Transparency International, the international non-governmental organisation devoted to combating corruption, today spoke out against the European Parliament's decision to reject reform of procedures covering the expense claims of Members of the European Parliament (MEP's). “This decision is deeply disappointing,” said David Nussbaum, TI's global Chief Executive. “Reform is essential to ensure financial accountability of MEPs because the current system cannot prevent embezzlement. ”
Objections to the current system centre on rules for travel reimbursements, pension contributions, and office allowances. First, as MEPs are not required to present documentation to justify travel expenses they can claim far more in expenses than they actually spend. Second, there are no adequate safeguards to prevent abuse in the way MEPs fund private pensions, as noted recently by the European Court of Auditors. Third, generous allowances for office expenses are not audited, again opening the door for misuse of funds.
On Monday MEPs voted to reject measures drafted by the Parliament's Committee on Budgetary Control, which would have been a first step towards reforming the system. A number of MEPs have expressed strong opposition to this decision; UK Liberal Democrat MEP Chris Davies even went so far as to claim that the decision, “gives the all-clear to embezzlement.”
In addition, the Parliament voted against adoption of a code of ethics. “Codes of ethics are important tools in ensuring accountability of public servants and regulating conflicts of interest,” said Nussbaum. “We urge the European Parliament to enact these much-needed reforms.”
The reason frequently given for rejecting reform is the significant disparity between the salaries of MEPs from the richer Member States on the one hand and those from the poorer Member States on the other - largely the new Member States of Central and Eastern Europe. Generous expenses are seen as compensation for lower salaries. However Lithuanian MEP, Ona Jukneviciene, a member of the Committee on Budgetary Control, rejected this argument, “I do recognise the huge discrepancies in basic salaries,” she said, “but that is no justification for abusing the system.” Proponents of reform argue that there are ways to tackle the salary issue without endorsing the present system.
“This shameful decision threatens to undermine the legitimacy of the EU's endeavours to promote democracy in candidate countries and other regions of the world,”added Nussbaum. “The European Parliament's standards are lower than those operating in many countries which look to the European Union to set a positive example. With this decision, MEPs are short-changing the citizens of Europe and reinforcing the so-called democratic deficit.”