The EU has plunged itself into yet another scandal over transparency and propriety after the ECJ ruled that MEP’s famously generous expenses will remain secret. The European Parliament, unsurprisingly, demanded their expenses remain hidden and in a shock move that has appalled transparency campaigners across Europe, the ECJ has now backed them.
An astonishing 4,146 EUR a month is paid directly to all 751 politicians with no requirements whatsoever to justify or prove their expenses. This is on top of their generous salary: 8,611 EUR a month. Additionally, they receive money to employ three assistants each. It is not called the Brussels “gravy train” for nothing. It will be particularly galling for the millions of unemployed Europeans struggling to make ends meet.
The ECJ has made the bizarre decision that for MEPs to have to detail and prove their expenses, as is entirely standard in democracies, would constitute an unacceptable infringement on their privacy. The money in question, however, is not private – it is taxpayers’ money from European workers. No serious company or country would allow such vast sums of money to simply be waved through each month with a nod and a wink: there is zero accountability.
The ECJ said: “There mere fact that those personal data are closely linked to public data on those persons does not mean that those data cannot be characterised as personal data… It is clear that the applicants are, in essence, denouncing shortcomings and inefficiencies in the existing control mechanisms, which it is not for the court to examine.”
In 2017 it was revealed that a third of MEPs were keeping their office location secret to avoid public scrutiny of their expenses, quite astonishing given that these expenses add up to over 40m EUR a year – all taxpayer funded.
Campaigners have been pressing MEPs for some time to clean up their act and bring some much needed transparency and accountability to the expenses regime, and MEPs have continually blocked such efforts.
“The European Court of Justice has dealt a severe blow to transparency today… At a time when trust in the EU institutions is so low, this is a ridiculous message ahead of next year’s European elections.” (Nick Aiossa, Transparency International)
If the EU parliament refuses to abide by even the most minimal standards of financial propriety it sends a clear message to Europe and the world: like tax, accountability on expenses is just for the little people.