MEPs urged to give green light to transparency measures

Written by Martin Banks on 30 January 2019 in News
News

Deputies are being urged to approve a package of measures designed to increase transparency in lobbying and the MEPs’ expenses system.

Sven Giegold | European Parliament Audiovisual


The plea comes just ahead of a key plenary vote tomorrow on a reform of Parliament’s rules of procedure.

The Greens say the vote will be the “most important decision on lobbying transparency” in this legislature and have appealed to all MEPs to back the report, authored by UK Socialist MEP Richard Corbett.

One of the key elements of the report seeks to improve transparency surrounding the huge lobbying of MEPs that goes on in Parliament, both in Brussels and Strasbourg, from a diverse range of interested groups, including the business world and NGOs.


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Under the proposed new rules, there would be a mandatory requirement for members to publish online all lobby meetings.

However, this would apply to office holders only (rapporteurs, shadow rapporteurs and committee chairmen and women) and would be limited to scheduled meetings. The rule would also only concern meetings that fall under the scope of the transparency register.

EXPENSES UNDER SCRUTINY

The package also contains proposals designed to crack down on potential abuse of the MEP expenses system.

Under this “clause” members would be subjected to closer scrutiny of their €4,416 General Expenditure Allowance. The proposal is that MEPs would post an auditor’s certificate on their online profiles on Parliament’s main website showing how the allowance had been spent.

“It will send out a clear and resounding signal that this Parliament, that often likes to tell others what to do, is ready to get its own house in order” Sven Giegold MEP

The allowance is supposed to be spent on office expenses and staffing, but there have been claims in the past that some members pocketed the cash for themselves.

The Greens held a news briefing in Parliament on Tuesday to make a public appeal to all members to back the Corbett report this week.

Leading German Greens MEP Sven Giegold told reporters, “So far, recommendations for voluntary lobby transparency by MEPs have mostly been ignored. Now, a binding legislative footprint is within reach and we hope that the necessary number of members will support it.”

He said the new rules would also “help counter the threat posed by the rising tide of populists and nationalists” ahead of the European elections in May.

“It will send out a clear and resounding signal that this Parliament, that often likes to tell others what to do, is ready to get its own house in order.”

SECRET TRANSPARENCY VOTE

Giegold said that in order to be approved, the package will need the support of 376 members, or an absolute majority.

At present, it is thought that the EPP, the biggest group in Parliament, is likely to vote against the package, leaving the ECR and Socialists joining the Greens in supporting it.

It is not yet known how Alde will vote but, much to the chagrin of the Greens, the Liberals have backed an EPP plan for the vote to be held in “secret.”

On this, Giegold said, “It is totally absurd that the EPP is proposing a vote on transparency issues to be held in secret. This is like a bad joke.”

“Parliament has a strong tradition to decide important issues by a roll-call vote listing who votes yes, who voted no. We call on the Christian Democrats to withdraw their decision and to stand by their voting behaviour in public.”

Giegold admitted the likely outcome remains “totally open” and the chances of the reforms being adopted this week will be “diminished” if there is a secret vote.

He said he believes it is in the interests of all members to have more openness in their contacts and connections with lobbyists.

“This applies to Greens MEPs as much as those from other political groups,” he told reporters.

“Also, if it improves the contacts between Greens MEPs with business and EPP contacts with NGOs, that too will be a damn good thing.”

He added, “If the lobbying of powerful interests becomes transparent, their influence can also be contained. That would be a milestone for democracy.”

He said that non-governmental organisations such as Transparency International and ALTER-EU have also campaigned for the reforms to be adopted, adding, “Citizens and Parliament’s resolution on transparency, accountability and integrity in the EU institutions have demanded this for years. It is high time for citizens to know which lobbyists influence MEPs when they write new EU laws.”

PARLIAMENT ‘LAGGING BEHIND’

He says that, if adopted, the rules will bring Parliament into line with the European Commission which, he says, “very commendably” has improved transparency of contacts between EU commissioners, DGs and senior staff with the introduction of a mandatory register.

So far, however, he says Parliament has lagged behind.

He says the planned reform of the rules of procedure also aims to tackle alleged sexual harassment in Parliament.

“In response, also to the #metoo debate, Parliament's bureau has adopted a code of appropriate behaviour against sexual harassment. In relation to staff, MEPs would thereby commit not to use insulting or disparaging language. If allegations are made and investigated, MEPs would undertake to cooperate as soon as possible.”

Again, this element has run into trouble, with Giegold saying, “Although this was agreed by consensus by a working group of all political groups, Christian-Democrats questioned the binding nature of the new rules.”

“It is currently unclear whether the Christian Democrats' desire for a secret ballot also applies to this.”

“There must not be a secret coalition of parliamentary machos.”

He added, “Just a few months before the European elections, the European Parliament’s vote on a reform of its rules of procedure can set the tone. The farce of a secret vote on the transparency of lobbyism and parliamentary expenses would be a welcome gift to populists for new attacks on Europe.”

“However, a vote in favour of more transparency for lobbying and MEP expenses would show the strength of European democracy delivering to the expectations of its citizens.”

About the author

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at The Parliament Magazine

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