procedures requires constant evaluation and revision. By the end of the year, ECHA will already revise its two work instructions related to conflicts of interest. If needed, improvements will be introduced in early 2013. "We have also planned an audit in 2013 on how we are implementing the conflicts of interest policy and how our procedures are working. The topic will remain a priority for our Agency, and awareness raising and training of our staff will continue", Mr Balduyck points out.
The report of the Court of Auditors could also forms a basis for shared work undertaken by the EU institutions to develop a common Union framework for the management of conflicts of interest. However, this will not happen over night. "A common framework would provide more consistency, but in the meantime we will continue to learn and develop our own practices. As a regulatory Agency, we have to be forerunners", Mr Lefebvre concludes.
- ECHA news item, 11 October 2012
- ECHA's independence policies
- European Court of Auditors, special report and ECHA's replies
OECD AND EU FRAMEWORKS ON CONFLICT OF INTEREST MATTERS
The OECD Framework
To effectively manage conflicts of interest in the public sector and ensure that effective procedures to resolve conflict of interest situations, the OECD has mapped "at risk" areas and positions within the public service and has identified a set of core principles and standards for the design and implementation of conflict of interest policies. The results of these analyses are outlined in Guidelines for Managing Conflict of Interest in the Public Service. The publication provides a practical framework of reference for reviewing and modernising existing policy solutions in line with good practice. EU institutions consider its principles and recommendations as an international benchmark when designing conflict of interest policies for the EU public service.
The European Union Framework
In the European Union, the principles governing the management of conflicts of interest are set by the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (Article 41), the code of good administrative behavior, and the public services principles for the EU civil servants. Good administration by EU institutions and bodies is a fundamental right defined in Article 41 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. The code of good administrative behaviour, adopted by European Parliament in September 2001, tells citizens what this right means in practice and concretely, what they can expect from the European administration specifically mentioning in Article 8 the importance of impartiality and independence. Finally, the avoidance of conflicts of interest is an important aspect of the second of five EU public service principles: integrity. This principle states that EU Civil servants should be guided by a sense of propriety and conduct themselves at all times in a manner that would bear the closest public scrutiny.
Interview by Hanna-Kaisa Torkkeli
Infotext by Lisa Locchi
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Biocidal Products Committee:
26 February-1 March
Committee for Risk Assessment:
Committee for Socio-Economic
18-22 March (tentative)
Management Board meeting:
Member State Committee:
13-17 May (tentative)