Thursday

8th Dec 2016

MEPs challenge code of conduct loophole

A loophole in the European Parliament's code of conduct enables lobbyists to continue to fund MEP non-business-class flights and pay for hotel accommodation of up to €300 a day without disclosure.

The Parliament's "bureau" (the President and vice-presidents) adopted the rules in May after its "quaestors" (administrative chiefs) advised them to raise threshold to €300.

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  • Lobbyists who offer hotel rooms to MEPs that cost less than €300 a night do not have to be disclosed (Photo: sofitel.com)

An internal document - seen by EUobsever - shows the quaestors also recommended that members only disclose attendance at events where there is a "potential risk of influence."

They said MEPs should submit the information, attached to their financial interest declaration, just once a year.

"It's totally shocking that the conservatives in the bureau, who highlighted transparency and the need to learn from past scandals, would now open a loophole for lobbyists," Luxembourgish Green MEP Claude Turmes told this website.

MEPs on a committee on the conduct of members had advised against the quaestors proposals. They recommended full disclosure of travel expenses, no thresholds and declarations within 30 days of getting the perks.

Dutch left-wing MEP Dennis de Jong, who is a member of the committee on the code of conduct, is pushing to get the debate placed back on the plenary agenda in July.

"The bureau ... is sticking a knife into the new code, making the rules more flexible, entirely on its own initiative. I want an urgent debate in order to reverse this decision," he said,

The parliament's conference of presidents (the President and the chairmen of the political groups) in June pushed parliament chief Martin Schulz to ask the Bureau to revise the decision.

The conference decides the plenary agenda. But it needs the bureau's consent on matters concerning the code of conduct.

If the bureau digs in its heels, MEPs can still table changes to the code as an amendment in the constitutional affairs committee and vote on them in plenary that way instead.

Luxembourgish centre-right MEP Astrid Lulling, a quaestor, said MEPs can still declare everything voluntarily even if the code does not oblige them to do it.

Her assistant told this website that the €300 threshold was decided because it is the equivalent of what MEPs get as a daily allowance.

He also pointed out that travel allowance includes a long list of exemptions - members do not have to declare anything if their travel expenses are paid by religious organisations or political parties, for instance.

Members are also exempt from disclosure if paid by trade unions and employer's associations who are participating as "social partners" in a "social dialogue."

The latest draft plenary agenda for July is expected next Thursday.

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