Sunday

4th Dec 2016

Ethics drive at EU parliament hits a wall

Transparency at the European Parliament hit a wall when centre-right MEPs postponed a report designed to make lawmakers more accountable and lawmaking more traceable.

The report, drafted by German Green Sven Giegold, had demanded a number of changes to the EU parliament law making process as part of a larger EU institutional transparency drive.

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  • Giegold's efforts for greater transparency were undermined by the EPP (Photo: European Parliament / Pietro Naj-Oleari)

But MEPs, led by the EPP group, on Monday (12 September) in the constitutional affairs committee, managed to postpone the vote in a move that will likely keep EU lawmaking in the dark.

"The vote was called off on the demand of the largest group, the EPP, supported by Liberals and Social Democrats," Giegold told reporters.

The issue also points to broader concerns over possible insider legislative bargaining between the parliament's two largest groups, the EPP and Social Democrat S&D.

The EPP is the European Parliament's biggest political group. The parliament's chief, Martin Schulz, is a socialist and the group's former political master. Last April, the two masterminded a move not to ban side jobs for MEPs.

Giegold's report requested a legislative footprint to trace outsider influence on lawmaking.

He had also asked for a ban on second jobs, greater disclosure on money earned outside normal parliamentary duties, and a stronger internal oversight committee on MEPs who break code of conduct rules.

Deadlines and headaches

The postponement presents a whole host of procedural headaches for MEPs who back the transparency measures proposed by Giegold. Those issues are now likely to be offloaded onto another MEP who is drafting a separate report on parliament rules.

"The whole battle of transparency gets shifted from the Giegold report to my report, I'm not happy with that," British socialist MEP Richard Corbett told EUobserver.

Corbett has been drafting a new rules of procedure report that is set to be adopted in December. It is now unclear if his report will also meet its intended deadline.

Transparency was not discussed in Corbett's report because it had been delegated to Giegold.

Giegold says the EPP had also negotiated compromises with the other political groups to weaken the measures he had proposed.

An EU parliament source said the decision from the lead socialist MEP on the committee, Mercedes Bresso, to postpone the vote had been decided "from above".

Her office denied the allegation, noting that the main issue was that they wanted a majority when it goes to vote in the plenary.

"It was discussed inside the political group but she did not take any orders," said her office.

EPP short on details

Getting a majority requires EPP backing and is likely to result in much weaker rules on transparency than those proposed by Giegold.

Bresso also said upcoming legislation by the EU commission on transparency had factored into her decision.

The EPP, for its part, also says it backs transparency but then refused to speculate when pressed on details.

Hungarian centre-right MEP Gyorgy Schopflin told this website that his group simply wanted to improve on Giegold's report.

But when asked if the EPP backed the specific measures in Giegold's report like the legislative footprint and a ban on second jobs, Schopflin drew a blank.

"I can't give you a direct answer to any of those questions because the EPP is in the midst of considering its exact position and I don't want to mislead you," he said.

He said Giegold's report is likely to be voted on in three months, after the rules of procedure report.

Toothless code of conduct

Other efforts to enforce internal ethic rules in the European Parliament have also stumbled into problems.

An internal committee to oversee code of conduct was set up following a cash-for-amendments scandal.

The committee has no power. Whenever it finds fault, it reports to Schulz who is empowered to act, which he has never done, said Giegold.

Its former chair, Gerald Hafner, an ex-Green MEP from Germany, said in 2014 Schulz never followed up on complaints.

“Not a single one of these cases has had any conclusion or has had any consequences and if that is the end result of the tougher rules adopted by the European Parliament, then I think that we have not done the European Parliament, nor the citizens, nor European democracy any favours," he had said.

EUobserver asked Schulz's office if the president had acted on any of the committee's recommendations, but received no response.

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