MaltaToday, 5 March 2008 | MEPs reject Ombudsman’s call to publish accounts


NEWS | Wednesday, 05 March 2008

MaltaToday to push forward its call for transparency

Matthew Vella

The Bureau of the European Parliament (EP), the senior MEPs who run the house, have decided not to divulge the accounts and allowances received by MEPs despite a recommendation by the European Ombudsman.
The Ombudsman’s recommendation concerns a complaint by MaltaToday lodged back in 2005, after the EP refused to publish accounts related to Malta’s five MEPs. Backed by a supporting opinion from the European Data Protection Supervisor Peter Hustinx, Ombudsman Nikoforos Diamandouros recommended that the EP reconsider MaltaToday’s application and grant it access after finding the EP had no “appropriate legal basis for rejecting the complainant’s application for access”.
The European Parliament’s office in Malta yesterday said the Bureau would not be providing the details of the MEPs’ allowances, saying the practice across the EU’s national parliaments reflected this decision.
“The Bureau of the European Parliament has decided not to provide the amounts and details of the allowances received by individual MEPs. Instead, Parliament will publish on its website a clear overview and explanation of the different allowances. The Bureau took its decision in response to a draft recommendation by the European Ombudsman to reconsider an earlier refusal to grant access to the details of the allowances received by Maltese MEPs in 2004 and 2005.”

The Bureau said that the EP maintains its view that revealing details of the amounts paid to individual MEPs would be contrary to data privacy rules. Before taking its decision, the EP said it also analysed the practices of the national parliaments in the 27 Member States. This showed that the majority of parliaments do not provide such details.
“The Bureau therefore felt that it should not oblige MEPs to adopt a practice which goes beyond what is required in their own Member State.”
However, for the first time they have agreed to publish how much each of the 785 members is entitled to, and for what. In 2006 they were granted €135 million to pay staff and €70 million, almost €100,000 each, for travel and subsistence.
“Parliament does, however, appreciate the argument that in a transparent and democratic society, the public has a right to be informed about the use of public revenues. Therefore, it will publish on its website the different allowances to which MEPs are entitled, the rules by which they are governed and an explanation of the purpose and use of each allowance.”
A spokeswoman for Diamandouros said he had not yet received the Bureau’s letter. Diamandouros could take legal action if he is not satisfied.

Historic first
MaltaToday’s complaint and its subsequent upholding by the Ombudsman became a historic first for a Maltese newspaper, in its bid to make MEPs’ payments and expenditure transparent and open to the public.
In his decision, Diamandouros had found that the European Parliament’s arguments to refuse access were neither convincing nor justified, and constituted maladministration.
He said the fact that Parliament failed to even consider granting partial access to documents containing data related to assistants, for example by blanking out the assistants’ names, also constituted maladministration.
“The Ombudsman concludes that Parliament wrongly rejected in its entirety the complainant’s access for access to the data… This constitutes maladministration.”
The decision is important because it has won the public the right to know what their elected MEP earns every year, and to know how these funds are utilised by their MEPs to achieve what they achieved.
Diamandouros also reiterated the opinion by European Data Protection Supervisor Peter Hustinx, who was asked to submit his views on the complaint. In his observations, Hustinx said “it seems obvious that these data must be disclosed”, and that although the case dealt with the personal data of MEPs, “in a transparent and democratic society, the basic consideration must be that the public has a right to be informed about their behaviour. MEPs must be aware of this public interest.”
Diamandouros also said that the parliament’s dismissal of MaltaToday’s arguments that MEPs’ accounts had to be subject to public scrutiny because these were already audited internally, was “not relevant”. “… the Ombudsman regards as invalid the argument put forward by an institution examining an application that the same end the applicant wishes to achieve by requesting access to certain documents may be achieved by other means… Parliament’s reference to financial checks by the responsible bodies is not relevant in the context of this case.”
Both the presidents of the European Parliament, socialist Josep Borrel and EPP MEP Hans-Gert Pöttering stood by the Parliament’s refusal to grant MaltaToday access to the accounts.

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