MEP spending of Parliament political group budget

Interne Prüfung durch Europäisches Parlament wird erwartet.

Dear Secretary General Welle,

Under the right of access to documents in the EU Treaties, I hereby submit an initial application to request access to the documents listed below:

- Any administrative or Bureau documents that currently supplement the Rules on the use of appropriations from budget Item 400, adopted by the Bureau on 30 June 2003; last revised on 27 April 2015;

- All current political group internal guidelines/rules relating to use of 400 funds under Chapter 7: Decentralised political and information activities;

- Any current internal guidelines/rules on the use of 400 funds specific for non-attached members, that supplements the Rules on the use of appropriations from budget Item 400, adopted by the Bureau on 30 June 2003; last revised on 27 April 2015;

- Documents from 2014 relating to all MEPs' use of political groups' 400 funds under Chapter 7: Decentralised political and information activities, specifically:

1. Lists and details of MEPs and their approved projects/activities under Chapter 7;

2. List of staff and service providers, with corresponding MEPs, paid for under 400 budget line;

3. Documents detailing names of staff and service providers, as well as the service(s) provided;

4. Documents detailing meetings and conferences paid by, or partially by, 400 budget line, Chapter 7 (e.g. agendas, participants lists, etc.); with particular focus between 01 January 2014- 01 July 2014;

5. Documents detailing posters, leaflets, advertising material and booklets paid by, or partially by, 400 budget line, Chapter 7, with particular focus between 01 January 2014- 01 July 2014;

6. Documents detailing expenditure and operating expenditure paid by, or partially by, 400 budget line, Chapter 7, with particular focus between 01 January 2014- 01 July 2014;

7. Documents detailing studies and research paid by, or partially by, 400 budget line, Chapter 7, with particular focus between 01 January 2014- 01 July 2014;

8. Documents related to representation costs.

9. Documents detailing advertising inserts and audiovisual advertising paid by, or partially by, 400 budget line, Chapter 7, with particular focus between 01 January 2014- 01 July 2014;

If any documentation contains information on bank account details and/or personal addresses I ask that this information be redacted.

These documents must be disclosed pursuant to the right of access articulated by Article 15 of the TFUE and Article 42 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU and enshrined in Regulation (EC) 1049/2001. The above-stated documents fall under the provisions of Article 2(3) of Regulation (EC) 1049/2001 to the extent they are held by European Parliamentary staff that serve the political groups. Although political groups produce political documents, the document request is apolitical in nature pertaining to procurement information and the spending of public money by MEPs. This request is also targeted and specific, tailored to documents falling under Chapter 7 of the 400 budget line. As a result, disclosure of these documents could in no way plausibly be held to undermine any decision-making process of the institutions and does not fall under the exceptions provided by Regulation (EC) 1049/2001.

In the event you consider the documents requested are subject to any exceptions to the Regulation (EC) 1049/2001 regime, an overriding public interest would still support disclosure, namely, the significant public interest in the prevention of the misuse of public funds. The mission of the Transparency International EU Office (TI EU) is to prevent and address corruption and promote integrity, transparency and accountability in the EU institutions and in EU internal and external policies, programmes and legislation. Documents relating to how EU public money is being spent by MEPs and how the Parliament is, or is not, regulating and monitoring the use of these funds would allow civil society organisations, such as TI EU, investigative journalists, and citizens to scrutinise these expenditures and exercise democratic accountability in order to promote integrity and good governance. Denying access to these documents would create an unacceptable gap in oversight of this area of the Parliamentary budget.

I trust that this initial application will be addressed expeditiously and within the time limits set forth in Regulation (EC) 1049/2001. I thank you in advance for your timely and complete response.

Respectfully,

Nicholas Aiossa
Transparency International EU
Rue de L’Industrie 10
1000 Brussels, Belgium

AccesDocs, Europäisches Parlament

1 Attachment

OUR REF. A(2017)2788

 

Dear Mr Aiossa,

 

European Parliament acknowledges receipt of your request. You will receive
a reply within 15 working days.

 

Best regards,

 

 

TRANSPARENCY UNIT
 
European Parliament
Directorate-General for the Presidency
Interinstitutional Affairs and Legislative Coordination
[1][email address]
[2]http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegistreWeb
 
 

 

References

Visible links
1. mailto:[email address]
2. http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegistreWeb

AccesDocs, Europäisches Parlament

Our ref.: A(2017)2788

 

Dear Mr Aiossa,

 

On 3 March 2017, the European Parliament received from you a request for
public access to different documents related to the use of appropriations
from budget item 400 of European Parliament's budget.

 

The 15 working days deadline for replying to your application, as provided
for in Article 7 of Regulation (EC) No 1049/2001, expires today, 27 March
2017. The consultations within Parliament's competent services as well as
the legal assessment of the different aspects have been complex and time
consuming. Therefore, exceptionally, the time limit for handling your
application has to be extended by a further 15 working days as provided
for by Article 7(2) of the same Regulation.

