Coronavirus: David Sassoli on EU Parliament cancellations

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MEPs claim almost £35 million a year, with each politician entitled to around £3,869 a month, for their so-called General Expenditure Allowance. The hefty grant is paid into their private bank accounts and doesn’t require them to provide any proof for how the cash is spent. Transparency campaigners have long seen their efforts to make sure the money is spent properly blocked by the Parliament’s top officials.

The institution’s administration claim between 40 to 75 new staff would be needed to oversee how GEA is spent.

They argue the new recruits would set the taxpayer-funded Parliament back almost £6 million.

But documents, obtained by the Brussels-based EU Observer website, reveal the estimated costs are 10-times higher than real-world amounts.

After lodging a freedom of information request, the EU news organisation was told the calculation for the cost of the new staff was “chiefly made during informal exchanges”.

Those discussions were made in relation to talks about the EU Parliament’s budget in 2013.

Some MEPs have since pressed for greater transparency on office expenses.

But they have been constantly overruled by a handful of powerful politicians that make up the Parliament’s so-called Bureau.

The secretive body is compromised of the Parliament’s president and 14 vice-presidents.

One reason often cited for ensuring the opaque expenses system remains is MEPs should have a “freedom of mandate” to allow them to carry out their duties.

The apparent need for 40 to 75 staff to oversee the GEA system has become a go-to figure for MEPs opposing greater transparency.

Finnish MEP Petri Sarvamaa cited them earlier this year in an EU Parliament budget discharge report.

He said to introduce a “comprehensive system of control” on the office allowances would “necessitate 40 to 75 new administrative posts”.

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Mr Sarvamaa claimed this would go “against sound financial management and proportionality”.

The original figures were drawn up at a time the EU Parliament had 751 MEPs.

The size of the institution has since been shrunk down to 705, as a result of Brexit.

Nick Aiossa, of Transparency International EU, said: “It is impossible to compare the budget lines because the Parliament has zero input into how the general expenditure allowance is actually spent.”

An internal document claims that 40 new staff would cost around £3 million a year to “provide a reasonable degree of assurance” on MEPs’ office allowances.

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A second scenario listed on the memo says 75 new recruits would cost £5.7 million annually and would “gain total control of all expenses”.

This works out at around £7,700 per MEP each year, whereas an independent auditor would cost around 10-times less.

German MEP Daniel Freund said he paid £687 to have his expenses audited by an outside firm.

“It was the first one, a bit more expensive. Future ones will be cheaper,” his office told EU Observer.

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