European Union Takes Bangemann to Court

The European Union member states launched legal proceedings on Friday against former Industry Commissioner Martin Bangemann, seeking to strip his public pension rights because of Bangemann's recent decision to join the board of directors at Telefónica de España SA.

If the 15 member states win their case -- which is the first to call a commissioner to the EU's Court of Justice -- Bangemann would lose his rights to a monthly European pension of 7,400 euros (US$7,580) per month when he turns 65 this November.

At the end of June, Bangemann sent Brussels into an ethical storm when he joined Telefónica: because Bangemann was the Commissioner responsible for telecommunications and information technology policy, the move immediately raised questions about a conflict of interest -- particularly considering the fact that the Commission has taken several decisions regarding Telefónica over the last several months.

All along, Bangemann has denied any wrong doing. But the member states disagree, pointing to Article 213 of the European Union Treaty, which requires Commissioners "both during and after their term of office, (to) respect the obligations arising therefrom and in particular their duty to behave with integrity and discretion as regards the acceptance, after they have ceased to hold office, of certain appointments or benefits. "Bangemann's decision to become an advisor to Telefónica's CEO, Juan Villango, came little more than three months after the entire Commission resigned following a report revealing massive irregularities and poor management in the conduct of business. However, this Commission, including Commissioner Bangemann, has remained in place in a caretaker role that will end in mid-September when a new Commission headed by Romano Prodi, former Italian prime minister, takes over.

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