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4th Apr 2020

Centre-right MEPs want transparency vote to be secret

  • The EP plenary transparency vote may be held by secret ballot (Photo: European Parliament)

European lawmakers have delayed a plenary vote on their own transparency - amid a push by some German centre-right EPP members to hold a secret ballot on the proposed measures.

The European parliament plenary had been scheduled to vote on Wednesday (16 January) on a so-called rules of procedure report, that includes demands to grant greater public insight into lobbying influence on lawmakers.

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  • EPP members all rejected pro-transparency amendments at the committee level in December (Photo: EUobserver)

But with the vote postponed, some EPP lawmakers are now seeking to ensure the public remains in the dark when it comes to transparency.

"It is absurd that the vote on the biggest transparency reform in this parliament could happen in secret," warned Vitor Teixeira, a policy officer at the Brussels-based Transparency International EU.

Teixeira said keeping the public in the dark about how individual MEPs vote on the report would shed further doubt on claims made by the EPP last November in its manifesto.

The EPP manifesto says transparency is needed to counter corruption - but the latest push for a secret ballot by some of its members appears to contradict that aim.

An EPP group spokesperson confirmed to EUobserver that the idea of a secret ballot had indeed been mentioned last week in a meeting.

"The group was pretty divided on the topic," he said, noting any final decision will be made a few days before the final vote which is now set for the end of January.

According to parliament rules, the request for a secret ballot only needs the approval of 20 percent of its members, meaning the EPP could force the vote to happen behind closed doors.

Expenses and lobbyists

The delay appears linked to a separate issue on shaping political groups, but the report, along with a slew of other measures, also calls for greater transparency for lawmakers and lawmaking.

First, it would allow the European parliament to tweak its website so that willing MEPs can voluntarily show the public how they spend taxpayer money.

Second, it would ask committee chairs and others given special tasks to draft reports, known as rapporteurs, to publish online all scheduled meetings with lobbyists.

Such measures are compromises on separate efforts to create a mandatory register for lobbyists, a plan pushed by the European Commission but now kicked into the long grass by the parliament.

The German factor

This broad resistance to transparency at the EU parliament is nothing new.

Some three years ago Martin Schulz, at the time the socialist president of the parliament, brokered a deal with the EPP to scupper a vote on second and third jobs for MEPs.

In return, the EPP agreed to protect Schulz from allegations he had used parliament resources during his campaign to become the president of the European Commission. Schulz denied it all.

But the fact remains that the European parliament has members that collectively earned up to €41m from side jobs since mid-2014, posing questions on potential conflicts of interest.

The interest in maintaining those salaries is self-evident.

But do lawmakers, who earn big salaries on the side in the private sector, genuinely work in the interest of the public and their voter base?

Among them is Lithuanian centre-right MEP Antanas Guogo, who earned up to €792,000 on the side, followed by British UKIP MEP Nigel Farage with €420,000.

The far-right tops the charts for the German MEPs, with both Jorg Hubert Meuthen and Marcus Pretzel pulling in the highest incomes.

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