Malta's former European Fisheries Commissioner Joe Borg will be working as a consultant with a Brussels-based public affairs consultancy firm that is also involved in lobbying the Commission on maritime affairs issues.

However, a spokesman for the Commission ruled out the possibility that Dr Borg might have a conflict of interest in his new role since he had informed Brussels he would not be giving any advice on subjects related to his former post, which covered fisheries and maritime affairs.

Dr Borg will still be able to keep his €130,000 plus annual compensation for three years, granted by the EU to former commissioners to enable them to "reintegrate in the job market", if he keeps his consultancy fees low.

A Commission spokesman yesterday told The Times the EU executive had given its consent to Dr Borg to consult for Fipra last month after he made a request under the Commission's code of conduct.

According to this Code, former commissioners cannot work in areas related to their former job for some time, a sort of cooling-off period, to avoid dealing with companies and issues which were in the Commissioner's competence until recently.

"Joe Borg informed us he is not going to advise clients on matters related to his former Commission portfolio. Should Fipra ask him to work on any matters which might be linked to his mandate, he has committed himself to inform the Commission and, where necessary and appropriate, to abstain from accepting such tasks," the spokesman said.

Various attempts to reach Dr Borg for his comments yesterday proved unsuccessful.

Fipra's clients include companies related to maritime affairs, such as cruise ship giant Royal Caribbean. This is being seen as a clear conflict of interest by Corporate Europe Observatory, a transparency NGO dedicated to "exposing the power of corporate lobbying in Brussels".

Criticising Dr Borg's move, and particularly the Commission's response, a spokesman for the NGO said "this is another case where the EU's code of conduct is made irrelevant".

At the end of their term, all former EU Commissioners are entitled to a lucrative golden handshake package amounting to more than €130,000 annually for the first three years following their resignation.

Upon reaching retirement age, 65, they will then be entitled to a pension commensurate to 75 per cent of the salary of a commissioner, which currently hovers around €220,000 annually.

Asked whether Dr Borg would still be able to keep his full benefits now that he had a job as a consultant, the Commission's spokesman said Malta's former minister could keep his full compensation if his total earnings were lower than what was currently earned by a commissioner in office.

"All ex-commissioners get the transitional allowance for three years. If they receive income from another source which takes their earnings above what they would receive as a Commissioner, the allowance is reduced accordingly," the spokesman explained.

Dr Borg was Malta's first European commissioner and served in Brussels for more than six years after successfully heading Malta's negotiations to join the EU as the island's Foreign Affairs Minister.

He has left a good mark in Brussels. An opinion survey among Brussels-based journalists had put him as one of the best among his 27 colleagues.

With his new consultancy job, Dr Borg joins some of his former colleagues in the private sector. Ex-German Commissioner Günther Verheugen joined the Royal Bank of Scotland while his Irish colleague Charlie McCreevy was recently appointed to a position at low-cost Irish airline Ryanair, among others.

Like Dr Borg, they all received the consent from the Commission as their new jobs were not considered to offer any possibility of conflict of interest.

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