Annual budgetary control by Parliament: Strong in checking other institutions, weak in putting their own house in order
This week the Budgetary Control Committee of the European Parliament voted on the so-called discharge of the EU budget. The annual discharge procedure enables the European Parliament to check whether EU money has been spent correctly. While Parliament looks very closely at other institutions, it is often less strict about its own spending.
In many important votes, Greens, Socialists and Liberals (Renew) voted for more transparency. Christian Democrats, Right-wing Conservatives (ECR) and the far-right including AfD (ID) voted against. Particularly during the morning, the Members of the Left (GUE) were present only for a few minutes even though there was a total of 1,740 amendments to be voted. To our disadvantage, the negotiators for the two largest groups were an MEP from Orban’s Fidesz for the Christian Democrats and a Social Democrat from Romania, where that same party had tried to make corruption largely unpunishable. All 56 discharge reports will be voted on in plenary at the end of March. For the issues that we did not succeed with in committee, such as the General Expenditure Allowance and lobby transparency, we will try to win a majority in the plenary.
We have nevertheless been able to achieve some successes already in committee, including:
Stepping up the fight against misuse of EU funds
The Committee has adopted several amendments calling on the Commission to take stronger action against the misuse of EU funds. Especially in the case of agricultural funds, of which 60 billion euro flow to Member States every year, considerable sums are diverted – including by the Czech head of government Babiš. The Committee therefore calls on the Commission to better control where the money goes. In the case of systemic misuse of EU funds, as in Hungary, the Commission itself should take over the allocation of funds instead of channeling them through the Member States. The European Public Prosecutor’s Office, which is still being set up but already chronically underfunded, should also receive more money to ensure that it can prosecute the misuse of EU funds as effectively as possible. The EU cannot continue to allow oligarchs and populists to stuff their own pockets with millions of euros of EU funds.
Better enforcement of rules on revolving doors from EU institutions to lobby firms
Former EU Ambassador Gerhard Sabathil has moved to the lobby firm EUTOP. He is now under investigation by the public prosecutor’s office for espionage for China. The EU External Action Service should have banned Sabathil’s transfer for one year instead of allowing him to transfer under weak conditions. The committee calls on institutions to actually make use of the possibility to ban such transfers in the future instead of simply imposing weak conditions on former employees. This should especially be the case when a lobbying firm represents interests that run counter to those of the EU. Already the impression that China and Russia can buy officials from the EU institutions must be prevented.
Weber’s service car affair has consequences
According to Spiegel reports, Manfred Weber, chairman of the European People’s Party (EPP), is said to have used his official car provided by Parliament for his party’s election campaign in Bavaria. On the Greens’ initiative, the committee has now requested that the rules on the use of official cars for Members be tightened. They are currently formulated in a very vague way, stipulating that group chairmen may only use these cars “in connection with the activities of their group”. It is unacceptable for group chairmen to have their election campaign financed by the EU. However, the motion adopted is only a partial success, as we have not yet been able to secure a majority for our specific demand to introduce a ban on the use of parliamentary service cars for the six weeks before elections.
Particularly on the issue of transparency in Parliament itself, we had to take a number of setbacks:
Transparency of Members’ expenses
All MEPs in the European Parliament receive a General Expenditure Allowance (GEA) of around 4500 euros per month for office expenses, without having to provide proof of use. In the past, we Greens had achieved several successes in making the use of this lump sum payment more transparent. Since this legislative period for example, the GEA has to be transferred to a separate bank account, which allows to trace the use of the money more precisely. Last year, the Committee on Budgetary Control asked the Bureau to tighten up the rules even further and, among other things, require Members to publish by category what they have spent this money on. Yesterday, however, no majority was found in the committee to call on the Bureau to finally implement these recommendations.
Since last year, Members in the European Parliament are obliged to disclose their lobby meetings. After all, citizens should be able to see which lobbyists influence the respective legislative processes. So far, only about 20% of all MEPs publish their lobby meetings. One reason for this is that it is very cumbersome to publish them on the Parliament’s website. We Greens, together with some members of the Liberals and the Left, wanted to make concrete proposals for improvement, but unfortunately did not get a majority in committee.