Monday

22nd Apr 2019

Court tells EU parliament to release document detailing MEP abuses

  • The Galvin report details how MEPs pocketed money intended for parliamentary assistants (Photo: Jorge Franganillo)

The EU's General Court has ruled that the European Parliament must release a controversial 2008 internal report, detailing how MEPs abused an allowance system intended for parliamentary assistants.

Tuesday's (7 June) decision comes hot on the heels of a fresh cash-for-amendments scandal, with transparency groups now concerned that initial enthusiasm for a new MEP rulebook is quickly ebbing away.

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Irish Barrister Ciarán Toland took the access-to-information case to the General Court in June 2008, after the European Parliament refused to provide him with the document on the grounds that its disclosure would undermine an internal audit.

After weighing the evidence, European judges decided this week to annul the parliament's decision, ordering the legislature to pay its own legal costs and those of Toland.

The parliament may yet decide to appeal the decision to the European Court of Justice, but is under pressure from some of its own members not to do so.

"Instead of inventing trumped-up excuses to deny citizens access to information ... the parliament should be facilitating legitimate requests," Green MEP Heidi Hautala told EUobserver.

"This ruling should be a wake-up call to the parliament to start applying the same rigour to transparency inside this house that it demands of the other EU institutions," added the Finnish euro-deputy who leads parliament's work on access to information.

In January 2008, internal audit official Robert Galvin published the final version of his report on assistant allowances.

The document, seen by this website, details how a number of MEPs funneled money to family members, non-accredited staff and national political parties, as well as enriching themselves illegally. One MEP claimed to have paid the full €200,000 annual staff allowance to one person.

A number of MEPs, primarily from Ireland and the UK, still continue to employ family members due to an exemption procedure.

The decision by the General Court, which is attached to the European Court of Justice, comes as the European Parliament is once again fighting to clean up its tarnished image, after the Sunday Times newspaper recently claimed four MEPs accepted offers of money from fake lobbyists in exchange for tabling legislative amendments. All four protest their innocence.

European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek set up a working group of ten MEPs in the wake of the latest scandal, pledging to come up with a code of conduct for the euro deputies.

But a number of transparency groups say the initial enthusiasm for a new internal rulebook has silently drifted away as MEPs face up to the potential implications.

Transparency International (TI) says the new code should contain provisions in seven key areas. They include an explicit ban (and definition) of bribery; rules regarding secondary jobs and post-office employment; as well as detailed, comparable and online financial and non-financial declarations.

In addition, the group wants to see the creation of an independent ethics committee; an obligatory system to measure the 'legislative footprint' of MEPs; and an end to confusion on how to regulate gifts and hospitality.

This should all be backed up by greater enforcement, monitoring and sanctions, says the transparency group, one of several civil society organisations invited to a meeting of the parliamentary working group last week.

Another group which attended the meeting, Corporate Europe Observator, has also raised concerns about how the rule-drafting process is panning out.

"One MEP argued that the special nature of being an MEP precluded external intervention in their affairs," CEO campaigner Vicky Cann said in a blog after the meeting.

"Our concern is that as the initial shock of the Sunday Times' scandal dwindles, these MEPs feel under less and less pressure to put in place solid rules which will avoid a repeat of such a scandal in the future."

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