Wednesday

1st Feb 2023

MEP expense reform stymied in internal parliament clash

  • The EU parliament's Strasbourg seat. All 751 MEPs receive a monthly expense allowance of more €4,000 - no receipts necessary (Photo: Valentina Pop)

Attempts at revealing how MEPs spend their monthly €4,416 lump sum allowance appear to be heading towards a broader internal conflict at the European Parliament.

The lump sum, also known as the general expenditure allowance, is supposed to be used for things like telephone and postal charges and comes on top of a monthly pre-tax salary of €8,484. The €4,400 allowance has no paper trail amid reports of abuse by some MEPs.

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German centre-right MEP Rainer Wieland, who is leading the working group tasked to figure out how to "clarify and strengthen the existing rules and good practices", told EUobserver that they have come up with two proposals but would not go into details.

However, he said the views of the working group are likely to clash with the parliament's bureau, an internal parliamentary body composed of the president and vice-presidents.

"We have two major lines and are trying to bridge it. My idea is that the majority of the working group is very much different than that in the bureau," he said on Tuesday (27 February).

The bureau is set to discuss the issue mid-March at the launch of the plenary session in Strasbourg, although any change won't likely go into affect until the next legislature.

But Wieland did give some clues into his thinking.

He described himself as "a strong supporter of the lump sum", said it was cost efficient and needed for deputies as part of their "free mandate" to carry out duties.

He also referenced the 1981 Lord Bruce of Donington case where the European Court of Justice appears to validate the lump sums given to MEPs.

The issue has generated controversy given the money is deposited directly into an MEP's personal bank account with no questions asked or receipts demanded.

A group of journalists have since challenged the European parliament in an effort to pry open the expenses in a case currently under review at the European court of justice in Luxembourg.

Germans want German system

Klaus Welle, the parliament's secretary general, came up with a proposal last May on which the working group is now developing its own ideas.

Last week, he told EUobserver complete transparency behind the expense accounts would not make the EU parliament more popular with the general public.

"The one parliament which is providing the most detailed expenditure is the US congress and they are the most unpopular parliament of all," he said.

Welle had proposed, among other things, to place the money into separate accounts for better tracking.

He said the real problem is getting MEPs to match the system with their own national standards.

"The Germans want a German system, the Italians want an Italian system, the French want a French system and the Brits want a British system but they can't have it all because the systems are different," he said.

He said the Germans largely prefer the current system because it means, among other things, that they don't have to explain the changes to their home voters.

Investigation

Citizens pay for MEPs' ghost offices

Each member of the European Parliament gets €4,342 every month, mainly to fund an office in their own country. But many of these offices seem nowhere to be found.

Fresh names in Tory MEP expenses row

A further three British Conservative MEPs are facing allegations of financial abuse, following the resignation of two fellow members from European Parliament positions last week.

EU parliament to keep public in dark on MEP expenses

Every year, MEPs spend some €40m of taxpayer money on things like restaurants and hotels amid public pressure for accountability, given numerous scandals. On Monday, EU parliament leaders decided to keep the public in the dark.

Column

Democracy — is it in crisis or renaissance?

Countries that were once democratising are now moving in the other direction — think of Turkey, Myanmar, Hungary or Tunisia. On the other hand, in autocracies mass mobilisation rarely succeeds in changing political institutions. Think of Belarus, Iran or Algeria.

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