MEPs oppose release of audit report

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Series Details 28.02.08
Publication Date 28/02/2008
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The_two biggest political groups in the European Parliament are opposing calls to make public an internal audit report which found widespread problems with MEPs' payments to their assistants.

Both the European People's Party-European Democrats (EPP-ED) and the Party of European Socialists (PES) want the report to remain confidential even though 11 MEPs on the budgetary control committee, including the Liberal and Green members, are asking for the report to be released.

The issue deeply divided MEPs at the committee meeting on Tuesday (26 February). Members strongly criticised UK Liberal Democrat MEP Chris Davies for telling the media last week about some of the report's findings which included that the audit has investigated 167 cases of payments involving 40 members.

Herbert Bšsch, an Austrian Socialist MEP and chairman of the budget control committee, refused to allow the committee to vote on whether the report should be made public, saying that the majority of members on the committee were against releasing the report. Bšsch said after the committee meeting: "The EPP and Socialists understood certain rules have to be followed. Otherwise we can forget the work of Cocobu [the budgetary control committee]. I made this report available to members of my committee so they can judge themselves. I have done my job."

The report can only be seen by members of the budgetary control committee in a sealed room and on signing a promise not to reveal its contents.

Davies insisted that the report should be made public so that MEPs who were not members of the committee could see it. The report proposes "a series of reforms" to the system of controls for the payment of allowances for MEPs, Davies added. "This document should be a manifesto for change," he said, commenting later that there had not been any "significant steps" to improve the system.

Leaks about the report's content are especially embarrassing as they come as MEPs are starting to campaign for the 2009 elections and want to convince voters of the contribution that Parliament makes to democratic accountability in the EU.

Harald R¿mer, the Parliament's secretary-general, wants to introduce a common set of rules for employing assistants from 2009. The change has the backing of Socialist and other MEPs who believe it is the best way to end the current complex system which has to take into account 27 national sets of employment law and different methods of employing assistants.

But Davies was criticised by members of the committee, including Bšsch, who repeatedly pointed out that Davies was a "rare visitor" to the committee. Davies responded that he had not been able to attend the whole of the morning session because of his other commitment as Liberal Democrat group rapporteur on the environment committee.

Greek Socialist MEP Costas Botopoulos said that Davies had exaggerated the findings of the auditor's report, saying: "There is no illegality. There is no dynamite." He said that the report should be published so that its true contents could be judged. But he was contradicted by Paul van Buitenen, a Dutch Green MEP and former European Commission financial controller, who had read the report and said: "The statement that there is no dynamite is wrong."

JosŽ Javier PomŽs Ruiz, the Spanish centre-right MEP who is preparing the Parliament's report on its spending in 2006, said that the current system for paying MEPs' allowances for assistants "works more or less well" but admitted that the audit report had found shortcomings.

The committee will vote on PomŽs Ruiz's report on 25-26 March before it goes to the plenary on 21-24 April.

The_two biggest political groups in the European Parliament are opposing calls to make public an internal audit report which found widespread problems with MEPs' payments to their assistants.

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