 

We apologize for any inconvenience.

 

Kind regards

 

TRANSPARENCY UNIT

European Parliament

Directorate-General for the Presidency

Accesdocs(at)ep.europa.eu

 

 

Nicholas Aiossa

Subject: Confirmatory Application Public Access to Documents Request, A (2017)2788

Dear Secretary General Welle,

I am submitting this confirmatory application in accordance with Article 7(2) of Regulation (EC) No 1049/2001 to request the European Parliament reconsider its refusal of my public access to certain documents requests for documents pertaining to MEPs’ use of budget line 400.

Background

The mission of the Transparency International EU Office (TI EU) is to prevent and address corruption and promote integrity, transparency and accountability in the EU institutions and in EU internal and external policies, programmes and legislation. In 2014 TI EU published a comprehensive study of the EU’s integrity system. This EU Integrity Study looked at corruption risks in the EU institutions, examining the rules and practices designed to prevent corruption occurring internally in these institutions, as well as how each institution is fostering public sector integrity.

Documents relating to how EU funds are being used by MEPs and how the Parliament is, or is not, regulating and monitoring the use of these funds would allow civil society organisations, such as TI EU, and citizens to scrutinise these expenditures and exercise democratic accountability in order to promote integrity and good governance.

TI EU has found considerable gaps in the transparency and fiscal accountability of MEP allowances and how MEPs spend EU funds. The misuse of these allowances have been the subject of alleged misuse, fraudulent activities, OLAF investigations, and criminal prosecutions. In addition to more well-known allowances, such as the general expenditure allowance, MEPs can also make use of funds falling under the budget line designed for European Parliament political groups.

Therefore, on behalf of the Transparency International EU Office (TI-EU), I submitted a request for documents pertaining to MEPs use of the political groups’ Chapter 7 Budget Item 400. Among the documents requested were:
- Any administrative or Bureau documents that currently supplement the Rules on the use of appropriations from budget Item 400, adopted by the Bureau on 30 June 2003; last revised on 27 April 2015;
- All current political group internal guidelines/rules relating to use of 400 funds under Chapter 7: Decentralised political and information activities;
- Any current internal guidelines/rules on the use of 400 funds specific for non-attached members, that supplements the Rules on the use of appropriations from budget Item 400, adopted by the Bureau on 30 June 2003; last revised on 27 April 2015;
- Documents from 2014 relating to all MEPs' use of political groups' 400 funds under Chapter 7: Decentralised political and information activities, specifically:
1. Lists and details of MEPs and their approved projects/activities under Chapter 7;
2. List of staff and service providers, with corresponding MEPs, paid for under 400 budget line;
3. Documents detailing names of staff and service providers, as well as the service(s) provided;
4. Documents detailing meetings and conferences paid by, or partially by, 400 budget line, Chapter 7 (e.g. agendas, participants lists, etc.); with particular focus between 01 January 2014- 01 July 2014;
5. Documents detailing posters, leaflets, advertising material and booklets paid by, or partially by, 400 budget line, Chapter 7, with particular focus between 01 January 2014- 01 July 2014;
6. Documents detailing expenditure and operating expenditure paid by, or partially by, 400 budget line, Chapter 7, with particular focus between 01 January 2014- 01 July 2014;
7. Documents detailing studies and research paid by, or partially by, 400 budget line, Chapter 7, with particular focus between 01 January 2014- 01 July 2014;
8. Documents related to representation costs.
9. Documents detailing advertising inserts and audiovisual advertising paid by, or partially by, 400 budget line, Chapter 7, with particular focus between 01 January 2014- 01 July 2014;

Assessment of Parliament’s Response

The Parliament responded by categorising the request into four groups, which I will address separately.

1. As to documents falling under point A, I appreciate the Parliament’s explanation on the rules pertaining to budget line 400;
2. As to documents falling under point B, I thank the Parliament for indicating where these documents can be found, under 2013 political group accounts, on the Parliament’s website. I just request that the Parliament send me, and publish, the S&D group’s internal rules on 400, as the document on the website seems to be the group’s overall rules of procedure;
3. As to documents falling under point C, I thank the Parliament for providing access to DG Finance’s guide to use of budget item 400 by non-attached Members;
4. As to documents falling under point D, I contend the Parliament has wrongly relied on Article 2(3) of Regulation 1049/2001 and the Parliament’s own Rules of Procedure in denying access to the requested documents.

Assessment of Point D Access to Documents Denial

Article 15 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union stipulates that EU institutions, which includes the Parliament, shall conduct their work as openly as possible in order to promote good governance and ensure the participation of civil society and guarantees the right of access to documents of the Union's institutions. The right of access to documents of the three main EU institutions, including that of the Parliament, is enshrined in Article 42 of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights. Regulation (EC) No 1049/2001 lays down the rules pertaining to these rights of access to documents, including the limited exceptions to granting access by the institutions.

