Ex­penses row sums up all that is wrong with EU

The Sunday Telegraph - - Sunday coment - DIA CHAKRAVARTY READ MORE

Agroup of around 50 Eu­ro­pean jour­nal­ists from across the Con­ti­nent form the “MEPs Project”. It is their mis­sion to hold MEPs ac­count­able to the elec­torate and to in­ject some sense of scru­tiny into how they spend tax­pay­ers’ money. Last month, the Eu­ro­pean Court of Jus­tice (ECJ) dealt the group a blow. It sided with the Eu­ro­pean Par­lia­ment’s re­fusal in July to shed light on the se­cre­tive sys­tem of MEPs’ ex­penses, cit­ing the lat­ter’s right to pri­vacy.

The in­her­ent lack of trans­parency in the EU in­sti­tu­tions and their con­tempt to­wards tax­pay­ers who fund them fea­ture high on my list of rea­sons for sup­port­ing Brexit. Last month’s de­ci­sion seemed to con­firm that when it comes to ac­count­abil­ity, Brus­sels is in­ca­pable of change.

Even the Re­main camp, some of whom are still vy­ing to over­turn the 2016 ref­er­en­dum re­sult, must surely ac­knowl­edge that re­form­ing the EU beast seems al­most im­pos­si­ble. Nearly 10 years ago, the ex­penses scan­dal ex­posed our own breed of en­ti­tled, out of touch politi­cians in West­min­ster. Sun­light, as they say, re­ally is the best dis­in­fec­tant. The prob­lem for cam­paign­ers try­ing to do the same in Brus­sels is that the EU in­sti­tu­tions are de­ter­mined not to play ball.

The bat­tle for trans­parency around MEPs’ ex­penses has been go­ing on for some years. Back in 2015, Eu­ro­pean jour­nal­ists at­tempted to ob­tain de­tails of how MEPs spend their €4,400 (£3,900) monthly al­lowance – which is meant to go to­wards of­fice and travel costs – through free­dom of in­for­ma­tion re­quests.

Cur­rently, the lump sum is trans­ferred to the MEPs’ per­sonal ac­counts (in ad­di­tion to their salary) which they can spend without hav­ing to pro­vide re­ceipts. The Eu­ro­pean Par­lia­ment re­fused those re­quests cit­ing ei­ther pri­vacy is­sues or that no records were ac­tu­ally avail­able. That’s nearly €40 mil­lion (£35 mil­lion) of Eu­ro­pean tax­pay­ers’ money spent ev­ery year for which there may not be any record any­where.

The cam­paign­ers then filed a com­plaint with the ECJ, which the Court re­jected in Septem­ber. MEPs are in “a class of their own, a class of pub­lic of­fi­cials that are not open to pub­lic scru­tiny”, ac­cord­ing to the Slove­nian in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist and MEPs Project mem­ber Anuska Delic.

It per­fectly en­cap­su­lates the EU’s at­ti­tude, as seen in the con­text of other baf­fling ex­penses – from the £150 mil­lion spent on shuf­fling politi­cians, bu­reau­crats and pa­pers be­tween Brus­sels and Stras­burg to the jaw-drop­ping pro­posal for a €1bn pro­gramme to sup­port “Eu­ro­pean val­ues”, which was pre­sented to the Eu­ro­pean Par­lia­ment’s Civil Lib­er­ties Com­mit­tee last week.

Ac­cord­ing to the draft re­port propos­ing the fund, the spend­ing is jus­ti­fied “given the changed po­lit­i­cal land­scape in the union and rais­ing chal­lenges to Eu­ro­pean val­ues that the EU is cur­rently fac­ing”.

The an­swer to these chal­lenges – largely borne out of a dis­af­fec­tion with the EU, ar­guably rooted in a re­jec­tion of an im­posed pan-Eu­ro­pean iden­tity – should surely have been greater ac­count­abil­ity to cit­i­zens, not bat­ten­ing down the hatches and splurg­ing on grand but vague ob­jec­tives, while Eu­ro­pean na­tion states con­tinue to strug­gle with youth un­em­ploy­ment and debt. FOL­LOW Dia Chakravarty on Twit­ter @Di­aChakravarty;

at tele­graph.co.uk/opin­ion To or­der prints or signed copies of any Tele­graph car­toon, go to tele­graph.co.uk/prints-car­toons or call 0191 603 0178

Iam not a “Woman Jour­nal­ist”. I am a jour­nal­ist who hap­pens to be a woman – OK? As I have had to ex­plain to any num­ber of BBC pro­duc­ers over the years who were search­ing for par­tic­i­pants in tele­vi­sion dis­cus­sions, I don’t do “Women”. The most mem­o­rable in­stance of this mis­un­der­stand­ing came with an in­vi­ta­tion to de­bate (on a flag­ship cur­rent af­fairs pro­gramme, no less) the pub­lish­ing of sex­ist tweets by some Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion ex­ec­u­tive I’d never heard of. The story was so far out­side of my pro­fes­sional frame of ref­er­ence that I had no idea what the re­searcher was talk­ing about.

Of course, as you may have no­ticed from my name and my by-line pho­to­graph – and even very oc­ca­sion­ally from some ref­er­ence that I make in this col­umn – I am fe­male.

But that is only one thing about me that af­fects what I think and write. I do not want to be de­fined as a woman colum­nist, any­more than I want to be de­fined as a Jewish colum­nist, or a white mid­dle-class colum­nist.

All of those things have con­trib­uted to my world view and they all in­flu­ence my opin­ions, but I refuse to ac­cept any of these lim­it­ing cat­e­gories read­er­prints@tele­graph.co.uk

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