Irish lawyer presses MEPs over staff allowances

MEPs voting in Strasbourg - file pic Image copyright AFP
Image caption MEPs say an allowance increase this year is justified by the demands of the Lisbon Treaty

An Irish lawyer has urged the European Parliament to release a report about MEPs' allowances which the EU's top court says was wrongly kept secret.

The internal audit found deficiencies in the way staff allowances were managed, but did not name any MEPs as suspected abusers of the system.

Lawyer Ciaran Toland says EU principles of transparency are at stake.

EU citizens whose taxes pay for the parliament have the right to assess how that money is spent, he told the BBC.

"It's very important for the public to be able to access all documents concerning public funds," he said.

The 2006 internal audit, called the Galvin Report, looked at risks in the way the staff allowances were handled and came up with proposals to improve the system.

In recent years several MEPs have been found to have abused the allowances.

After the audit the parliament introduced reforms, which took effect when the new parliament was elected in June 2009.

MEPs now get a flat-rate monthly allowance of 4,299 euros (£3,821; $6,267) to cover office expenses and travel in their home country.

In addition to their monthly salary of 7,957 euros they also get travel allowances and an attendance allowance.

Mr Toland, a campaigner for closer EU integration, said he had gone to court to defend principles of transparency enshrined in EU treaties and the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

He said that without being able to see the report EU citizens were unable to judge whether the issues it raised had been addressed in the parliament's 2009 reforms.

"Parliament is asking us to trust them... as citizens we should be entitled to judge for ourselves."

He stressed that he was not representing any interest group, but acting as a concerned citizen.

Nordic support

His case against the parliament was supported by the governments of Denmark, Finland and Sweden.

The EU's general court, attached to the European Court of Justice, ruled on Tuesday that the parliament's refusal to release the report should be annulled.

The judges rejected the parliament's argument that releasing the report would seriously undermine the decision-making process.

They also said the sensitivity of the allowances issue - described by the parliament as a matter "followed with great interest by the media" - was insufficient grounds to keep the report under wraps.

Commenting on the ruling on Tuesday, Mr Toland said it had "established new rights of access to a wide range of documents by both citizens and the media".

"In particular, an institution will not be able to claim that political controversy is a ground to refuse access," he said.

"Moreover, this case has established that the public has a right of access to Internal Audit Reports - to which both the [European] Commission and Parliament have up to now refused access."

A leading British Lib-Dem MEP, Diana Wallis, tweeted that the parliament's administration - the bureau - would discuss the court ruling on 22 June.

"Speaking entirely personally I would release the document," she said on Twitter.

In March, MEPs awarded themselves a 1,500-euro increase in their monthly office allowance. They argued that the Lisbon Treaty - which greatly boosted the parliament's powers - had increased their workload.

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