Nosemonkey's EUtopia

In search of a European identity

In defence of MEPs

Yes, I’ve been slagging them off a lot over the last couple of days – but there are always two sides to everything. Jon Worth makes a lot of sensible points about the current expenses scandal:

MEPs get the same pay as MPs in Westminster, have to work in 3 places in 3 countries… The MEPs’ expenses total about £100 million a year, but there are 785 MEPs, each of whom pays normally 4 staff… The total staff of the EP as a whole – MEPs, assistants, secretariat – is similar in size to a small-ish UK government department… while the UK’s Department of Work and Pensions employs more staff that all the EU institutions in total…

No facts, no figures. Neither [the Times] nor Chris Davies MEP have listed how much of this £100 million is supposed to have been used in a fraudulent manner. The Times – lazily – just assumes all of it is.

All very fair, all very valid. Go read the whole thing.

The only addition I would make is to stress that the apparent lack of transparency in MEPs’ finances is hugely damaging to both the European Parliament and to the EU as a whole. The perennial eurosceptic claims that the EU is riddled with corruption are, I hope, an exaggeration (after all, the lack of sign-off on the EU budget year after year is always due to irregularities on the part of the individual member states, not the EU itself). But without complete financial transparency and openness, there’s no way we can tell.

As the EU’s token bit of democracy, the European Parliament should be setting an example. An update to Annex I of the EP’s Rules and Regulations, specifically Article 4, would seem to be necessary:

Pending the introduction of a statute for Members of the European Parliament to replace the various national rules, Members shall be subject to the obligations imposed on them by the legislation of the Member State in which they are elected as regards the declaration of assets

These current regulations, it would seem, are not good enough. Where is the promised statute replacing the mish-mash of evidently inadequate national rules? Every MEP should be subject to a detailed register of interests. Every MEP should have to give an account of what they are using their expenses for.

We don’t need an account of every paper clip and biro bought. We do, however – especially after these latest accusations – need a proper, watertight reassurance that our representatives aren’t ripping us off. We need confidence that we are being properly represented by hard-working, committed and honest men and women, or the whole system falls down. As Mill noted,

representative institutions are of little value, and may be a mere instrument of tyranny or intrigue, when the generality of electors are not sufficiently interested in their own government to give their vote… Popular election thus practised, instead of a security against misgovernment, is but an additional wheel in its machinery

Turn-out in European elections is low enough already. Give the electorate the impression that their MEPs are corrupt, it will become even lower. And without the people, the whole project will fall down. Mill again:

Political machinery does not act of itself. As it is first made, so it has to be worked, by men, and even by ordinary men. It needs, not their simple acquiescence, but their active participation

Come on, EP/EU – get your act together. The majority of MEPs are undoubtedly hard-working and honest. Give us some way of seeing that this is the case, and give it to us sharpish.

Update: Certain Ideas of Europe brings up something I’d forgotten to mention:

most people inside the European bubble blame the scandal on the astonishing differences in the salaries currently received by MEPs, who are paid the same as their counterparts in their respective national parliaments. That will change after the 2009 elections, but for the moment that means some ex-Communist nations pay MEPs some €850 a month, while the best paid deputies, from Italy, receive more than €12,000 a month.