Tuesday

26th May 2020

MEP switches vote on 'private expenses' transparency

  • MEPs are not held accountable for some €40 million they spend on 'expenses' every year (Photo: European Parliament)

MEPs leading a probe into the transparency of so-called 'private expenses' appear increasingly under pressure to back rules on accountability of the Parliament's expenses scheme.

Following revelations last week of voting patterns by this website and Transparency International's Brussels office, one of the MEPs has since demanded her vote be changed.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

French centre-right EPP Elisabeth Morin-Chartier said she made an error in her votes for a number of amendments in a budget resolution that demanded public accountability of the €4,300 deposited into the personal bank accounts of MEPs each month.

"I unfortunately noticed only after the votes in plenary that I had voted against these three amendments for which I wanted to vote in favour," she told this website in an email on Wednesday (15 November).

Unlike most MEPs, Morin-Chartier maintains a separate account and keeps receipts for the allowance, which helps the public track how she spends the sum. She has also, along with a seven other MEPs, been tasked to look into how to make these private expenses more transparent.

The lump sum is for office expenses but there is no paper trail on how it is spent. The money, also known as the general expenditure allowance, comes on top of salaries and adds up to over €40 million per year.

Transparency International has described the allowance as the "wild west spending of public money".

When journalists ask for details, the EU parliament refuses because of data protection rules.

In October, four of the MEPs in the group voted against over a half dozen amendments in a budget resolution aimed at prying open the secrecy behind the expenses.

The eight amendments demanded, among other things, that MEPs open separate bank accounts for the allowance, keep receipts, and make "concrete changes" on the allowance itself.

Morin-Chartier, who sits on the ad-hoc group, is also a 'questor' - someone tasked with overlooking the financial and administrative interests of MEPs.

Asked why she would oppose the opening of a separate bank account, keeping of receipts and changes to the allowance, Morin-Chartier said it was human error.

"I requested a correction of my vote, which will normally appear in the European Parliament official website soon," she said.

Better a 'no' vote than abstain

But she maintains her 'no' vote on the remaining amendments.

Those amendments demanded that MEPs submit end-of -year public reports on the allowances, be subject to surprise internal audits, and return unspent money to the public coffer.

Her argument against follows the same logic as other 'no'-voters on the same ad-hoc group.

Her fellow questor Slovak centre-left MEP Vladimir Manka and the group's co-chairs; German centre-right Rainer Wieland and Italian socialist David-Maria Sassoli, all voted against.

None wanted to abstain so as not to prejudge the outcome of the group's report on allowances due at the end of the year.

Manka made similar arguments.

"If everybody abstained, any populist or unfeasible proposals could have been approved solely by those who presented them without knowing the actual facts and options," he said in an email.

Manka said the group is still looking into all the options and is evaluating other systems in parliaments in Europe and the United States.

Like Morin-Chartier, Manka also has a separate bank account for allowances. He too keeps receipts and invoices.

He says forcing all MEPs to do the same would only make sense at the beginning of the next legislature.

But not everyone agrees. The four other members of the same group voted in favour and the fifth, Morin-Chartier, has since changed her vote.

EPP and S&D vote 'no' as well

A closer look at how all 751 MEPs voted on the same amendments reveals political party allegiances.

Liberals MEPs, as well as left-leaning Greens and GUE voted in favour, while the centre-right and socialists broadly opposed.

Despite the party allegiances, three amendments on returning unspent funds, setting up a separate bank account, and keeping receipts were adopted by close margins.

Both the centre-right EPP and centre-left S&D dominated the 'no' votes.

Including some abstentions, the amendments on separate bank accounts passed with 350 in favour, 274 against, keeping receipts won 318 in favour, 316 against, and returning unspent funds received 352 in favour and 292 against.

However, this does not mean the European Parliament will now impose any of what was adopted.

The final say will be made by the bureau of the European Parliament, composed of the president and vice-presidents.

It is the bureau which created the ad-hoc working group. And it is the ad-hoc working group, which will inform them of what to do.

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.

EU's smallest institution warned on 'threats, blackmail'

An EU institution known as the EESC has been given until the autumn to initiate a series of reforms to protect victims of harassment and whistleblowers, including against threats, blackmail and bribery attempts.

Ombudsman slams EU bank watchdog for 'revolving doors'

The European Banking Authority allowed its executive director to take a job at one of the world's largest financial lobbying groups. The move has been slammed by the European Ombusdman, who called it maladministration.

This is the (finally) approved European Commission

MEPs gave the green light to the entire new European Commission during the plenary session in Strasbourg - but with the abstention of the Greens and a rejection by the leftist group GUE/NGL.

Magazine

Welcome to the EU engine room

Welcome to the EU engine room: the European Parliament (EP's) 22 committees, which churn out hundreds of new laws and non-binding reports each year and which keep an eye on other European institutions.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Sustainable Energy WeekThis year’s EU Sustainable Energy Week (EUSEW) will be held digitally!
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic states are fighting to protect gender equality during corona crisis
  3. UNESDACircularity works, let’s all give it a chance
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers call for post-corona synergies between economic recovery and green transition
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic co-operation on COVID-19
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic research collaboration on pandemics

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAMaking Europe’s Economy Circular – the time is now
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersScottish parliament seeks closer collaboration with the Nordic Council
  3. UNESDAFrom Linear to Circular – check out UNESDA's new blog
  4. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us