17th Apr 2024

Luxury pension for MEPs remains mired in secrecy

  • The Voluntary Pension Fund invested heavily in the fossil-fuel industry, some of which were responsible for eco-disasters (Photo: Sosialistisk Ungdom - SU)
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The European Parliament won't disclose recent investments made in a luxury pension scheme for MEPs — despite transparency demands made by the EU's administrative watchdog, the European Ombudsman.

Such investments have in the past spanned the weapons, tobacco, and fossils fuel industries, as well as corporate assets placed in blacklisted EU tax havens.

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When asked if similar unethical investments are still being made today, the European Parliament says it doesn't know.

"I'm afraid that given that parliament does not hold the kind of list requested, parliament cannot provide such a list," said a European Parliament spokeswoman.

This comes despite several of its current vice-presidents having signed up to the controversial scheme, while at the same time sitting on the fund's board headquartered at the European Parliament's premises in Luxembourg.

Among them is Othmar Karas, an Austrian centre-right MEP and first vice-president of the European Parliament.

Other board members and pension holders include rightwing MEP Roberts Zile, another European Parliament vice-president. Zile, of the European Conservatives and Reformists group, also oversees document access requests at the European Parliament.

When EUobserver filed a freedom of information request to obtain details on the scheme, it was Zile who signed the letter declining the request.

Also known as the Voluntary Pension Fund, the scheme is underwritten by the taxpayer and supplements pensions of people who signed up until 2009.

Those MEPs, including former MEP and current EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, are now receiving monthly payouts from a fund that is running a massive deficit.

Miguel Arias Canete, while EU commissioner for climate, is also pulling a pension from the fund. He was also among the fund's first board members and at a time when it was investing in dirty fossil-fuel industries such as Royal Dutch Shell.

Given past dubious investments, it remains unclear if the fund continues to pour public money into those sectors. Overriding public interest claims for their disclosure have been sidelined to instead protect commercial interests.

That includes a document in the European Parliament's possession, which it refused to grant access to.

EUobserver then filed a complaint with the European ombudsman Emily O'Reilly.

After reviewing the document, O'Reilly said the European Parliament does not need to disclose it because it contains information not relevant to the original request that sought to get a listing of recent investments.

But she also said there is a clear and justified public interest in knowing what investments were made.

She said the public should know whether investments are made in accordance with the values and objectives to which the EU subscribes.

"The European Parliament should provide the complainant [Nikolaj Nielsen] with a list of the individual investments made by the Voluntary Pension Fund," she said, following a lengthy review.

That request has since been refused.


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