The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has ruled that the expenses of Members of the European Parliament can be kept secret, to protect their “privacy” and “integrity”.
On top of their regular salary, MEPs receive a €4,416 “general expenditure allowance” every month to cover office expenses, and a so-called “subsistence” allowance of €313 a day to cover accommodation and living expenses.
Unlike with travel expenses — which MEPs can also claim, first class — they are not required to provide any invoices or receipts in order to receive these allowances.
Investigative journalists who believed this money was not being used as intended — after apparently uncovering 249 “ghost offices” for which no address was disclosed or where MEPs did not actually appear to be operating — lodged a Freedom of Information request with the European Parliament to try and uncover where it was going, but it was refused.
[Investigation] Citizens pay for MEPs' ghost offices https://t.co/DVxDoYoGBy
— EUobserver (@euobs) May 31, 2017
Efforts to have this refusal overturned have now foundered in the General Court of the CJEU, which has agreed that the European Parliament was entitled to keep the expenses secret, because “[EU] institutions must refuse access to a document where disclosure would undermine the protection of privacy and the integrity of the individual”.
The EU court claimed the journalists had “failed to show how the transfer of personal data at issue is necessary to ensure an adequate review of the expenditure incurred by MEPs to fulfil their mandate”, adding that “the wish to institute public debate cannot suffice to show the need for the transfer of personal data”.
The ruling concluded, finally, that the journalists had not demonstrated that publishing the information would be an “appropriate and proportionate” response.
Some MEPs claimed to be disappointed with the decision, with Finnish leftist Heidi Hautala lamenting that the “Secrecy around MEPs’ expenses only damages the image of the European Parliament and emboldens eurosceptics”.
Her claim that “The majority of MEPs agree on the need for more transparency around their own expenses, but the bureau of the Parliament and President [Antonio] Tajani refuse to act” rings slightly hollow, however — as MEPs could be publishing more details of their expenses voluntarily, and a majority do not appear to be doing so.