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22nd Jan 2022

Belgian MEP blames assistant for industry-scripted amendments

  • Belgian MEP says copy-paste amendment job not his fault (Photo: The Council of the European Union)

Louis Michel, a top Belgian liberal MEP, took off to Mali on Friday (22 November) amid a media storm that his office copy-pasted over 150 business-friendly amendments to the EU data protection bill.

Michel is said to have been unaware of the tabled amendments and blamed his assistant, who reportedly resigned on Friday.

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Some 229 amendments were tabled in his name, of which 158 weaken the reformed EU data protection regulation currently under legislative review by member states.

The MEP, a former minister for foreign affairs and European Commissioner, is better known for working on development policy in Africa than in delving into technical data protection issues.

He also co-chairs the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly, a body that brings together euro-deputies and elected representatives from African, Caribbean and Pacific states.

But Lobbyplag, a website that tracks amendments tabled by MEPs, ranks Michel as the second worst offender when it comes to plugging holes in the EU data protection bill.

In a Panorama documentary aired on Belgian television Thursday evening, Michel admitted to not being an expert on the heavily-lobbied bill, which saw a near record-busting 4,000 amendments.

Michel claims the industry-scripted amendments were tabled electronically by his assistant and without his knowledge while he was abroad.

He told Belgian media, after the documentary had been aired, that he would retract up to 90 of them.

But Belgian Green MEP Bart Staes does not buy the argument.

He described Michel’s tabling of over 220 technical amendments on an issue he does not follow as “madness."

“When you discover that an assistant, behind your back, tabled amendments which you do not support, you ask the committee concerned to withdraw all of them,” Staes told this website.

Staes says that from a political perspective, an MEP is “always responsible for what your people do, so you take your responsibility.”

Amendments tabled electronically also still require a paper version with an original signature, said Staes.

Parliament insiders say that it is common practice for assistants to sign amendments in their MEPs' place, but normally they have permission first.

Asked to comment, Michel’s office told this website he was unavailable because he had left to observe an election in Mali.

Meanwhile, Brussels-based pro-transparency group, Corporate Europe Observatory, has filed an official complaint against the Africa-bound deputy.

In a letter addressed to European Parliament President Martin Schulz, the group notes that Michel may have breached the parliament’s code of conduct.

The code states that MEPs must “observe the following general principles of conduct: disinterest, integrity, openness, diligence, honesty, accountability and respect for parliament’s reputation."

The transparency NGO also pointed out that Michel’s version of the events is not credible.

“It is hard to believe that Louis Michel signed a pile of 229 amendments without knowing the content,” says CEO, noting that a signed paper version must follow any electronic submissions.

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