Last September we published a post (Expensives) covering a report by EUObserver on how the EU (in particular its parliament) had refused them access to documents relating to discussions of MEP’s expenses. Now the EU’s Ombudsman (a woman) has given her view on the controversy; for this post we have drawn on a follow-up report by EUObserver (https://euobserver.com/institutional/144757).
To sum up: a majority in the European Parliament (EP) expressed support for some reform of the system of expenses. The EP body in charge of internal procedures, the Bureau, decided to introduce only minimal reforms and rejected a requirement for MEPs to keep receipts against their expenditure.
When EUObserver sought access to relevant documents the EP’s Secretary-General, Klaus Welle, rejected the application. EUObserver appealed the decision and the appeal was also rejected, by Livia Jaroka, a Hungarian MEP. EUObserver reports that, “Both Welle and Jaroka had argued that the papers should be kept confidential, because if they would be released it would endanger the ability of future working groups to discuss sensitive issue freely.”
(See Secrets and Obfuscations for a link to the EU’s Treaty principle on openness and transparency and their practice of ignoring their own principle). The European Court of Justice (ECJ) did not overturn the rejections. [link?]
However, the EU Ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly, following a complaint from EUObserver, argues that “Parliament’s refusal to grant public access to the documents in this case constitutes maladministration”, on the grounds that MEPs, who receive the expenses, also make the decision, through the Bureau, on who should have access to documents relating to their discussions. “Given this situation, in which MEPs act as decision-makers whilst also being the receivers of the expenses, the ombudsman finds that there is an overriding public interest in scrutiny of the Bureau’s decision-making process.” The Ombudsman said that, “the public should have an insight into how the administrative decision was made in this case and which options were proposed and discussed…” because it is “of importance for public trust in the responsible use of public funds by their elected representatives“. Her full statement can be read here: https://www.ombudsman.europa.eu/nl/recommendation/en/113092
Referring obliquely to the exceptions to the EU regulation (linked above), she concluded that there was “an overriding public interest in disclosure of those documents“.
“The Ombudsman made a recommendation that Parliament should grant public access to the relevant” documents. EUObserver notes that the recommendations of the Ombudsman are not legally binding.
A spokeswoman for the EP said that, “disclosure of reflections on possible options would seriously undermine the willingness and possibility to have such frank and open exchanges in future“, echoing the reasons put forward by Welle and Jaroka.
The EUObserver is unfailingly supportive of the EU Project, if sometimes critical of its proceedings; if they are not allowed access to the workings of Leviathan what chance do we have as ordinary citizens, otherwise known as “the public”?
In footnote  to her report, the Ombudsman refers to an EU document, which highlights, surely without intent, the gap between theory and practice, or between their published claims and how they behave. Here are some samples of their published claims, from their ‘adopted text’ titled Transparency, accountability and integrity in the EU Institutions, which can be found here: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/TA-8-2017-0358_EN.html?redirect
The European Parliament,
E. whereas citizens’ trust in the EU institutions is fundamental for democracy, good governance and effective policy-making; whereas there is a need to reduce accountability gaps within the EU and to move towards more collaborative modes of scrutiny which combine democratic oversight, control and auditing activities, while also providing more transparency;
F. whereas non-transparent, one-sided interest representation can lead to a risk of corruption and may pose a significant threat and serious challenge to the integrity of policy-makers and to public trust in the EU institutions; whereas corruption has significant financial consequences and constitutes a serious threat to democracy, the rule of law and public investment;
I. whereas, in accordance with the requirement of transparency laid down in Article 15(3) of the TFEU I… all citizens of the Union have the right of access to documents of the Union’s institutions, bodies and other agencies;
4. Believes that rapporteurs, shadow rapporteurs and committee chairs should publish their meetings with interest representatives…;
7. Urges the Commission to publish meetings of all relevant Commission staff involved in the EU’s policy-making process with external organisations…;
46. – expressed its belief in the need to introduce an independent oversight authority for the classification and declassification of documents,
And so they go on, until it (the EP) gets to:
75. Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council and the Commission.
We note that each point opens with weasel words such as: Welcomes, Recalls, Believes, Calls on, Urges, Encourages, Considers, Reiterates, Insists, Asks, Regrets. We cannot find that it decides, let alone instructs the Council or the Commission (or even its own Bureau) to do anything about the lack of transparency, accountability and integrity. So much for the powerful parliament that we citizens are encouraged to vote for.