Prevention of conflicts of interest

What you should know about procedures to prevent conflicts of interest

In the course of their work, public authorities establish policies, take decisions and grant funds. Their work requires them to demonstrate that they discharge their duties impartially, objectively and in the collective interest of the public they serve.

EU public authorities set up procedures to prevent conflicts of interest to demonstrate the impartiality of the people working for them. These procedures might include collecting information intended to manage the potential conflicts of interests of say political representatives, civil servants or external contractors.

Conflicts of interest declarations or similar documents require individuals to provide personal information (also known as personal data) about their professional and private lives such as their name, past/present/future employment or professional activities; shareholdings in companies; functions in associations/organisations; the professional activities of their spouse, partner or household members.

In some cases, making those declarations public is necessary to allow oversight by the general public and/or peers in fields which require specific expertise and market knowledge. In other cases, publication may be necessary to foster public confidence by showing that persons appointed to senior political and management posts have no conflicts of interest.

What are the main data protection issues?

Lawfulness - The obligation to process declarations of interests information must be included in a legal act of a binding nature. Careful assessment of necessity is required (depending notably on the function and tasks of the person).

Data quality - It is important not to process more personal data than necessary. How? By only collecting relevant - and not more information than necessary - in the first place. Questions in declaration forms should relate to the respondent's activities that are in relation only to the tasks and competences of the public authority. Avoiding open questions, those that are very general and information from the respondent's distant past can help to narrow the range of information requested. If the information is to be made public, it should be limited to that which is strictly necessary for ensuring transparency, for example, no contact details.

Right of information - Friends, family or household members of the person concerned must be informed as soon as practically possible that their personal information will appear on the declaration of interests and, if relevant, that the declaration will be published. Furthermore, these people must be able to exercise their right to object and be informed about how they can do so.

More information

The following non-exhaustive list is a selection of documents for further reading:

EDPS Guidelines:
EDPS Guidelines on the processing of personal data with regard to the management of conflicts of interest in EU institutions and bodies

EDPS prior-check Opinions:
EDPS Opinion on the management of conflicts of interest of members of expert groups in the Commission

EDPS Opinion on disciplinary consequences of non-compliance with policy on conflicts of interest

See also: Follow up of the Commission on the European Ombudsman's draft recommendation as regards the publication of outside activities of (former) senior managers

Related topic

Administrative inquiries and disciplinary proceedings

Procurement, selection and use of external experts