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17th Apr 2021

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.

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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.

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