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26th Jan 2020

Buzek defends parliament's efforts to tighten internal rules

Shaken by a recent spate of corruption allegations, the European Parliament is scrutinising the parliamentary codes of conduct in eight member states in a bid to ward off future offences.

But voices both inside and outside the European Parliament have questioned the approach, saying a mere compilation of already-existing schemes does not go far enough.

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Speaking to members of the parliament's constitutional affairs committee on Monday, European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek defended the methodology of a specially-convened working group that is scheduled to produce its report on tightening the chamber's internal rulebook this June.

He said the working group, which he chairs, will examine how already-approved rules on lobbyists can be strengthened, while a code of conduct will be put in place for MEPs.

"While most national parliaments have their codes of conduct for members ... the European Parliament does not," Buzek said. "The rules applicable in national parliaments are something we can build upon."

The debate on rule-tightening comes after a recent Sunday Times sting operation exposed four MEPs as allegedly willing to accept bribes in exchange for filing legislative amendments. All four MEPs have protested their innocence.

A subsequent squabble with the EU's anti-fraud office (Olaf), in which investigators were refused access to the European Parliament did little to restore the legislature's reputation, with Buzek hastily setting up a ten-man team of MEPs to draw up a tougher set of rules for the future.

The working group is closely studying parliamentary procedures in France, Germany, Poland, Ireland, Finland, Slovakia, Portugal and the United Kingdom.

Once completed this June, the group's report will be handed to senior European Parliament officials and political chiefs for approval, before being passed to the constitutional affairs committee for amendments.

But some members of the committee have already drawn a question mark over the working group's methodology.

"We accept that there must be changes ... but I think we should not simply aggregate the procedures of national parliaments to build up a sort of fortress," Liberal MEP Andrew Duff remarked. "I think that we must be something that is qualitatively better."

For their part, Transparency International, an anti-corruption NGO, said Germany is far from being a suitable model.

"We've looked closely at the code of conduct for German MPs and it clearly won't serve as a template, despite some recent improvements," Jana Mittermaier, head of the group's office in Brussels, told EUobserver.

The ability of German MPs to accept undisclosed personal donations, and weak rules surrounding the disclosure of assets are among the issues cited by the NGO in the past.

With the working group's report almost finished, Mittermaier also stressed the need for a public consultation.

"A public hearing was scheduled for the end of May, but we are becoming increasingly concerned that it will not materialise. It's essential if there is to be any transparency and critical voices are to be heard."

Apart from Duff, few MEPs in parliament's constitutional affairs committee were feeling critical on Monday, with members largely restricting their interventions to statements marking the anniversary of the death of EU forefather Altiero Spinelli.

"I'm happy you had more remarks about Spinelli than about the work we are doing in our group. It's obviously more important," Buzek told them afterwards.

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