Expenses row sums up all that is wrong with EU
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;
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