Transparency International has found a number of shortcomings with transparency and accountability in the European Parliament.
The report “One rule for them, one rule for us” provides an in-depth review of Parliament’s transparency in terms of its administrative and legislative processes as well as lobbying, integrity rules, government conflicts of interests, revolving doors, side jobs for MEPs and staff, and internal whistleblowing rules. It provides an update on the last study of its kind which was performed in 2014 and comprises of three parts; the European Commission, the Council of the EU, and the European parliament.
Unfortunately, TI reported that Parliament did not cooperate with their research team and refused to give interviews. This is the second time they have refused to cooperate with the study and the President sent exactly the same letter on both occasions, saying there was no need to cooperate as the EP is “extremely transparent.”
This TI said, is a sign of a bigger problem whereby there is a lack of accountability of PArliament’s central administrative decision-making organs- the Secretariat General and the Vice-Presidents, as well as the Plenary.
Key findings included a total lack of transparency around allowances and benefits which include a generous allowance for a constituency office, paid as a lump sum even if the office doesn’t exist. No documents are published on this matter and audits are not required.
Additionally, while lobbying meetings are now recorded, they are not published or included in the EU Transparency Register.
In terms of MEP and staff side jobs, TI found that descriptions of these jobs were too generic and terms like “consultant”, “attorney”, or “freelancer” could still mean that they have clients in the sectors they are legislating on. Furthermore, these activities generate significant income. They note with concern that detection of conflicts of interests doesn’t lead to MEPs being removed from a sector, despite pressure from journalists and civil society.
MEPs should undergo a specific conflict of interest check before being appointed to a particular legislative file.
Another matter of concern was that of sanctions. TI found that sanctions for breaching rules of procedure or codes of conduct were rare and typically were limited to misappropriation of allowances.
Other risks include a lack of systematic checks of financial declarations, improving whistleblower protections, cooling-off periods during transitions from MEP role, increased sanctions and investigations, and improving the Advisory Committee.
The shortcomings identified in the integrity framework for MEPs pose a significant risk that the misconduct of individuals will lead to scandals that will adversely affect citizens’ trust in the institution as well as in the EU as a whole.
TI noted that “To fulfil its mission as the directly elected representative of citizens the EP must hold itself to a higher standard. This is particularly true for its role in holding other EU institutions to account and safeguarding the democratic legitimacy of the Union.”