Friday

6th Dec 2019

Secret ballot on transparency is no secret, says EPP

  • A secret ballot is rarely used (Photo: European Parliament)

An MEP spearheading demands for a secret ballot on a transparency vote at the European Parliament's plenary on Thursday (31 January) says it is needed to protect colleagues from a public backlash.

The Thursday vote spans proposals to require leading MEPs, like committee chairs, to publish meetings with registered lobbyists.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 30-day free trial.

... or join as a group

It also opens up the possibility for willing MEPs to disclose on the European Parliament's website how they spend taxpayer money on themselves via their generous €4,500 monthly tax-free sum for expenses.

"A lot of colleagues approached us and said 'we share your view but we are under such big pressure'", Daniel Caspary, a German centre-right MEP told EUobserver when asked to explain why a secret ballot was needed.

The centre-right EPP group, the main political force in the European parliament, has triggered a rarely-used parliamentary rule that allows MEPs to hide their individual votes from the public in a plenary vote.

But Caspary denies his group is hiding behind the secret ballot - which is very rarely used.

"We will get bad press for asking for a secret ballot, but we don't hide behind it," he said.

He says the EPP's positions on the proposals to be voted on are already public knowledge, despite promises by its leadership under Manfred Weber for greater transparency.

Weber has yet to respond to questions on whether he supports the secret ballot in light of his pro-transparency statements that shape his bid to become the next president of the European Commission.

The transparency ideas are outlined as an amendment and are part of a much larger rules of procedure report by British socialist Richard Corbett, who himself has demanded the secret ballot be dropped.

Corbett is now seeking to place a ban on secret ballots, noting that politicians should not be allowed "to say one thing in public and then vote another way in secret."

But such arguments appear not to have persuaded the EPP.

Caspary says the secret ballot is also needed to allow MEPs from other political groups to vote against the measures without fear of recrimination.

"We want to open an opportunity ... for the members of those groups who want to join us," he said.

He says he is not against transparency, but prefers having legislation that requires the lobbyists to publish meetings they held with MEPs.

He argues if a lobbyist incorrectly claims to have met an MEP, then the MEP will be trouble if he had not published the same meeting.

Similar views are held by other leading German centre-right MEPs like vice-president Rainer Wieland who claims that such proposals would violate a deputy's "freedom of mandate".

The mandate says an MEP should vote on an individual and personal basis and not be bound by any instructions.

'Thundering disgrace'

But the Brussels-branch of Transparency International (TI), an NGO, disputes such accounts.

Carl Dolan, who heads the TI Brussels branch, described the EPP proposal for a secret ballot as a "thundering disgrace."

TI also note that the obligation to publish meetings with lobbyists only applies to committee chairs and MEPs who draft reports on legislative files.

"For ordinary activities of MEPs, there would be no legal obligation to publish meetings with interest representatives," it said, in a note.

They also point out that publication of the meetings would only apply to those that have already been scheduled.

"Other meetings, such as with citizens, do not have to be reported," it noted.

The amendments water down compromises for what had been a master plan to create a mandatory joint-transparency register with the European Commission.

The commission had pushed for the mandatory register. The European parliament now appears to have other ideas.

Leading MEP defends expenses secrecy

The man tasked with making the EP more transparent has said there are more important issues than making MEP monthly expenses public.

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.

This is the (finally) approved European Commission

MEPs gave the green light to the entire new European Commission during the plenary session in Strasbourg - but with the abstention of the Greens and a rejection by the leftist group GUE/NGL.

Magazine

Welcome to the EU engine room

Welcome to the EU engine room: the European Parliament (EP's) 22 committees, which churn out hundreds of new laws and non-binding reports each year and which keep an eye on other European institutions.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  5. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture

Latest News

  1. Migrants paying to get detained in Libyan centres
  2. Searching for solidarity in EU asylum policy
  3. Will Michel lead on lobbying transparency at Council?
  4. Blood from stone: What did British PR firm do for Malta?
  5. EU Commission defends Eurobarometer methodology
  6. Timmermans warns on cost of inaction on climate
  7. Development to fuel change
  8. Does EU have role in stopping backsliding in Georgia?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  2. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  3. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  5. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us