Tuesday

19th Mar 2019

Le Pen's EU group in fresh spending scandal

  • An internal audit, seen by EUobserver, shows a half million euro hole in the Europe of Nations and Freedom group's accounting records. (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

Marine Le Pen's political group in the European Parliament, the Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF), may have misspent almost half a million euros of public taxpayers' money.

A report by auditors at EY (formerly Ernst & Young), dated 19 May 2017 and seen by EUobserver, says the group did not meet budget obligations for "10 service providers with a total value of €492,506.88". Another €53,876.31 worth of income was also unaccounted for.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

EY was commissioned as an external auditor for the ENF group. The auditing firm's task was part of a standard procedure to audit EU money granted to and used by the ENF.

The ENF group was formed in mid-2015 and includes far-right and virulent anti-EU members, such as Le Pen's National Front party, Italy's Northern League, and Austria's Freedom Party.

The EU has funded pan-European political parties since 2004 with the aim of increasing interest in European elections, but EU parliament rules prohibit MEPs and their political groups from spending that money on national elections or referendums.

The "instances of non-compliance" with the rules, cited in the EY audit, follow a separate investigation into the former French presidential candidate.

The earlier investigation already accused her of abusing EU parliament funds for her national political ambitions by paying assistants for tasks unrelated to the EU.

Belgian Green MEP Bart Staes, who sits on the parliament's budgetary oversight committee, told EUobserver the EY numbers were worrying. "If true, then this is a major issue," he said. He added that the EU parliament's secretary general, Klaus Welle, may have to ask for the money to be reimbursed.

ENF treasurer Gerolf Annemans denied any wrongdoing in a statement, noting that they fully endorsed the EY report. "There is no question of fraud or cheating as expressly mentioned in this report," he said.

Big expenses in staffing and advertising

The 13-page audit was issued following new information, received by EY in May, detailing the group's funding over the course of 2016.

The half-a-million euro discrepancy disclosed by EY clashes with the EU parliament's procurement rules under a so-called 400 budget line, which deals with how money is divided up and used by political groups.

It is not immediately clear how or where the money was spent, but figures provided in the audit showed a massive increase in costs when compared to the previous reporting period - in staffing, advertising, and "political and information activities of national delegations."

However, since ENF was founded in mid-2015, it did not receive a full budget for that year. It was first awarded a €1.5 million grant in 2015. The year after, it received €3.2 million.

The EY audit comes at a tricky time for Le Pen.

A previous investigation into her National Front party has accused her of defrauding the EU parliament out of almost €5 million to pay staff for party work in France between 2012 until the lead-up to the May 2017 presidential election.

An annex in the latest report, for instance, noted the MEPs had spent over half of the group's total budget provided to them by the EU parliament for 2016.

Almost a quarter of that went on "posters, leaflets, and booklets", followed by big spending on online adverts and staffing.

A similar amount of some €500,000 was also misspent by the Alliance for Direct Democracy in Europe, a political group dominated by MEPs from Nigel Farage's anti-EU UK Independence Party (Ukip), according to another auditing report first seen by the Guardian newspaper last November.

Nicholas Aiossa, from the NGO Transparency International, said full clarity was needed on how all MEPs and political groups were spending public money.

“This current revelation involves a political group whose members are already embroiled in a systematic investigation into misuse of EU funds involving National Front MEPs and assistants," Aiossa, from the NGO’s Brussels office, said.

Neuer Ausgabenskandal für Le Pens EU Fraktion

Eine interne Rechnungsprüfung, die von EUobserver gesehen wurde, weist einen Fehlbetrag von einer halben Million Euro in den Büchern der Fraktion Europa der Nationen und Freiheit auf

Judges refuse to 'let go' of Le Pen's fake jobs case

As MEPs start to examine a request to lift Marine Le Pen's parliamentary immunity on Monday, judges in Paris are trying to tighten the judiciary's noose around the French far-right leader.

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.

News in Brief

  1. Blow for May as third vote on Brexit deal ruled out
  2. Three killed in possible 'terror' gun attack in Utrecht
  3. Third Brexit vote this week only if DUP will support it
  4. Germany's two largest banks confirm merger talks
  5. Serbian pro-democracy protests reach 15th week
  6. 'Yellow Vest' riots leave Paris shops vandalised
  7. European woman older when having first baby
  8. Majority of Germans want Merkel to stay on

Magazine

Explained: What is the European Parliament?

While domestic political parties often use the European Parliament as a dumping ground for unwanted politicians - and a majority of citizens don't bother to vote - the parliament, over the years, has become a dominant force in the EU.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  2. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  3. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  6. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  11. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  12. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  2. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  4. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  5. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us