Institutional Affairs

  • Parliament has been hit by a list of spending scandals in the past (Photo: European Parliament)

Damning report hits out at EP expenditure

05.02.10 @ 16:45

  1. By Andrew Willis

BRUSSELS - A damning report by a member of the European Parliament's own budgetary control committee is set to question the very fundamentals of the institution's budgetary discharge procedure, with its author coming under considerable pressure from the institutions's bureau as a result.

Still in the process of being finalised, the report's rapporteur - Belgian Green MEP Bart Staes - told EUobserver the document ultimately asks one simple question: Is it correct that parliament should sign off on its own accounts?

While the council of ministers, representing member states, also has to approve parliament's expenditure, a gentleman's agreement means scrutiny is kept to a bare minimum.

The upcoming document, set to form the basis for committee debate on parliament's 2008 expenditure over the coming weeks, will direct strong criticism towards the legislature's procurement procedure and raises concerns over recent calls to increase money for MEP assistants before a proper review is carried out.

The 31-pager will also raise the alarm over the substantial increase in the number of "negotiated procedures" rather than open tender contracts awarded by parliament throughout 2008, criticising the administration's suggestion prior to the report's drafting that their number is simply "difficult to reduce further."

As well as this, sources point to the roughly €7 million spent on studies by parliament each year, suggesting there is a huge level of overlap with studies coming out of other institutions such as the European Commission.

Taxpayers' money

The report is likely to be peppered with references to the need to show taxpayers their money is being spent correctly, in order to strengthen public confidence in the institution. Assurances that parliament's 2008 budget of €1.4 billion was spent correctly should stem from rigorous auditing "systems," rather than trust alone, it will say.

Parliament's internal functioning is largely directed by the institution's secretary general and members of the bureau - a coterie of big-wigs made up of the parliament's president, 14 vice-presidents and five quaestors.

In the past, the bureau has taken a number of decisions with enormous financial consequences, over and above the position of the parliament's MEPs sitting in plenary.

Deputies, for example are keen to stop parliament picking up the tab when there is a shortfall in the private pension fund used by numerous MEPs, but the bureau has overruled them in previous years.

Parliament's pension fund recorded a staggering €121 million deficit at the end of 2008, with a further €277 million still to be paid to members.

This, the report will say, is a clear example of the risks involved with the parliament's current multi-layered governance structure, with the potential to cause serious damage to the institution's reputation.

To tackle this multitude of problems, the report will call for increased scrutiny and transparency regarding parliament's finances, with far greater accountability to the wider public so that the list of scandals that has racked the institution in recent years can be avoided in future.

Last year saw one of the worst cases of misspent money come to the public's attention, with former UK MEP Tom Wise sentenced to two years in prison after he admitted to expenses fraud.