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23rd Jun 2018

EP transparency 'would require 40-75 new staff'

  • MEPs receive a €4,299 monthly allowance for office expenses, but there are hardly any checks on how it's spent (Photo: European Parliament)

The European Parliament's own wording of an adopted text on its budget is hampering its expressed wish for greater transparency of a €4,299 monthly allowance which each MEP receives to cover office costs.

The EP secretariat says that additional transparency would require hiring between 40 and 75 new staff members, something which MEPs have said they do not want to pay for.

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In April, the plenary session of the EP signed off on its own 2013 budget, a process known as the discharge. In the adopted text, MEPs said more transparency was needed for the so-called “general expenditure allowance” (GEA), which can be used to cover phone, computer, and other office-related expenses.

The allowance is paid as a lump sum and receipts are not necessary. Only in the event of suspicious circumstances are the expenses investigated.

The EP had originally considered using much tougher language, possibly calling for obligatory annual reporting by MEPs.

However, the two largest groups in the EP, the centre-right EPP and centre-left S&D, tabled a last-minute amendment that weakened the text and introduced what was criticised by some as an inconsistency.

MEPs “[called] on the Bureau [the EP's administrative body] to work on the definition of more precise rules regarding the accountability of expenditures authorised under this allowance, without causing additional costs to Parliament”.

The phrase “without causing additional costs” limits what can be done to increase transparency.

MEPs in the budgetary control committee are due to discuss the follow-up to the April discharge on Thursday (15 October).

Ahead of the debate, the EP's secretariat published a response to the parliament's text.

“A revision of the non-exhaustive list which can be defrayed from the general expenditure allowance is being prepared for consideration by the Bureau”, the document said.

“However, a comprehensive system of control and direct payment of the GEA would necessitate the creation of 40 to 75 new posts in the area of financial management, depending on the degree of control required, as controls of small sum expenditure is highly human resource intensive and could be considered as falling under the category of excessive cost of control following evaluation under Art. 31(3) and 33 of the [Financial Regulation].”

The case of the missing amendments

At least two MEPs may bring up the GEA case, or at least the procedure of the vote.

Hungarian Green Benedek Javor and Dutch Liberal Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy are disgruntled that two amendments which would have called for greater scrutiny were not put to the vote in April.

After the last-minute amendment was adopted, the acting president of the plenary session skipped voting on those two amendments.

Javor and Gerbrandy have been exchanging letters with EP president Martin Schulz on the matter. In a letter dated 8 September, Schulz said he decided that the two amendments would fall if the “compromise position tabled by two groups” was adopted.

Javor's office told this website they are drafting a letter to the European Ombudsman.

MEPs may scrap call for scrutiny on allowances

Members of the two largest political groups in the European Parliament have tabled an amendment which would weaken a call for greater scrutiny of the way MEPs spend their office allowances.

EU parliament staff object to canteen price hikes

The EP has stopped subsidising its self-service restaurant, leading to price increases for staff who choose to eat there. It was even discussed in the Committee on Budgetary Control.

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