MaltaToday | 9 March 2008 | MEPs resist MaltaToday challenge, but accept to publish expenses on web

NEWS | Sunday, 09 March 2008

MEPs resist MaltaToday challenge, but accept to publish expenses on web

Matthew Vella

For the first time, the European Parliament will be publishing the list of grants and allowances claimed by MEPs on its internet website, after the European Ombudsman upheld MaltaToday’s complaint over access to MEPs’ accounts.
The concession is a far cry from MaltaToday’s request for access because the parliament’s Bureau, which comprises the heads of the various political blocs in the parliament, havs again refused to grant MaltaToday access to MEPs’ accounts and how the monies they are given are in fact used. The information being published has already been made public by individual MEPs for years.
However, for the first time the EP will make it publicly known exactly what MEPs are entitled to: a step that will make it a less cumbersome affair for citizens to know exactly how MEPs are paid and financed by European taxpayers’ contributions.
In its latest communication to Ombudsman Nikiforos Diamandouros, who gave the Bureau two months to carry out a Europe-wide study of how national parliaments treat the disclosure of their members’ interests, the parliament’s president Hans-Gert Pöttering said the parliament would “introduce a proactive policy of publishing on its website the different allowances to which MEPs are entitled, the rules by which they are governed, and all additions or changes in the amounts or rules, immediately they occur.”
Pöttering however said that individual members may decide whether they want to disclose more information on the allowances paid to them than is required by the parliament’s rules.
The European Parliament has taken the view that the personal data – names and sums paid for individual items – of MEPs contained in statements on payments of expenses and allowances relates to the privacy of individuals and that disclosure has “considerable implications” for them.
Pöttering said that disclosure of the breakdown of amounts received under the travel allowance, for example, “could have serious consequences” for MEPs such as “the political activity of a Member as well as his/her sources of information, should these documents become accessible.”
He claimed that such probing into the exercise of the MEPs’ mandate would impinge upon the principle that MEPs shall exercise their mandate independently.
He said the public disclosure of these documents was disproportionate to the objective being pursued, and that the Committee on Budgetary Control and the Court of Auditors already perform the necessary controls on MEPs’ expenses.
But the Ombudsman has already said that the parliament’s refusal to grant MaltaToday access to individual members’ accounts, and the way they have claimed and used their allowances, constituted maladministration.

MaltaToday to submit reaction
MaltaToday will submit its reaction to the Bureau’s reply to the Ombudsman in a bid to get the European Parliament to disclose records of the accounts held by MEPs, and to be readily available to citizens in a bid for greater transparency.
MaltaToday has also attracted attention from the foreign press on its complaint from the Ombudsman, most recently from the Irish Times, but also from The Daily Telegraph and Private Eye Magazine.

What MEPs are paid
All MEPs receive a flat-rate monthly allowance of €4,052 for general expenses and a monthly allowance of up to €16,914 to cover expenses for the employment of one or more assistants.
When MEPs participate in an official meeting of one of the parliament’s bodies within the EU, the amount of the travel allowance is calculated on the basis of the mode of transport and the distance per return journey between the place of residence and the place of work. Information on the methods of calculation will be made available on the parliament’s website;
As regards subsistence allowance, MEPs are paid €287 every day they participate in official meetings of the Parliament’s bodies such as committee and plenary meetings, to cover accommodation expenses and meals and other expenses incurred during their stay.
In total this works out to over €300,000 to administer their offices in both Brussels and Strasbourg, as well as in Malta, excluding their paid travel allowances and MEPs’ monthly salary which – until the MEPs Statute comes into force in 2009 – is equal to that of a Maltese parliamentarians’ salary.

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