A team of investigative journalists has taken its campaign to find out what MEPs spend their expenses on to the EU’s highest court.
The MEPs Project, a collective of 29 reporters from across the EU, says Brussels shells out nearly 40 million euros-a-year on members’ general expenses but there is a ‘complete absence of monitoring’ on how it is spent.
It asked for details on how the European Parliament’s (EP) 751 MEPs had spent their general expenditure allowances over a four-year period.
They also asked for details of how MEPs spent their travel, subsistence and staffing allowances.
The project claims the EP turned down its requests, claiming releasing the information would breach data protection legislation and create an excessive workload for staff charged with compiling the information.
How much do MEPs earn?
MEPs earn 8,020.53 euros a month, which over a year equals 96,246 euros.
The European Parliament says after tax and insurance contributions, the net salary of MEPs is 6,250.37 euros a month, or 75,004 euros annually.
What other income are they entitled to?
MEPs have a monthly sum of 4,320 euros, or 51,840 euros over 12 months, for general expenses, which is intended to cover costs of running an office.
They are also able to claim for the EP to reimburse the costs of travelling to and from their home countries and Brussels or Strasbourg.
On top of this there is an annual allowance of up to 4,264 euros to cover travelling and accommodation costs for when MEPs are on official business, but outside the member state where they were elected.
MEPs are also given a daily ‘subsistence allowance’ of 304 euros, to cover other expenses when they are in Brussels or Strasbourg.
They can also spend up to 256,548 euros a year to spend on staff in Brussels or their home country.
MEPS can also be given a ‘transitional allowance’ when they leave parliament, the subject of an investigation by Euronews earlier this year. Our study found these allowances – also referred to as golden goodbyes and intended to cover the cost of MEPs closing an office in Brussels and moving back to their country of origin – have cost up to 40.8 million euros since 2009.
What safety mechanisms are in place to stop abuse of expenses?
MEPs’ budget for staffing costs (up to 256,548 euros a year) is not paid directly to the politicians themselves. This follows a series of controversies. A leaked internal report in 2009 revealed ‘systematic abuses’ including one MEP who paid a 223,000 euro staff allowance to just one person, understood to be a relative.
For travel expenses to and from Brussels and Strasbourg, ‘supporting evidence’ must be provided to get the money.
General expenses and the daily subsistence allowance is halved if the MEP does not take part in more than half of roll-call (or recorded) votes at the EP. This comes after a Dutch journalist filmed two MEPs arriving to claim the allowance after the working day had ended.
But the MEPs Project has concerns around general expenses. It says it is paid as a lump sum and receipts do not have to be provided.
What’s the case for releasing this data?
Carl Dolan, director of Transparency International EU: “The European Parliament lags far behind other parliamentary bodies, such as Sweden and the UK, when it comes to the transparency of parliamentary expenses.
“There are clear risks of fraud involving taxpayer money that even the parliament’s own internal watchdog has highlighted. The parliament should be routinely providing information on how these public funds are spent rather than putting obstacles in the way of journalists.”
The MEPs Project says: “The complete absence of monitoring of MEP’s general allowances, in the amount of almost 40 million euros yearly, raises serious doubts that other spending by the 751 MEPs is monitored in a transparent, responsible and verifiable manner. The EP maintains, while denying our requests for access to documents, that all necessary checks and balances are in place. Faced with confirmed cases of spending fraud by MEPs in the past years, spanning from staffing family members to cheating on daily subsistence allowances, and allegations of further frauds, we would like to see evidence of the EP’s claims.”
What’s the case for withholding this data?
The MEPs Project says the EP turned its requests, claiming [a] it was MEPs’ personal data; [b] they did not have the documents in question; and © it would create an alleged excessive administrative burden to produce the documents.
The European Parliament declined to comment.
What is next?
The MEPs Project says it is now waiting to be heard in court, but this is not expected to happen for another year and a half.