Expensives

EUobserver

EUobserver has challenged the European Parliament (EP) to publish, in the public interest, the documents prepared by an ad-hoc working group charged to propose options to reform the allocation of MEP’s expenses (see https://euobserver.com/institutional/142867 ).

MEPs receive €4,416 per month to cover office expenses, but are not required to keep receipts or return any unused sums at the end of their mandate.” “All 751 MEPs receive the monthly GEA [general expenditure allowance] lump sum of €4,416 with no questions asked.”

This has led to criticism and controversy – and a majority of MEPs have expressed support for at least some reform of the system.”

On 2 July [2018], the parliament’s body in charge of internal procedures, the Bureau, decided to go only for a minimal reform of the system – rejecting some changes requested by a parliament majority. …For example, the Bureau rejected a requirement for MEPs to at least keep receipts.”

In July the Secretary-General of the EP, Klaus Welle, replied to reject an application from EUobserver, which then appealed the decision and lost the appeal. It’s worth reporting in some detail the reasons given, by Hungarian MEP Livia Jaroka who is the EP vice president for matters relating to access to documents and a member of the Bureau: Jaroka

The confidentiality of the deliberations, and of its relevant documents, guaranteed, on the one hand, that alternatives would be presented without reservation by the working group to the Bureau and, on the other hand, the possibility for the Bureau to hold a frank and open discussion, based on thorough information on all possible alternatives,” Jaroka wrote.

If the requested documents … were disclosed to the public, similar working groups in the future would not be able to fulfil their task of advising the Bureau, as their members would refrain from proposing innovative alternatives and the information submitted to the Bureau would not be as comprehensive as in the present case“.

The EU’s own ‘access to documents’ regulation: ( http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/PDF/r1049_en.pdf if you are fascinated by such stuff), notes that the Treaty on European Union (TEU) “enshrines the concept of openness… in which decisions are taken as openly as possible”. And “In principle, all documents of the institutions should be accessible to the public.”

Public interestClearly some documents are especially sensitive, or it may not be in the public interest to publish them, but the regulation allows an EU institution (the EP is one of these) to keep documents secret in such exceptional cases. The denial from the Bureau does not seem to justify such a claim. It would certainly seem to be in the public interest for us to know how taxpayers’ money is spent and what procedures are in place to monitor and manage expenditure such as MEP’s expenses.

Jaroka again: “…parliament has to consider that the interest that you [EUobserver] invoke does not outweigh the interest in the protection of parliament’s internal decision-making process,”

That argument is entirely consistent with the EU’s hierarchy of ‘values’, which put the interests of the EU above any interests of the citizens they claim take priority (see TEU quotes above). By “protection” we may assume that she means to protect the mysterious and secret ways in which EP decisions are made (and EU decisions more widely). [1]

Transparent

To be fair to the EP, here is Heidi Hautala, a Finnish MEP (Green) and a member of the Bureau:

The credibility of the European Parliament is at stake: we cannot demand openness and transparency from others, if those principles are not followed within our own institution. … The Bureau should be accountable to the MEPs and the EU citizens as a whole, and respond to their justified worries.”

She echoes what may well be the majority view among MEPs, according to EUobserver.

However, we note that, while the decision to deny access to the documents was made within the EP, such decisions are consistent with the low status of the EP among the EU’s institutions.

Meanwhile, the [European] Court of Justice has announced that it will rule next week in a case that also involves the GEA. Several journalists had requested copies of documents related to MEP’s travel expenses, subsistence allowances, office expenses and assistants expenses. The parliament had rejected the requests. The Luxembourg-based court will decide on 25 September whether to annul that rejection.”

We wait with interest to see how the ECJ treats the EP in this related case. 

_______________________________________

[1]       Law-making in Secret

 

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