UK Liberty

Rings hollow

Posted in accountability, freedom of information, politicians on liberty by ukliberty on February 27, 2008

The Times:

British politicians yesterday attacked the decision to suppress the report of misuse of European Parliament allowances.

Supporters of the European Union and sceptics united in demanding the report’s publication.

Denis MacShane, the Labour MP and former Europe Minister, said: “Any reports on these matters should be in the public domain. End of story. MEPs, like MPs, do themselves no good by not being as transparent as possible as is the case with British MEPs from the mainstream parties.”

Kate Hoey, another Labour MP, who has led calls for a referendum on the Lisbon treaty, said: “This is another example of the closed and secretive nature of the EU.”

Philip Davies, the Eurosceptic Tory MP, said: “People have long known it is a bit of a gravy train in the European Parliament and this will probably confirm their worst fears. This will further undermine people’s confidence in European institutions.”

Good for them saying it, but it does rather ring hollow given recent news about the battle to prevent us from scrutinising MPs’ expenses.

Also in the Times:

Senior members of the European Parliament turned their fire on a whistle-blower for disclosing the existence of a confidential report into widespread misuse of expenses yesterday as they voted for it to stay secret.

Can’t have the public knowing what their money is spent on, can we?

Chris Davies, a Liberal Democrat who broke ranks to reveal that an internal auditor had found a number of scams being operated by MEPs, was attacked for misusing private information and for rarely turning up to committee meetings. MEPs on the Budget Control Committee voted by 21 to 14 not to publish the report, with the support of the two main groups in Parliament, the European People’s Party, which includes the Conservatives, and the Socialists, including Labour.

“We were crushed by the forces of darkness using procedural rules,” Mr Davies said. “I have been accused of bringing the Parliament into disrepute but I don’t think you should blame the messenger. It is those who practise activities akin to fraud who are bringing it into disrepute.”

Well said, and good on Mr Davies, who will no doubt now be persecuted for bring this to light.

The committee was supposed to cover the €¤107 billion (£80 billion) EU accounts, failed by the Court of Auditors for the thirteenth year in a row, but instead spent much of its time venting its spleen at Mr Davies and the auditor who wrote the report.

MEPs have been allowed a wide discretion over their annual assistance allowance of €185,952.  Mr Davies disclosed that an internal auditor had detailed various scams used by some MEPs, sometimes without technically breaking the rules, to line their own pockets. One MEP paid a Christmas bonus to an assistant worth 19 times his salary, several others set up arms-length companies to pay expenses to bogus staff and others seemed to funnel money to their political parties while claiming to be paying assistants.

In the secret report, available for MEPs on the committee to read only in a sealed room after taking an oath of secrecy, the auditor also set out a series of recommendations for changes to ensure probity and transparency.

José Javier Pomés Ruiz, a Spanish EPP member, led the attack. “Coming along and saying ‘publish’ when you have not been involved in the process, I do not think that is 100 per cent honest,” he told Mr Davies. “If you look at the headlines and look at the report, there are great differences. Passing information to the press is a misuse of information and a misuse of parliamentary obligations.”

Mr Pomés Ruiz said that the appropriate body to carry out any investigation was Olaf, the EU anti-fraud office. Mr Davies pointed out that Olaf would not have known about the secret audit if he had not alerted the world to its existence. The auditor who wrote the report was attacked for “going above his competences” by Szabolcs Fazakas, a Hungarian Socialist.

Herbert Bösch, an Austrian Socialist and committee chairman, told Mr Davies that he was wasting his time calling for the report to be published. Speaking afterwards Mr Bösch insisted that there were areas of MEP expenditure that should remain private. “I will refuse any demand to have a look at my journeys or trips because sometimes you have to meet people off the agenda,” he said.

The only British voice raised in Mr Davies’s favour was by Ashley Mote, the disgraced independent MEP recently released from prison for fiddling British benefit payments. Chris Heaton-Harris, a Tory MEP, defied the EPP group line to vote for publication, calling the decision a huge missed opportunity.

Hans-Peter Martin, an Austrian MEP ostracised after he filmed some of his colleagues signing in for the day to collect their per diem allowance, then promptly leaving, said: “This Parliament is a paradise of unjustified privileges and possibilities for real cheats. It is a central problem for democracy and credibility in Europe.”

Let us also remember that the EU auditors refused in November 2007 to sign off the EU’s accounts for the 13th consecutive year.


One Response

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  1. Ralf Grahn said, on February 27, 2008 at 5:44 pm

    Shooting the messenger bringing bad tidings has deep historical roots, in times less enlightened.

    There is no excuse for lack of transparency and openness today.

    OLAF should act swiftly and openly, and if misuse is rampant in the sample, their inquiry should be extended to all MEPs.

    The members of the Committee on Budgetary Control who voted against publication should be eliminated from any list of EP candidates in 2009.

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