This week in the European Parliament

A traditionally busy last full ‘Committee Week’ of the year is being overshadowed by a possible scandal in one of the European Union’s key bodies, the European Court of Auditors (ECA)

By Andreas Rogal

Andreas Rogal is a senior journalist at the Parliament Magazine

29 Nov 2021

According to an investigation by veteran Brussels correspondent Jean Quatremer, published in the French daily Libération on Friday, the president of the ECA, former MEP Klaus-Heiner Lehne is misusing his official rent allowances.

The ECA president is supposed to live at the seat of the court in Luxembourg. But Lehne appears to only rent a three-bedroom flat in the Grand Duchy, sharing it with three members of his cabinet, and using it only very occasionally, preferring his native German city of Düsseldorf as his main residence instead.

However, as Quatremer alleges, Lehne is still in receipt of his full rental allowance, which has apparently amounted to €325,000 since he took office in 2014.

Several European newspapers have picked up the story, and on Saturday German MEP on the Budgetary Control Committee (CONT), Daniel Freund (DE, Greens/EFA) commented on Twitter linking to a report in the Austrian daily Der Standard quoting Quatremer’s findings: “If this is confirmed, we will have a real scandal in the EU: Court of Auditors President #Lehne is said to have received housing subsidies of hundreds of thousands of euros - for a room in a shared flat in Luxembourg. He is said to be active in Düsseldorf (mainly with the #CDU).”

He was rebuked shortly afterwards by CONT chair Monika Hohlmeier (DE, EPP), replying: “Dear Daniel, you do not yet know the facts and are spreading allegations. How about we, as MEPs on the Budgetary Control Committee, do our homework and clarify what is true and what is not. According to my initial investigations, there is unfortunately a lot wrong [with the allegations]”.

This, in turn, was commented on by Quatremer himself who wondered how Hohlmeier could be able to claim that the findings of the “months-long” investigation are baseless “in less than 24 hours”, adding that “the fact that you are from the CSU and Lehne from the CDU could explain your quick support, which raises many questions”.

Lehne was in Parliament as recently as last week when he presented the ECA’s 2020 annual report in plenary. There has been no statement on the allegations from the court or from him as yet.

Hohlmeier and Freund will have a chance to discuss the issue, at least on the margins of this week’s CONT committee meetings, Monday afternoon and Tuesday.

The official CONT agenda is dominated by several aspects of the 2020 budgetary discharge exercise – starting with the EU agencies and Joint Undertakings, and continuing to the Commission’s and the External Action Service’s (EEAS), as well as Parliament’s own budget, the rapporteur on which is none other than Daniel Freund.

And on Wednesday, in a joint meeting with the Committee on Regional Development (REGI), the ECA will make an appearance, presenting its “special report 24/2021: Performance-based financing in Cohesion policy: worthy ambitions, but obstacles remained in the 2014-2020 period”.

The last-minute cancellation of this week’s ministerial conference of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Geneva will no doubt disappoint the Committee on International Trade (INTA) the most, but legislators will at least have a full agenda to occupy them.

On Monday, they will vote on a new international instrument encouraging reciprocal procurement market access between trading partners, drafted by German EPP delegation leader Daniel Caspary, who will also hold a press briefing in the afternoon, and debate the planned Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM) in the context of their opinion report by Karin Karlsbro (SE, Renew).

On Tuesday, the Commission’s first “Annual Report on the screening of foreign direct investments into the Union” will be presented to the INTA committee for debate.

The Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) is scheduled to present two reports by leading members which had been postponed from the last committee week.

LIBE chair Juan Fernando López Aguilar’s (ES, S&D) legislative report concerns an aspect of the EU’s new Migration Pact, “addressing situations of crisis and force majeure in the field of migration and asylum”, and Sophie in ‘t Veld’s (NL, Renew) “citizenship and residence by investment schemes”, deals with the controversial ‘golden visa’ schemes run by several Member States.

The LIBE committee will also turn its attention to the Pegasus spyware scandal and its impact on fundamental rights in a hearing with experts on Monday afternoon.

Marking this year’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (25 November), the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality (FEMM) will host an inter-parliamentary meeting on Tuesday, with the LIBE committee joining in the afternoon on panels dealing with cyberviolence and the Istanbul Convention.

Iva Dimic, Deputy Chair of the Women Parliamentarians Club of the Slovenian National Assembly, will be leading the delegations of Member State legislators.

The Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) will finalise the committee stage of its own-initiative report on “A European strategy for offshore renewable energy”, drafted by its vice-chair Morten Helveg Petersen (Renew, DK).

Quoting a report by Danish renewables developer European Energy A/S, "we have to conclude that there is not enough flexibility in the framework for offshore wind projects", Petersen commented on Tuesday via Twitter that “permits are taking far, far too long in relation to climate targets.”

And then he posted this:

 

On Wednesday, the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs (ECON) will join the LIBE committee for a hearing on Anti-Money Laundering, having voted to enter into interinstitutional negotiations on two legislative reports concerning regulatory reforms in the financial sector, drafted by Billy Kelleher (IE, Renew) and Mikuláš Peksa (CZ, Greens/EFA) respectively.

A long standing item on Parliament’s regulatory wish list - the common mobile devices charger - will finally take shape in the Internal Market Committee (IMCO) on Wednesday, when Alex Agius Saleba’s (MT, S&D) legislative report will be debated for the first time.

In an EP press release, the rapporteur stated: “For more than a decade, the European Parliament has been calling for a European universal charger… This proposal would benefit everyone – the environment, consumers and businesses.”

The Maltese Labour MEP added that “a single charger would not only curb the amount of waste, but it will boost consumer confidence by providing available, attractive and convenient choices for all”.

Industry voices had criticised such a move as reducing choice in the past.

On Thursday, the Petitions Committee (PETI), having heard many petitions, mainly concerning faulty building blocks in Ireland the day before, will hold the final vote on Eleonora Evi’s (IT, Greens/EFA) draft Report on the annual report on the activities of the European Ombudsman in 2020.

Afterwards, PETI will turn to a thorny issue creating disagreement and worse between two Member States, Poland and the Czech Republic, on their border: the Polish open cast lignite mine in Turów.

Initially in more general terms with a public hearing on “environmental and social impacts of mining activity in the EU”, and then with reference to three petitions from Czech and Polish citizens, two demanding to close the mine, and one opposing it.

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