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17th Nov 2018

EU parliament to keep public in dark on MEP expenses

  • The EU parliament doesn't want the public to know how MEPs spend taxpayer money on restaurants and hotels (Photo: European Union 2014)

The European Parliament has decided to keep the public in the dark when it comes to how MEPs spend €40m a year of taxpayer money on restaurants, hotels, travel and other daily expenses.

The decision on Monday (2 July), made behind closed doors by the parliament's Bureau, which consists of the president and vice-presidents, comes after a year of debates on whether to increase transparency over the €4,400 each MEP receives a month in spending cash.

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Nick Aiossa, at the Transparency International NGO's EU office, in a statement, described the Bureau decision as "absolutely scandalous".

He said the parliament had "failed to bring even a modicum of transparency and accountability to how MEPs are spending €40 million a year in taxpayers money."

Also known as the general expenditure allowance or GEA, the money comes without any paper trail as a lump sum on top of the monthly wages into their personal bank accounts.

Public pressure for greater transparency and a pending case at the European Court of Justice from a group of journalists appears to have had little impact on the final outcome of the talks.

Hopes that mandatory requirements for MEPs to keep receipts, return unused GEA amounts, get audits, or even publish such information were instead dashed.

The only novelty agreed by the Bureau was for MEPs to now have the money channelled into a separate bank account, instead of their personal one, and without any oversight.

A draft agreement of the proposal, seen by EUobserver, said the latest rules will apply to all current MEPs and won't be reevaluated until almost five years later.

Green Finnish MEP Heidi Hautala, who is one of the parliament's fourteen vice-presidents, says the Bureau decision shows "certain political groups are not listening to everyday people's concerns about how tax-payers money is being spent".

She said both the centre-right EPP and three of the five centre-left S&D vice-presidents had voted against the transparency measures.

Olaf, the EU's anti-fraud office, in past reports had also pointed out that the misuse of public funds at the European parliament is usually related to the fraudulent declaration of allowances, as well as fictitious employment, and other conflicts of interest.

Such scandals and their allegations have over the years hit the Danish People's Party, Marine Le Pen's National Front, Ukip under Nigel Farage, as well as MEPs from France, Hungary, Italy, Malta, and Romania, among many others.

This article was updated on 3 July, 12:36PM, to include two corrections. MEP Heidi Hautala is vice-president of the European Parliament, not of the Greens group; and according to her only three of five S&D members voted against - not all five.

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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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