Business organisation to be removed from European Parliament
By Honor Mahony
The European Parliament is to take steps to sever the close links it has with a business scheme that operates from within the Brussels assembly to boost contacts between MEPs and companies.
The European Business and Parliament Scheme (EBPS), whose patron is parliament chief Hans-Gert Poettering, has an office in the parliament and its employees share the same email address as euro-deputies.
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The set-up - after two initial refusals because of lack of space - was approved on 26 September 2007 by the quaestors of the parliament, MEPs who look after the administrative affairs of the Brussels house.
The scheme's 28 affiliated companies include major internationals such as software giant Microsoft, and the energy companies BP, RWE and Gaz de France.
It provides a range of programmes including "company attachments" in which MEPs or other senior officials of the parliament can spend a day or two with a company to provide "an insight" into how the business works.
The official website of the scheme states that "costs such as travel, accommodation and other programme-related expenses are covered from the European Parliament and the EBPS budgets."
A meeting of the parliament's political group leaders on Thursday (24 April) decided to discontinue the office and email arrangements after the matter was raised by Italian MEP Monica Frassoni, co-head of the Green group, who asked in a letter "whether [EBPS] was engaged in some kind of lobbying activity."
Speaking to EUobserver, Ms Frassoni noted that the website was "very open" and there is "nothing evil" about the scheme but that it was the "wrong decision" by the quaestors to grant this sort of access.
She said it was "totally inappropriate" that a scheme of co-operation between parliamentarians and big multinationals has an "office and mail with an europa.eu address and on its web is written that training and meetings will be paid by the European Parliament."
"The conference of presidents decided to delete this authorisation of opening an office and a mail."
A spokesperson for Hans-Gert Poettering explained the European Parliament president has "granted patronage to very many things" and that being the EPBS patron and the set-up "are two completely separate things."
Frederick Hyde-Chambers, secretary-general of the European Business and Parliament Scheme, pointed out that the European Parliament as such does not make any "direct contributions" to the scheme.
The reference to payments on the website referred to money from MEPs allowances. If this is not enough, funds are supplied by companies, who pay a membership fee, he told the EUobserver.
Mr Hyde-Chambers said such a scheme between business and national parliaments has been in place around the world for thirty years - the International Association of Business and Parliament - and said that there is "quite a sophisticated mechanism" to ensure that it is not just a pure lobbying set up.
Thursday's decision comes in the context of wider moves by the parliament to clean up the workings of the house.
It recently revamped its pay system for MEPs making the travel reimbursement system more transparent, and it has pledged to regularise the allowances for MEPs' assistants after a damaging internal audit exposed cases of fraud.
In addition, a report on lobbying voted on in committee last month called for a mandatory register of lobbyists working in the EU institutions - a parliament spokesperson said it would be "not quite logical" to adopt the report in plenary next month with this organisation within the parliament's walls.