EU court orders MEPs to publish report on expenses

 

THE GENERAL Court of the EU ruled yesterday that an Irish lawyer was entitled to an auditor’s report into the European Parliament’s financial affairs. The ruling is seen as having wide implications for transparency within the EU.

It had earlier refused access to the report on the grounds it was “a sensitive matter followed with great interest by the media”.

The general court is attached to the European Court of Justice. Its decisions can be appealed to the court of justice.

Barrister Ciarán Toland is a specialist in EU law and a pro-EU activist, having campaigned in favour of the Nice and Lisbon treaties, and was a director of the European Movement Ireland for five years.

In June 2008, he wrote to the European Parliament seeking a copy of the internal auditor’s report for 2006, including the report on the parliamentary assistance allowance drawn up by Robert Galvin and known as the Galvin report.

This report contained details of abuses in allowances paid to certain MEPs, identifying flaws in the allowance system, and outlined proposals for reform. Although the MEPs were not identified within the report, the examination of their allowances formed the background and rationale for its conclusions. Much of its contents were leaked on the internet in 2009, but the European Parliament continued to refuse access to it.

In its letter responding to Mr Toland’s request, the parliament stated: “The use members make of the allowances available to them is a sensitive matter followed with great interest by the media. Elements of the report could be used to derail the debate on the reform of the system and compromise rapid reform. Therefore, disclosure of the report would, at present, seriously undermine the decision-making of the European Parliament, but also beyond, as the reform cannot be carried out by the institution alone.”

The court found this argument “cannot constitute in itself an objective reason sufficient to justify the concern that the decision-making process would be seriously undermined, without calling into question the very principle of transparency intended by the EC Treaty.”

Mr Toland will now issue a fresh request for the report. He told The Irish Timesthat, if it wishes to prevent this, the parliament will have to produce a new set of reasons to deny him access. The parliament could also appeal the decision to the court of justice.

Mr Toland said: “What is at the heart of the case are central issues of European transparency law. When they refused me access to the report, the European Parliament effectively said that the taxpayers of Europe, who fund the parliament, cannot be trusted to know how their money is being spent by that parliament”.