Thursday

17th Jan 2019

Unelected EU parliament official blocks release of #Metoo papers

  • One year ago, the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling for better protection of its staff against harassment (Photo: European Parliament)

The European Parliament's secretary general, Klaus Welle, has refused to release documents that discuss the amount of progress made towards preventing in-house sexual harassment – irking some MEPs working on the issue.

Welle said that if the papers were published this would "seriously undermine the ability of the Bureau to take decisions based on sound ground and thorough information".

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  • MEP Edouard Martin during the plenary debate about preventing sexual harassment (Photo: European Parliament)

The Bureau is the body responsible for the internal workings of the parliament. It is chaired by EU parliament president Antonio Tajani.

"Frankly, I have never seen something like it," said centre-left French MEP Edouard Martin.

Last month, EUobserver requested the release of two documents written by Welle, the parliament's highest-ranking civil servant.

The papers are expected to list progress in the parliament's implementation of proposals made last year on how to deter sexual harassment among parliament staff and MEPs, and improve means of redress for victims.

But Welle wrote in a letter to EUobserver that the two papers could not be disclosed.

"Parliament considers that for the secretary general to be in a position to fulfil his duty to assist the Bureau in the performance of its tasks by providing it with background information, advice and decision proposals, such reports to the Bureau shall remain confidential," said Welle.

"If the notes were published, or their annexes, which are also part of the deliberations, the views and legal considerations stated therein could be used to undermine Bureau decisions," Welle added.

"Parliament's services would also refrain from setting out their opinions in such notes lest those opinions be used to challenge or undermine the decisions taken by the Bureau," he added.

The line of reasoning echoes the position Welle took when deciding to deny access to a Bureau decision on MEP office expenses.

MEP Edouard Martin does not support that decision, he told EUobserver in an interview.

"The secrecy around this roadmap - I don't share it and I don't understand it," he said.

He speculated that a reason for not wanting the papers public, was that it would then become apparent that the Bureau is not fully implementing the reforms asked for by a majority of MEPs.

Exactly one year ago this week, MEPs debated sexual harassment in the context of the #Metoo movement, and adopted a resolution on the matter.

Since then, Martin took the floor of the plenary several times to say that the Bureau has not done enough to implement the resolution.

Training for MEPs

The text asked for, among other things, mandatory training for MEPs to increase awareness of sexual harassment.

It was supported by 580 MEPs. Only 10 voted against, while 27 abstained.

As recently as 11 September, 528 MEPs supported another resolution, which noted "training on sexual and psychological harassment should be compulsory for all staff and members of parliament, including the European Parliament".

The parliament will offer new training, with a pilot beginning next month - but it will be voluntary.

According to minutes of a Bureau meeting, centre-left Slovak MEP Vladimir Manka – a Bureau member – said that there was "no legal basis for obliging members to do mandatory training".

Martin scoffed at the remark.

"It is extraordinary that this is a legislator who says this. Manka is a member of the European Parliament. Who makes law? It's us!"

He criticised as a "banana republic" the situation in which the Bureau has the power to water down the wishes of the parliament plenary.

"We are democratically elected. We represent the European people," said Martin. "Mr Welle has not been elected, he is a civil servant," he added.

'Swept under the rug'

Malin Bjork, an MEP from the Swedish Left Party, is also not satisfied with the follow-up of the resolution, one year on.

"The Bureau, under the leadership of Tajani, has been slowing down and even stopping the demands that were adopted by the plenary," Bjork told this website in an emailed comment.

"My colleagues and I have, in the past year, written several times to president Tajani and asked him to take action."

"One of the most contested points seems to be a mandatory training occasion for MEPs, but I don't see the problem. As lawmakers, we should be able to set an example for change, not be an example of how issues concerning sexual harassment are being swept under the rug," said Bjork.

She also agreed that the documents which EUobserver requested should be made public, and that keeping them confidential actually does not comply with another resolution adopted with a wide majority.

Already in 2016, MEPs said that documents which have been referred to in the Bureau's agenda – as those concerned have – should "in principle" be published on the parliament's website.

Martin noted that there was a conflict of interest in Welle's decision, since the documents he denied access to were written by himself.

"Welle has put himself in the position where he is judge and defendant," said Martin.

EU parliament will not budge on office expenses

Hungarian centre-right MEP Livia Jaroka sticks to earlier decision: documents related to the minor reform of the expenses system, requested by EUobserver, should remain secret.

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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.

Only 19 of 751 MEPs enrol for anti-harassment course

While the course is voluntary, the number of MEPs who signed up stands in stark contrast with the number of MEPs who said they supported such remedies in the wake of the #metoo movement.

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