Wednesday

23rd Jan 2019

EU parliament creates opening for expenses U-turn

  • The Conference of Presidents meeting of 5 July, when an opening was created to reverse a decision by another EU parliament body, the Bureau (Photo: European Parliament)

The leaders of the political groups in the European Parliament have decided to call for a review of the controversial decision by the parliament's 14 vice-presidents to introduce only minimal changes to the system of MEP office expenses.

The move offers the parliament a way to resolve the tricky issue before the campaign for the EU elections in May 2019 begins in earnest.

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  • EU parliament president Antonio Tajani holds a key position, as president of both the Conference of Presidents and the Bureau. (Photo: European Parliament)

It involves the monthly general expenditure allowance (GEA) of €4,416 which every MEP receives to cover office-related costs.

MEPs are not required to keep any receipts or return any unused sums of money after they leave office – a situation which has attracted criticism and produced a realisation among MEPs that reform was needed.

As recently as 18 April, a broad majority of 540 MEPs (of 751) supported a text which called for three key changes in the system.

MEPs said that the GEA funds should go to a separate bank account rather than the MEP's private one; that MEPs would be required to keep receipts; and that the GEA money that is left at the end of an MEP's mandate is returned to the parliament's budget.

It tasked an ad-hoc working group to come up with a reform of the system.

On 2 July, the parliament's vice-presidents met with parliament president Antonio Tajani in the so-called 'Bureau' format.

The Bureau is the body in charge of parliament's internal procedures. It decided with a 8-6 majority that only some of the proposed changes should be introduced: to channel the money to a separate bank account.

But the Bureau dismissed several proposals made by the working group.

Under the Bureau's reform, MEPs could continue to throw away their receipts and keep any money that they do not use for their official duties as MEP.

Three days after the Bureau meeting, the leaders of the parliament's political groups met in Strasbourg.

This constellation is called the Conference of Presidents, and it also includes Tajani as a member.

The minutes were published in the parliament's register of documents on Friday afternoon (7 September).

'Concerns'

Dutch left-wing MEP Dennis de Jong, deputy president of the GUE/NGL group, "express[ed] his concerns about the Bureau decision of Monday 2 July 2018 on the revision of the general expenditure allowance", according to the minutes.

There was then an "exchange of views", the minutes said, with comments from European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) leader Syed Kamall, Liberal group leader Guy Verhofstadt; and Greens co-president Ska Keller.

The document did not say what their arguments were, but said that Tajani noted "that the decision had been adopted by the Bureau, which was the parliamentary body responsible for the matter".

It went on to say that Tajani told the meeting "that he would report back to the Bureau with the proposal that the relevant Bureau working group remain in place with a view to examining the matter further".

It is unclear if the Conference of Presidents can legally overrule the Bureau, which is probably why the decision was worded as carefully as it was.

Tajani's membership of both bodies gives him the opportunity to mediate and perhaps convince the Bureau to change its mind.

Court case

On Tajani's mind will probably be the upcoming parliament elections in May 2019. A procedural body deciding to keep the MEP expenses system almost as opaque as it is now, against the expressed will of the majority of MEPs, will provide fodder for anti-EU candidates.

Also hanging over the parliament is a possible ruling soon by the European Court of Justice about the GEA.

A group of journalists has gone to the Luxembourg-based court to demand that the parliament publishes documents on how MEPs have spent their allowances.

Meanwhile, the parliament is also due to reply by Thursday (13 September) to an appeal by EUobserver about a denied request for papers related to the July Bureau decision.

Investigation

Citizens pay for MEPs' ghost offices

Each member of the European Parliament gets €4,342 every month, mainly to fund an office in their own country. But many of these offices seem nowhere to be found.

Exclusive

How eight MEPs overruled 540 colleagues on office expenses

The EU parliament spends €40m a year on a lump sum for MEPs' expenses with barely any scrutiny. A majority of parliamentarians called for more transparency - but a handful of powerful MEPs mostly dismissed that request.

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