Trust: how to destroy it

The elections for the European Parliament (EP) are scheduled during the first half of next year. Therefore, it would be good to reinforce the trust in MEPs, especially with the criticism that was expressed earlier by the President of the European Commission, Jean Claude Juncker, and this platform.

Only recently, in a plot twist,  the General Court of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that MEPs don’t have to declare how they spend the large amount of money they earn. This matter, which shatters the trust in the MEPs, will cause the buildup for another disappointing voter turnout next elections.

What’s the matter?

A group of investigative journalists from all Member States, called MEPs Project, tried to get the MEPs to disclose information on  their expenses. Since it is the tax payers’ money, it should be transparent how our representatives spend it. It is their wage (over €8000 a month) over which they pay zero income tax, their staff costs (over €24.000 a month), and a personal expenses fee (of €307 a day) over which they pay no tax.

However, all the above-mentioned resources are, apart from proof that our European representatives earn a large amount of money, only to be claimed when the right receipts can be shown as proof. A relatively transparent system. However, there are other pots of gold for MEPs, namely the €4416 per month for ‘general expenditure allowance’ and €313 per day for hotel and living costs when working in Brussels or Strasbourg. After the journalists asked the EP for transparency, the Parliament refused to grant it and now finds the ECJ by its side. This means that it will remain unclear whether these budgets are used for the purpose ofrepresenting us to their fullest of capabilities.

Why is this weird?

The matter is seemingly weird as the journalists found out that MEPs seem to bend the rules when it comes to receiving the additional allowance. Extra transparency, something the EP vouches for, is not deemed necessary by that same Parliament earlier this year. But it gets weirder as the ECJ ruled that the representation of the people does not have to justify how it serves the people. A bit like a governing accord that doesn’t specify which amount of money is spent on what and leaves the option on the table for the government to book a holiday to the Maldives.

Transparency is one of the EU most important values and we punish Member States that don’t adhere to our values – or at least we try. We have taxation in return for representation and we want to hold our representatives accountable. It is very weird that our most important European representative institution is failing us in when it comes to  transparency.

The MEPs, with the backing of the ECJ, hide behind the fact that the publication of this information would violate privacy. This argumentation is flawed in itself because they aren’t supposed to spend the money on anything private, but on governmental related travel or staff expense. Arguing that this would violate privacy is actually admitting that these MEPs just claim the full amount for their holidays.

Stop pointing fingers

We live in times where we point the finger towards large multinationals and their un-transparent ways of working. But  these companies too have to disclose to their shareholders what they’re spending money on.We live in times where the EU points towards ‘fragile’ neighboring states, helps them by supplying financial aid, but wants a detailed plan how this money is spent. We live in times where high representatives at the EC come falling from the sky, MEPs vote on their own budget, we’re punishing Member States for not complying with the EU values, and stumbling over a Member State that is leaving. Since it demands high levels of transparency, the EU should be the first one to disclose all the relevant information on MEPs expenses.

Trust, in EU institutions is low, very low Why then leave an easy win like this on the table and break down the trust of the peoples of Europe even further? It won’t help for voter turnout next year and will provide the anti-EU parties with plenty of ammunition.

Author: Koen Durlinger