Euro-MPs’ paid-for trips to be made public

23 April 2013

Euro-MPs’ paid-for trips to be made public

Details of all journeys undertaken by MEPs and paid for by third parties must be made public, the European Parliament has decided. Explaining the concerns which led to the decision, SP Euro-MP Dennis de Jong said, ‘Normally a member is not allowed to accept any gift worth more than €150. For gifts which take the form of reimbursing travel expenses, however, this limit doesn’t apply. A package holiday which claims to be a “study tour”, you can simply accept. That’s not good, because many lobbyists don’t hesitate to use this as a means of exercising influence. At the same time I would say that the new rule remains an important step forwards: Euro-MPs must now at least report this kind of gift, so everyone will be able to see who is getting invited on such trips.’'

In 2011 De Jong was a member of the working group charged with drawing up a code of conduct for MEPs. The working group was formed in reaction to the scandal in which three MEPs accepted a sham offer from Sunday Times journalists which involved them being paid €100,000 to present legislative proposals.

The code of conduct includes a large number of rules designed to combat conflicts of interest. Several points were left open, such as the question of reporting travel reimbursed by a third party. These have now been addressed via decisions on implementation. ‘From this summer there will be an obligation to report these trips,’ says De Jong. ‘Given that I refuse to accept any such trips, especially given the generous travel expenses available to MEPs, I will be consulting the register of these journeys regularly. This will enable me to publicise any trips which seem suspect. Euro-MPs should be independent and so shouldn’t allow themselves to be feted by lobbyists.’

The implementing regulations also clarify the procedure to be followed when accepting official non-personal gifts. These must not be kept, but instead transferred to the EP.

Although the rules are now almost complete, implementation remains problematic. The committee responsible for implementation observes that eighty-eight MEPs failed to declare any financial interests, while it appears that the rules governing financial interests are unclear when it comes to ownership of shares. ‘The code of conduct isn’t meant to be voluntary,’ says De Jong. ‘In my view the supervisory committee should be having a word with the eighty-eight members who aren’t taking it seriously. The committee agrees and I will be asking, via my political group, the President of the Parliament also to express his agreement. Otherwise we’ll still have a paper tiger.’

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