7th May 2021

Grumbling as some MEPs continue to employ family members

  • Family members continue to creep European parliamentary corridors, despite bans in several member states (Photo: EUobserver)

The European Parliament's top official has admitted that around 20 MEPs continue the practice of employing family members as parliamentary assistants, an issue that has upset a number of their colleagues.

Formerly more widespread, the practice was forbidden under a new assistants' statute which came into effect with the start of the current parliamentary term in July 2009. However a temporary exception, or 'derogation', to the rule allows re-elected MEPs who previously employed family members to continue doing so until 2014.

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"Around 20 members use the derogation provided under Article 78(3)," reveal a series of written responses to questions from MEPs put to the European Parliament's secretary general, Klaus Welle.

The replies, sent to parliament's budgetary control committee earlier this month, refuse to reveal which deputies: "The names of members making use of the derogation ... cannot be made public due to the requirement to protect the confidentiality of personal data."

Initial research shows a number of MEPs using the derogation originate from Britain and Ireland, although other nationalities are likely to be involved.

Despite being legitimate under parliamentary rules, a number of euro-deputies have spoken out against the continued practice of employing family members with taxpayers' money, raising the matter in a budgetary control meeting last week.

"This was my big sorrow because the full plenary of MEPs decided not to allow such a derogation any more, but the bureau opted to allow it," German centre-right MEP Ingeborg Grassle told this website.

The vote to end the procedure took place in plenary on 22 April 2008, but parliament's bureau - consisting of the legislature's president, 14 vice-presidents and five 'quaestors' (senior administrative officials) - decided shortly thereafter to prolong the employment of familiy members under certain conditions.

"It was thought that people who had already arranged their lives shouldn't have to suddenly disrupt them due to the changes," European Parliament press official Ralph Pine explained, indicating that the threat of legal action was not a factor in the decision.

But the bureau's practice of overruling the full body of MEPs has drawn criticism. "Quite often, the bureau just goes against the will of the plenary. They don't give a damn, they're the boss," said a seasoned parliamentary official on condition of anonymity.

"Why did they come up with the derogation? Because there were members who were going to be re-elected, it's very simple. There is also pressure from the [political] groups. In plenary, MEPs have to be seen to be voting the practice out, but later it is cooked up between the political groups," said the source.

There are also doubts over euro-deputy compliance with the current rules on employing family members, with Court of Auditor member Louis Galea indicating that his services may shortly be called upon.

"The court may be requested to give an opinion on the regulations that govern this particular issue," he said in a recent telephone interview. "I understand that the matter is being considered by the relative authorities within the European Parliament."

A related issue is also under internal investigation - the reported practice of some MEPs employing the family members of other MEPs, in order to side-step the current rules.

"This is in principle not forbidden so we didn't ask for that," said Ms Grassle, referring to the questions sent to parliament's secretary general. "I had the impression [that it takes place] but I can not confirm it ... I don't know if it is really a problem."

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