Saturday

17th Nov 2018

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 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join 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.

News in Brief

  1. US warns EU banks and firms against trading with Iran
  2. Merkel urged Romania not to move embassy to Jerusalem
  3. Protesters call for Czech leader to step down
  4. Former German chancellor labelled 'enemy' of Ukraine
  5. French lead opposition to Brexit deal on fisheries
  6. Private accounts of Danske Bank employees investigated
  7. UK's May defends Brexit deal to MPs, after ministers resign
  8. Brexit MP calls for 'no confidence' vote on May

Opinion

Dodgy regime lobbying is below the EU's radar

In Brussels, PR professionals and lobbying consultants are working for some of the world's most autocratic regimes. And we have no way of knowing for sure who they are, how much they are paid, or what they are up to.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  4. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  5. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  6. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  7. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  8. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  9. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  10. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  12. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs

Latest News

  1. Brexit dominates EU affairs This WEEK
  2. How the EU commission got tunnel vision on self-driving cars
  3. No-confidence calls against May put Brexit deal in doubt
  4. Key points of the Brexit deal (if it ever comes into effect)
  5. Romania heaps scorn on 'revolting' EU criticism
  6. US steps in to clean up Cyprus
  7. 'Decisive progress' on Brexit as British cabinet backs deal
  8. Asylum for Macedonia's ex-PM puts Orban on spot

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  3. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  5. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  9. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  10. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us