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17th Jun 2019

MEPs probing 'private' expenses oppose transparency

  • When it comes to how MEPs spend tax payer money, most prefer to keep the public in the dark. (Photo: European Parliament)

MEPs leading a probe into how members of the parliament spend millions of euros of taxpayers' money opposed transparency moves to make the same funds public and accountable.

The group is tasked with looking into the lump sum of €4,300 deposited monthly into the personal bank accounts of each of the 751 MEPs in an effort to "clarify and strengthen the existing rules and good practices."

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But "many on the working group seem oblivious to legitimate outside concerns of this wild west spending of public money," Nick Aiossa, a policy officer at the Transparency International EU office, told this website.

Also known as the MEPs' "general expenditure allowance", the money is at the heart of a European Court of Justice (ECJ) battle between a group of journalists demanding accountability and a European Parliament refusing to comply.

The so-called ad-hoc bureau working group has seven members, set up in May, and is chaired by German centre right MEP Rainer Wieland and Italian socialist David-Maria Sassoli.

Last month in the plenary session in Strasbourg, four of the seven including Wieland and Sassoli voted against some half dozen amendments designed to pry open expenditure secrecy as part of a larger resolution on the draft general budget of the European Union.

In an emailed statement on Thursday (9 November), Wieland told EUobserver that he decided to vote against the amendments because he "did not want to anticipate the results of the ongoing ad-hoc bureau working group."

The group is mandated to provide recommendations by the end of the year on the list of expenses which may be defrayed under the general expenditure allowance. They were also supposed to deliver an interim report in October to the bureau of the European Parliament, composed of the president and vice-presidents.

The bureau was instead given an "oral" report. It means the public will have to rely on minutes of the meeting, if any were taken, to get an insight into the findings.

But the voting patterns of the group provide some clues to their thinking. Two other MEPs in the same group with special tasks to make sure MEPs do not abuse the money also voted against.

French centre-right Elisbeth Morin-Chartier and Slovak centre-left Vladimir Manka are official European parliament 'questors'. Questors are, among other things, "responsible for administrative and financial matters directly concerning MEPs."

They also sit on the ad-hoc bureau working group. And like Wieland and Sassoli, they appeared to decide it was in the best interest to keep the public in the dark about their private expenses, which are funded by taxpayers.

Manka told this website on Friday (10 November) he voted against because they are in the process of preparing a comprehensive set of rules.

"If anyone is proposing any partial solutions during the preparatory phase, they do so probably to promote themselves, rather than to truly solve the problem," he said.

The amendments

The amendments demanded, among other things, that "unspent shares of the general expenditure allowance" be returned to the public coffer.

Another required MEPs to submit end-of-year public reports relating to the allowances. Another called for separate accounts for the lump sums and for MEPs to keep receipts.

The four MEPs opposed each of the measures, with one exception. Sassoli voted in favour of keeping receipts. However, they also voted against spot checks to make sure the money was being used for its intended purpose.

Despite their resistance, three of the amendments still managed to pass. The amendments on returning unspent funds, setting up a separate bank account, and filling in receipts were adopted by close margins.

Transparency International, in a blog note, out on Friday provides a more detailed overview of who voted for what.

This article was updated on 10 November at 10:32 to add comments from Manka

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Europe's top data protection chief says politicians have to accept transparency. His comments follows a case pitting journalists against the European Parliament, which refuses to disclose MEPs' expenses.

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.

MEPs award themselves €1,500 more in staff expenses

As European citizens come to terms with the array of austerity measures being doled out across the union at the insistence of EU and international lenders, MEPs have voted to increase the money they use for expenses.

MEP switches vote on 'private expenses' transparency

A small group of MEPs are looking into how members of the European Parliament spend the monthly €4,300 'private expenses' funded by taxpayer money. Last month, MEPs voted on transparency amendments on the funds.

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