Wednesday

16th Jan 2019

MEPs retain secrecy on office spending

  • €4,342 per month meant to cover the cost of office(s), computers, telephones, and related expenses (Photo: European Parliament)

Members of the European Parliament on Thursday (27 April) once again refused to become more transparent about the monthly allowances they receive to cover office costs.

At the annual self-audit, 423 of 751 MEPs voted against mandatory publication of the way they spend the €4,342 per month they receive to cover the cost of office(s), computers, telephones, and other office-related expenses.

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Some 166 MEPs supported an amendment that said the parliament “believes it should be obligatory for members to make public their expenditures”, another 49 abstained.

The issue of transparency about the monthly office allowances has, for several years, become a returning feature in the debate about the annual discharge of the European Parliament's budget.

Under current rules, MEPs receive the taxpayer-funded €52,000 per year as a monthly lump sum, without having to publish any receipts or justification of how the money is spent.

Opposition to obligatory publication of how MEPs spend the allowances came from the centre-right European People's Party - except for a lone dissident, Belgian Tom Vandenkendelaere, who supported the amendment.

The left-wing Greens also opposed it in a surprise development.

The Greens have previously stated they are in favour of more transparency, but except for Luxembourgian MEP Claude Turmes and Spanish MEP Ernest Urtasun, they rejected the amendment.

Most other groups were split.

Most members of the Socialist and the Liberal groups voted against, although a sizeable portion supported the idea.

The mildly eurosceptic European Conservatives and Reformist group was split by national lines: its Polish members voted in favour, while the British Conservative MEPs voted against mandatory openness.

Spokesman Robert Taylor told EUobserver that the Conservatives already voluntarily publish breakdowns of how the money is spent, and that while they "encourage all delegations" to follow their "best practice", it should still be up to them to decide "levels of transparency".

The far left GUE/NGL group voted mostly in favour - its members Dennis de Jong and Rina Ronja Kari had tabled the amendment.

Danish EPP member Bendt Bendtsen defended his vote and asked for the parliament to “find better ways of increased transparency” in a written statement.

Greens spokeswoman Ruth Reichstein said that they voted against because they had their own amendments on the subject. She said the group was not in favour of publishing receipts, but wanted them to be kept so that so they can be audited, as well as for publishing an annual summary.

Dietmar Holzfeind, a spokesman for the far-right Europe of Nations and Freedom said that, in his group, “each national delegation decides individually on those questions and issues”.

The monthly sum has been an easy target for anti-EU forces, and the top brass of the parliament has acknowledged that in its meetings.

Minutes of the so-called bureau of the European Parliament, showed that at the end of 2016 a €22 raise in the monthly office allowances was discussed.

At the meeting, far left Greek MEP Dimitrios Papadimoulis rejected the raise “so as not to provide ammunition to all sorts of populists”.

Green MEP Ulrike Lunacek also criticised the “long period of inactivity” by the bureau, which has been asked by MEPs to help increase transparency.

The European Parliament as an institution is also facing a court case by a group of journalists that demand the expenditures to be made public.

Investigation

Citizens pay for MEPs' ghost offices

Each member of the European Parliament gets €4,342 every month, mainly to fund an office in their own country. But many of these offices seem nowhere to be found.

Court battles intensifies on MEPs' 'private' expenses

The EU parliament said the public does not have a right to monitor the public role of MEPs, says Natasa Pirc Musar, a lawyer representing journalists, in a transparency battle against the assembly.

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