Climbdown as MEPs' abuse of expenses is finally revealed

 

The European Parliament yesterday bowed to three years of pressure and released a secret report that exposed the widespread abuse of expenses by MEPs.

A meeting of the Parliament's governing bureau on Wednesday agreed not to contest a court ruling that instructed it to release a 2008 internal audit which it had spent hundreds of thousands of pounds trying to keep secret.

The decision – first revealed in The Independent earlier this week – means that European institutions will have to prove a "serious threat to the decision-making process" to keep such audit reports secret.

According to the audit, which looked at a sample of anonymous MEP claims, members had channelled their £125,000-a-year allowances for secretaries and research assistants into family-owned businesses, foreign bank accounts and "front" companies.

The report also revealed that politicians used up their portion of the £100 million expenses pot as they did not need to provide receipts. But the 90-page document by the Parliament's chief auditor Robert Galvin did not name the culprits.

The climbdown follows a European Court of Justice ruling earlier this month which decided that institutions can no longer claim potential political controversy is sufficient to refuse access to internal audit reports. Members of the public will also no longer have to show an "overriding public interest" when requesting documents.

It will now heap pressure on the Parliament to further reform its expenses system and release individual claims that are not covered under Freedom of Information rules.

Ciarán Toland, the Irish barrister who took the Parliament to court and forced the release, said: "This is a great victory for transparency in all European institutions as, for the first time, it puts the onus on the institution to prove why a document should not be released rather than on the citizen to prove that it should."

The Galvin Report analysed 167 allowance payments dating back to 2004 and 2005. It found systematic abuses of parliamentary allowances, including payments made to assistants of MEPs who were not even accredited to work in the Parliament, and end-of-year bonuses worth nearly 20 times the monthly salary paid to assistants, which allowed members to use up their full annual allowance.

It found that one payment, supposedly for secretarial work, was made to a crèche whose manager was a local politician from the MEP's party.

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