Leading article: Big car, big problem for Europe's MEPs

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The Independent Culture
ALAN DONNELLY has a cut-price Daimler. Who he? So what? Well, he is the leader of the Labour Party in the European Parliament and this is a big deal. Of course, it is precisely the sort of thing that "everyone assumes" Euro-politicians are up to, but that only makes it more important that they do not accept pounds 30,000 perks and are seen to be not accepting them.

Mr Donnelly, leader of the Labour MEPs, the largest national contingent of the Socialist Group, leased the four-litre Daimler from Jaguar at half- price four years ago. Jaguar is owned by Ford, which is in constant contact with European regulators over its European interests.

It is only two months since the entire European Commission was forced to resign because of incompetence and corruption. Since then, a wave of change has swept through Brussels, driven by a determination to win back public confidence by demonstrating that the EU will be governed by elementary rules of ethical public conduct.

But this is not simply a matter of the EU's credibility, it affects the credibility of the British Government. It is the Labour Party which promised the "highest possible standards in public life". It is the Labour Party which brought in the stricter rules on disclosure of MPs' interests recommended by Lords Nolan and Neill. And it is the Labour Party which is fighting the European elections next month on a platform of closer integration and "a Europe that puts citizens first".

It simply will not do to have a register of interests for MEPs available only for inspection in Brussels and Strasbourg, when that for Westminster MPs is available in public libraries on the Internet. Labour candidates in June's elections should be fighting for the same standards to apply to the European Parliament as to the House of Commons.

One of the disadvantages of the "closed" list proportional voting system brought in by the Government for the European elections in Britain, improvement though it is on first-past-the-post, is that the voters of the North East will be unable to punish Mr Donnelly individually for his arrogance. Geordie voters who believe in closer ties with an open, honest and democratic Europe will be forced to vote for the Liberal Democrat list.