ECJ: MEPs’ expenses can remain private
Despite calls from transparency campaigners, a European High Court ruling means that the expenses of MEPs’ will be allowed to remain private, and won’t be allowed to be viewed by the public. A group of campaigners and journalists have been campaigning for several years to change the current legislation. The group, which includes members from all 28 member states, had previously asked the European Parliament for records covering the last four years.
It’s estimated that within the Parliaments budget, around €450 million is spent on salaries, expenses and other office costs. In the request, the group requested specific documents relating to MEPs’ expenses including general expense allowance, travel allowance, staffing cost allowance and daily subsistence. These requests have been repeatedly refused by the court.
The case was referred to the ECJ, which said that the European Parliament is correct to deny the requests for information. They said that releasing the information would undermine “the protection of privacy and the integrity of the individual”. They say the group of campaigners had been unable to prove that the publishing of the information would be “appropriate and proportional”. Additionally, the added that releasing the information anonymously would not be useful, and it would be “an excessive administrative burden” to remove the names.
The court said: “In 2015, a number of journalists and journalism associations requested access from the Parliament to documents relating to the subsistence allowances, travel expenses and parliamentary assistance allowances of Members of the European Parliament (‘MEPs’). Those requests were all refused by the Parliament, as were the confirmatory applications which followed them.”
Campaigners have expressed their disappointment with the ruling. Transparency International’s Brussels office said that this would enable the European Parliament to “keep details of MEP expenses secret and hidden from journalists, civil society and citizens”. Heidi Hautala, an MEP who has been calling for transparency in the system agreed, commenting on our “urgent need for openness around MEPs’ expenses”.
She added: “The majority of MEPs agree on the need for more transparency around their own expenses, but the bureau of the parliament and president Tajani refuse to act. The rules need changing now, otherwise the misuse of expenses will continue in the shadows. We cannot demand openness and transparency from others, if those principles are not followed within our own institution. Secrecy around MEP’s expenses only damages the image of the European parliament and emboldens Eurosceptics.”