The Parliament’s refusal, based on it not being in possession of the documents, has solely relied on Article 2(3) of Regulation (EC) No 1049/2001, as well as Rule 116 of its own internal Rules of Procedure. It should be noted that the parliament has not invoked any exceptions under Article 4 of Regulation (EC) No 1049/2001.

The Parliament’s legal reasoning is incorrect for the following reasons:
First, the political groups are part of the European Parliament, as an institution. Although political groups are more autonomous within the organizational structure of the Parliament, they remain legally part of it. The staff of political groups, including temporary and contractual agents, hold direct employment contracts with the Parliament. As Parliamentary staff, they are bound to obligations arising from the EU Staff Regulation, the Conditions of Employment of Other Servants (CEOS) of the European Communities, and accompanying rules, such as the Parliament’s Guide to the Obligations of Officials and Other Servants of the European Parliament. Article 2(3) grants any interested person the right to access documents held by an EU institution. It further defines the term ‘held’ as any document “drawn up or received by [the Institution] and in its possession, in all areas of activity of the European Union.” Therefore the Parliament has erred in its reliance on Article 2(3), as the documents under “point D” are documents that are already processed, managed and held by European Parliamentary staff, thus should be considered “held” by the institution and should be subject to my request.

Second, the Parliament’s Rules on the use of appropriations from budget Item 400 and Rule 116 of its Rules of Procedure cannot negate its obligations under Regulation (EC) No 1049/2001. Parliament allocates the Budget Item 400 appropriations to the political groups and delineates how these funds will be managed in The Rules on the Use of Appropriations from Budget Item 400. Chapter 1.1 details how the appropriations may and may not be spent, noting that “necessary measures must be taken by the political groups and the Administration to prevent any risk of” the disallowed purposes. Chapter 1.4 notes that the “political groups shall be responsible to the institution for the use of appropriations…”. Indirect or shared financial management covers the process of managing EU funds and does not constitute an exception of obligations arising from 1049. The mere fact that the Parliament delegates financial management to political groups does not excuse its legal obligations for access and transparency of documents of these procurement-related documents. By this reasoning any institution could simply bypass their legal obligations under 1049 by conferring shared financial management to a particular directorate, unit or class of staff members. Rule 116 of its Rules of Procedure can be argued to cover MEPs, as they fall under a different regulatory regime under the Statute for Members of the European Parliament, but does not include the procurement-related documents already in Parliament’s possession, being held by parliamentary staff of political groups. In addition, DG Finance should also be in possession of documents under “point D” in relation to non-attached members.

Conclusion

The right of access to documents is a fundamental right under Article 42 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. Regulation (EC) No 1049/2001, which was passed to further the objectives of transparency and openness in governing EU institutions, has become the ‘cornerstone’ of this right. It is intended to “give the fullest possible effect” to the right of access by setting out procedures through which interested persons may request access to institutional documents.

There is an overriding public interest to allow access to Budget Item 400 documents to 1) allow citizens, journalists, and civil societythe ability to scrutinise public spending of taxpayer money by MEPs and, 2) to allow these same groups to assess if the Parliament has adequate control mechanisms in place on funds given to EU political groups and spent my MEPs. Denying access to these documents would create an unacceptable gap in oversight of this area of the Parliamentary budget.

As the Parliament has wrongly relied on Article 2(3) of Regulation (EC) No 1049/2001, I therefore ask for the Parliament to reconsider my access to document request related to how MEPs are spending public money under the 400 budget line.

I thank you for your time in this matter.

Respectfully,
Nicholas Aiossa
Transparency International EU Office
Rue de L'Industrie, 10
1000 Brussels
Belgium

AccesDocs, Europäisches Parlament

OUR REF A(2017)2788 C

Dear Mr Aiossa,

Parliament acknowledges receipt of you confirmatory application, under Regulation (EC) No 1049/2001, concerning public access to certain documents pertaining to MEP's use of budget line 400.

Best regards,

TRANSPARENCY – ACCESS TO DOCUMENTS
PRES | Directorate General for the Presidency
Directorate for Interinstitutional Affairs and Legislative Coordination
[email address]

AccesDocs, Europäisches Parlament

OUR REF: A(2017)2788 C

Dear Mr Aiossa,

Parliament's time limit for responding to your confirmatory application expires tomorrow 2 June. Legal verifications are being completed and therefore Parliament needs to extend the time limit, in accordance with Article 8(2) of Regulation (EC) No 1049/2001, by a further 15 working days.

We thank you for your understanding.

Kind regards,

TRANSPARENCY – ACCESS TO DOCUMENTS
PRES | Directorate General for the Presidency
Directorate for Interinstitutional Affairs and Legislative Coordination
[email address]