Charlie McCreevy: no clear conflict of interest ultimately determined

FORMER EU commissioner Charlie McCreevy was offered a generous benefits package, including free flights for himself and his family, director's fees and a lucrative consultancy payment for taking up a role with Ryanair.

The deal, which was the subject of a conflict-of-interest investigation by the European Union, saw the former finance minister become a non-executive director of the airline.

An inquiry into McCreevy's appointment found there was no clear conflict of interest even though he would be involved in lobbying meetings with the EU Commission itself.

The former commissioner was later forced to step down from a second post with an investment bank after it was ruled there was potential for conflict with his former European Union role.

Documents obtained by the European Friends of the Earth organisation reveal McCreevy was offered the Ryanair job with significant benefits.

Details of his annual fees and consultancy pay have been blanked out but other perks made available to him are detailed in full.

A letter from Ryanair said: "Remuneration of all non-executive directors of Ryanair has been set as [€xx], which will be paid quarterly in arrears.

"In addition, you will be paid an annual consultancy fee of [€xx] to cover specific advice to be provided to the board and management on European Commission and government relations including up to two annual visits with senior management to Brussels for meetings with the European Commission.

"As a non-executive director of Ryanair, both you and your immediate family (spouse and dependent children up to the age of 21 years) will qualify for free travel on all Ryanair services.

"You will also qualify for reduced rate interline travel on other airlines, which may be available through our interline department."

Immediately after being contacted about the appointment, McCreevy became aware that the possibility of a perceived conflict of interest could become an issue.

An email sent by him to the EU Commission said: "The airline Ryanair is offering me a non-executive director appointment.

"As you are aware, Ryanair is the major European low fairs [sic] airline and I don't think there is any need to elaborate further."

McCreevy – who was guaranteed a pension of at least €240,000 in his first three years after leaving the EU Commission – was told an independent panel would assess his new role.

He sent further correspondence to the EU Commission saying his activities while serving as a commissioner "were not related to Ryanair".

Internal emails from the European Union said the major concern it had was over any proposed takeover of Aer Lingus by Ryanair.

One email said: "The one thing that springs to mind is how does the proposed purchase of Aer Lingus by Ryanair affect his appointment.

"What is his relationship to the Irish government, the owners of Aer Lingus? Can the commission state that they have no concerns about these matters?"

Ultimately, the EU Commission decided McCreevy's appointment was in order on the basis that his previous role did not directly deal with transport.

A note of caution was added however, suggesting McCreevy should not get involved in matters relating to Ryanair and competition cases.

It said: "It is suggested that… Mr McCreevy abstains from providing such advice where it would relate to a case involving Ryanair for which he, or his cabinet, of the Directorate General for Internal Market, has been consulted during his term of office, as this could create at least the perception of a conflict of interest."