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18th Nov 2018

EU data chief: MEPs must accept transparency

  • The European Parliament refuses to disclose how MEPs spend public money on expenses (Photo: European Parliament)

The European Parliament's reliance on a 'data protection' defence to prevent journalists from accessing MEP expenses appears to have taken a blow.

Giovanni Buttarelli, the European data protection supervisor, told this website on Tuesday (24 October) that despite the rules governing access, such information may be granted in some cases.

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"Politicians, leaders, have to accept strong limitations in terms of transparency," he said.

Buttarelli said he could not comment on the case itself and that he is not familiar with it.

But he noted access to document rules, known as regulation 1049/2001, provides for wider transparency when "there is a strong demand for public controls on expenditures, procurement and good behaviour by leaders."

A consortium of 29 journalists are demanding to see MEP expense reports on travel costs, general allowance, staff funding, and daily subsistence.

But the European parliament has been refusing to disclose how some 751 MEPs spend European taxpayer money, due in part to data protection rules.

It also argues that its too much paperwork to process and that it does not possess many of the documents demanded.

A first hearing was held at the Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice last week, but a verdict is not due anytime soon.

But Buttarelli noted access to such information can only be limited in exceptional circumstances and must be defined in narrow terms.

"We say that transparency and data protection are not opposite," he said.

The EU parliament has also argued that its own internal controls and oversight by the EU's anti-fraud office is good enough to ensure compliance and good conduct from the 751 MEPs.

But Olaf told this website it has no dedicated staff to probe MEP expense abuse.

"Olaf has a unit dedicated to internal investigations. However, we have no designated staff members working only on European Parliament cases," noted a spokesperson.

Olaf concluded three investigations last year related to the European Parliament, two of which were closed with recommendations.

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.

New MEPs to face tougher expenses regime

The European Parliament returns to business in July with a flat wage rate for all 736 MEPs and an overhauled expenses system, after years of winning a reputation for being little more than a gravy train for out-of-touch deputies.

EU taxpayers risk bailing out MEP pension scheme

An MEP voluntary pension scheme is running a €326 million actuarial deficit. The Luxembourg-based fund, set to manage to scheme, is said to have invested the money in controversial sectors like the arms industry.

EU court delivers transparency blow on MEP expenses

The General Court of the European Union in Luxembourg argued that disclosure of how MEPs use their monthly €4,400 expenses allowance risks violating an MEP's data protection rights. Journalists behind the case will appeal.

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