Momo — More Monitoring Action in the EU
Close this search box.

Can your desires, needs and personal interests go against the common good?

Our personal desires and interests threaten the fulfilment of collective ones: when it happens, it is a ‘conflict of interests’ and we need to learn how to manage it

Momo — More Monitoring Action in the EU

In a democratic society, the common interest is realised by granting efficient public services, ensuring access to fundamental rights for all people and respecting the principle of impartiality. In this context, a conflict of interests occurs when ‘secondary’ interests – often private and personal, also connected with specific groups – threaten the pursuit of the collective ones.

When there is corruption, there is usually a hyper-privatisation of the common good: that is, there is corruption when someone deliberately chooses to pursue their own interests to the detriment of the collective, damaging the common good and reducing the possibility for all to achieve well-being. 

Conflict of interests is hard to recognise. That is why in Public Administration there are many laws, rules and procedures that aim to prevent it, by determining how a public servant should behave in a possible situation of conflict of interests. It is a matter of public ethics.

In our private sphere, instead, it is the culture of integrity that can guide us to recognise and manage a situation like this, which every one of us might face at least once in a lifetime. When this is the case, we are required to consider the roles, responsibilities, behaviours, and relationships of the persons involved. It is only when we take into account all of these aspects, that we can make the right decision, i.e. that we can avoid harming the collective good while pursuing our personal interest.


Definition box

A conflict of interests is a situation in which a person is faced with a choice between the duties and obligations of the public or private position that they hold, and their own private interests. Therefore, this situation can influence one’s objective and ethical performance in the development of their duties.

Questions for reflection


Think of some politicians who in their official activity secure advantages for a family business and act in their own private interest, or secondary interest, and not in the public interest. What might these secondary/private interests be?

  1. An entrepreneur in the construction business learns through a friend, who is a public official working in the municipality’s contracting department, that a public bidding process will be published for the construction of a bridge. The entrepreneur tries to take advantage of this situation, asking the friend about the requirements before the call is published, thus obtaining an advantage with respect to the other potential bidders in terms of the time available to prepare the documentation. How do you think the State could prevent situations like this?

Imagine you have to organise a football team for the local cup. As coach, you must choose from 20 football players. Among these players there is also your sibling. Do you manage to identify the possible conflict of interests here?

Related to the previous example: you would like to gratify a loved relative, but you know that your sibling is clearly not the best suited for that role and you know that this choice may interfere with the public interest of the team, and the fair selection of the players. How could you avoid such a potential conflict of interests becoming a reality?


Explore and choose from a range of workshop activities, using our filter system


The word ‘interest(s)’ is used in singular or plural without coherence.

The word ‘interest(s)’ is used in singular or plural without coherence. The use of the term in plural is more accurate, since the notion of conflict requires at least two different interests which are incompatible with each other and thus conflict. Most official languages of the EU use the term in plural.