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4th Jul 2022

MEPs to change staff system after damaging report

  • The Parliament often preaches to others on the importance of accountability and transparency (Photo: EUobserver)

Moves are under way to change the system for paying out staff allowances in the European Parliament after a damaging report recently revealed widespread abuse of the system, currently overseen by MEPs.

Leaders of the political groups meeting on Thursday (6 March) agreed that the parliament, commission and the council – the member states' body – should start talks on a system that would turn the entire responsibility for paying the numerous MEPs' assistants over to the parliament's services.

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A change to the system has to come on a basis of a proposal made by the commission and then approved by member states.

An official present at the meeting remarked that it was a "big step" saying he had first pointed out that the system needed changing in the early 1980s. He said that such a new system would be much more "transparent" and "it will be very difficult to cheat."

Meanwhile, three MEPs from the second biggest group in the parliament, the socialists, on Thursday tabled an amendment suggesting that the parliament should not sign off the 2006 accounts unless there is a commitment to reform the system "at the earliest possible moment."

"We want a system in which cheating is simply not possible," said Danish socialist Dan Jorgensen.

The amendment is due to be voted on in committee in March before going to plenary in April.

The catalyst for the all sudden activity to reform the easy-to-abuse system – already in place for years - is an internal audit report whose contents were leaked to the media last month.

The report revealed that the around €17,000 available to every MEP for their staff is in some cases being abused. The audit showed instances of it being channelled to bogus accounts, or paid out to one single individual, or being managed by an external operator that appeared not to exist.

The report and the ensuing decision to keep it confidential led to widespread criticism in the media that the parliament was simply burying the problem.

This did not sit well with the parliament's tendency to preach to others on the importance of accountability and transparency.

After Thursday's meeting, the report is to remain confidential with deputies present at the meeting stressing they want to "look to the future" rather than rake over the past.

MEPs now want to have a new system for assistants, some of whom continue to be paid little and without social security, that would establish them as European agents. The parliament's administration would then take care of wages and social security but MEPs would remain free to hire whoever they want.

Deputies are hoping to get the system established by the European elections next year at the latest, with some MEPs already worrying on the effect the audit report will have on an already apathetic electorate.

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