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Court blocks bid to end secrecy over MEP expenses

Luke James
·Brussels correspondent
MEPs voting at the European Parliament in Strasbourg (Getty)
MEPs voting at the European Parliament in Strasbourg (Getty)

Efforts to end secrecy over the expenses of members of European parliament has been rejected by judges.

It’s estimated that the 751 MEPs claim more than £35m a year in expenses without any public scrutiny of what the money is spent on.

In a bid to end the secrecy, a group of 28 journalists – one from every EU member state – made freedom of information requests to the European parliament in 2015 for details of MEP expenses.

When their requests were rejected by the parliament, they launched a legal challenge.

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“While MEPs should enjoy privacy in their private lives, they are employed by the people and for the people, who are entitled to know how public resources are spent,” Natasa Pirc Musar, a spokesperson for the group, told the Times.

But their three-year battle for the “right to know” ended in defeat on Tuesday when the Luxembourg-based EU court upheld the parliament’s decision.

The court ruled publishing documents could breach EU privacy laws and said the journalists had “failed to show how the transfer of personal data at issue is necessary to ensure an adequate review of the expenditure.”

A suggestion that documents with personal details redacted was also rejected by the court which said doing so would render the information useless.

The main court room of the ECJ in Luxembourg (ECJ)
The main court room of the ECJ in Luxembourg (ECJ)

Transparency International called the judgement “hugely disappointing.”

Heidi Hautala, vice-president of the parliament’s Green/EFA group, responded: “The fact that journalists even had to go to court over documents that should be public in the first place shows the urgent need for openness around MEPs’ expenses.”

On top of their salaries, MEPs receive a general allowance of £3,950 a month, which is paid directly into their bank accounts and is designed for office and administrative costs.

The fact MEPs are not required to provide receipts for how the money is used – because the parliament say it would be an “administrative burden” – has led to concerns of misspending.

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The European parliament’s bureau had rejected moves to make the system more transparent earlier this year.

They are required to provide proof of purchase for travel expenses, and receive an annual allowance for staffing costs – although this money does not go directly to them.

Some MEPs voluntarily declare details of their expenses online, but campaigners are set to keep pushing for this to be made compulsory.

Hautula said: “The rules need changing now, otherwise the misuse of expenses will continue in the shadows. Secrecy around MEPs’ expenses only damages the image of the European parliament and emboldens Eurosceptics.”