MEPs vote not to publish controversial audit report
26.02.08 @ 20:08
BRUSSELS - After a heated debate, MEPs from the budgetary control committee voted on Tuesday afternoon (26 February) not to publish a confidential report detailing abuses in the way some deputies use their monthly staff allowance.
In the morning session of the committee, the MEPs got locked in an internal dispute over whether to make the 92-page document public or not.
"There are no names of individuals in this report, no political parties or nationalities mentioned. Therefore, I do not see why EU citizens should not be allowed to see it", UK liberal MEP Chris Davies said.
"It's ridiculous. Even the other MEPs of this house [not being members of the budgetary control committee] cannot see it […] We have shot ourselves in the foot with this blanket of secrecy", he added, insisting that instead of being kept secret, the document should be used as "a manifesto for change".
Danish MEP Jens-Peter Bonde from the Independence and Democracy group also called for the report to be made public, giving examples of its content.
"There are examples where salaries for assistants are directed to accounts from the members themselves. In one example, money had been sent to a day care centre, and in another example, to a service provider dealing with wood", Mr Bonde said in a statement.
In another one, "a special Christmas bonus was given to an assistant 19.5 times his monthly salary", he added.
MEPs are entitled to up to 17,000 euro a month for payment to assistants.
The report on how some deputies use this money came to light last week but to date has only been available to a small group of MEPs – the members of the budgetary control committee – and only if they read it under supervision, do not take notes and agree to sign a paper that they would not quote from it.
There are reportedly two versions of the report – a "soft" version without names (which MEPs are calling to be published) and one with names, a parliament source said, but this has been denied by an official working for the budgetary control committee.
Pure working method
But while some MEPs in the budgetary control committee called for the report to be made available to the public, others argued in favour of keeping certain working documents confidential.
Herbert Bosch, an Austrian socialist MEP and head of the committee said that its work would be "jeopardised" if the report was made public.
He said that the committee would "no longer continue to receive certain information from the European Parliament" if it made its confidential reports public. He also noted that the committee is not entitled to make the decision but rather the parliament's administration.
He was backed up by Spanish Christian democrat Jose Javier Pomes Ruiz.
"This is a matter of work effectiveness, not an issue of transparency", said Mr Pomes-Ruiz.
"Transparency is one thing, working method is another", he insisted, adding: "for example, if I have a row with my wife at home, I will not make it public."
Socialist MEP Costas Botopoulos also said that "from a legal point of view, it's clear who can use which documents".
But he added that he personally was in favour of making the document public and did not see an "illegality" in this.
The \"scandal\" is how the issue is handled
At the end of the afternoon session of the committee, those opposing the publication of the report won against those appealing for more transparency.
During a vote on whether or not the committee should ask the parliament's administration to make the report public, 14 MEPs voted in favour of the move, while 21 voted against and the issue is now off the committee's agenda.
"This shows that the budgetary control committee wants to scrutinise us, but doesn't want to scrutinise its own affairs", Mr Bonde said after the vote.
The fact that there are "crooks" in the European parliament is not a scandal in itself, as they exist everywhere, Mr Bonde said.
"The scandal is how you handle them. Then, it is bad image [for the European parliament]", he added.
The EU's anti-fraud body OLAF has been sent a copy of the report and is now expected to investigate whether MEPs have been involved in fraud using public money.
Meanwhile, Swedish Green MEP Carl Schlyter, acting in his capacity as an EU citizen, has used his right to ask for authorisation to see the parliament's report and received a letter that his request is under process.
Under parliament rules, EU citizens can ask to see the institution's documents on the condition that they do not contain names or, if they do, that the citizen accepts that the names be taken out.