Thursday

21st Feb 2019

MEPs likely to delay vote on greater transparency

MEPs might delay a vote on boosting transparency on the lobbyists they meet and on how they spend taxpayers' money on themselves.

The vote is scheduled for Wednesday (21 November), but the possible delay is linked to a long overdue internal legal opinion that was supposed to have been delivered at the start of the month.

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The European Parliament has, for years, said it wanted a mandatory register for lobbyists, shared with the European Commission and the EU Council, where member states meet.

But the latest delay sheds doubt on the parliament's real intentions, as MEPs grapple with moves to write new internal rules.

Those rules also include a new measure on how to disclose their spending of a lump sum of €4,400 a month they get for their expenses.

The parliament's constitutional affairs committee (Afco) was set to vote on the matter, but the initiative could face obstacles as MEPs wait for the legal services to deliver a verdict.

A vote could still take place without the legal opinion, but that would likely lead to conflicting positions with the committee.

'Free mandate'

MEPs are currently free to meet any lobbyists they like, making it difficult for the public to follow the trail of influence.

Some in the parliament have pressed to restrict them to meeting only those lobbyists who subscribed to an official registry, but EP lawyers have previously argued this would violate MEPs' "freedom of the mandate".

A compromise has since been floated by British centre-left MEP Richard Corbett in which the mandatory registration would only apply to MEPs who chaired committees or drafted reports.

A second compromise idea said the committee chairs should also publish scheduled meetings with lobbyists.

Corbett's third proposal said the European Parliament should let those MEPs who wanted to, to voluntarily publish letters by outside auditors on the parliament's website on whether their €4,400 monthly allowance was being correctly spent.

All three ideas were sent to the parliament's legal service to determine whether these would also violate the "freedom of the mandate".

The legal report's initial deadline was 5 November, but this was then pushed to last week. As of Monday evening, it had still not come forward.

Deadline and delays

Speculation is now mounting that the delay was linked to internal political disputes.

One opponent of the reforms is German centre-right MEP Rainer Wieland, who sits on the constitutional affairs committee and who is helping redraft the internal parliament rules on behalf of his EPP group, the main political force in the EP.

For his part, Swedish Green MEP Max Andersson said the legal service was likely to rubber-stamp the compromises in favour of greater transparency.

"This is why I think they are sitting on it," Andersson told this website, suggesting that the report is deliberately being delayed by those, like Wieland, who preferred the status quo.

If the legal service rejects the compromises, then the matter will get kicked up to the parliament body composed of the president and vice-presidents, known as the Bureau, where Wieland also sits.

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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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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EU parliament to renege on transparency promises

Internal legal European parliament documents circulated Tuesday, and seen by EUobserver, rule it illegal to force MEPs to meet only registered lobbyists. The opinion will likely render a larger effort to create a mandatory register for lobbyists null and void.

Razor-edge victory for more lobbying transparency at EP

New rules to force MEPs chairing committees or drafting reports to publish meetings with registered lobbyists took a step closer to reality. The measure was narrowly backed 11 to 10 at the constitutional affairs committee but still needs plenary approval.

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