EU judges spare MEPs’ blushes over secretive expenses

EU judges have refused to shed light on the European Parliament’s notoriously secretive system of expenses and claimed that doing so would infringe MEPs’ right to privacy.

The £3,937 a month General Expenditure Allowance is paid directly into every MEP’s account on top of their monthly salary to cover expenses such as hotels, travel and restaurant bills.

But there is no need to provide receipts or return unspent cash from the payment, which costs taxpayers across the EU an estimated £35.8 million a year.

The General Court, a lower chamber of the European Court of Justice, on Tuesday rejected a case brought by a consortium of investigative journalists over the allowance.

Judges in Luxembourg said making details public would violate MEPs’ privacy, backing a European Parliament decision to refuse the information request.

The court also refused to allow the information to be handed over in a redacted format to avoid EU data protection rules.

It said that would prove too burdensome on the parliament and render the request pointless because it would be impossible to monitor individual MEPs’ expenditure.

The consortium of investigative journalists found widespread abuses of the system in 2017, including payments to MEPs’ personal accounts. In many cases it was impossible to find out how money was spent because there was no paper trail.

At a glance | European Court of Justice

The court’s decision, which can be appealed,  sparked outrage among campaigners and some MEPs who want more transparency.

Transparency International’s Nick Aiossa said, “The European Court of Justice has dealt a severe blow to transparency today by allowing the European Parliament to keep MEP allowance spending completely secret from the public.

“At a time when trust in the EU institutions is so low, this is a ridiculous message ahead of next year’s European elections.”

Conservative MEPs’ leader Ashley Fox said that Tory MEPs had submitted their expenses for independent audit and published summaries of them for the last nine years.

"We believe the European Parliament should now demand that all MEPs copy this approach to restore and maintain public confidence in the system," he said.

The European Parliament has long been criticised for its opaque expenses system, which top up the average £86,700 a year MEPs’ salary, which is subject to a “community tax” rate that can be as little as 12 per cent.

As well as the General Expenditure Allowance, MEPs can pocket, without any need for a paper trail of receipts, a daily allowance of £280 simply for turning up to the parliament and signing a register. In July, the parliament rejected reforms that would have introduced basic scrutiny of the allowance. 

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