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Monday, March 21, 2011

Is the European Parliament reformable?

The European Parliament seems to stumble from one scandal to another. Be it the misuse of allowances, for example by claiming for daily subsistence to work in Brussels only to jet off for the weekend, their second pension schemes, or their junkets to island paradises, MEPs too often make the headlines for the wrong reasons.

But the Sunday Times' investigation published yesterday, now dubbed the 'cash-for-laws' scandal, leaves three MEPs standing accused of outright corruption. The article is behind the paywall, and well worth reading in full if you get the chance, but here are the key details:

- Three MEPs, Adrian Severin, the 56-year-old former Romanian deputy prime minister, Zoran Thaler, the former Slovenian foreign minister, and Ernst Strasser, a former interior minister in Austria, were all caught agreeing to propose amendments to EU laws believing they would be paid for this work with a €100,000 (£87,300) annual salary, a consultancy fee or both.

- The meetings with undercover journalists were secretly filmed and took place in bars, restaurants and the parliament’s two buildings in Brussels and Strasbourg. Severin later emailed the reporters saying: “Just to let you know that the amendment desired by you has been tabled in due time." Then sent an invoice for €12,000 for “consulting services concerning the codification of the Directive 94/19/EC, Directive 2009/14/EC and the amendments thereto”.

- The amendments were intended to dilute directives supposed to protect customers’ deposits after scandals such as the collapse of the Icelandic banks.

The sting has already claimed the heads of two of the MEPs, with Austrian MEP Strasser resigning immediately but claiming this was to avoid "damage" to his Austrian People's Party rather than because he'd done anything wrong.

Severin and Thaler, said that they knew it was a set-up and merely wanted to see where the exchange of emails would lead and initially refused to resign but, according to the latest reports, Thaler has now also done so. Severin has quit his job as deputy chairman of the Romanian Social Democracy Party, but so far held onto his seat at the European Parliament. The Group of European Socialists in the EP has however ordered him to Brussels to explain himself.

As the Sunday Times argued in its leader, this comes at a time when:
"The European parliament and its 736 members matter more now than at any time in its 53-year history. We live in an era when much of British law and a high proportion of the regulations that control our lives are determined in Europe. MEPs have the power to amend those laws and directives in a way that affects everybody."
The EP is launching its own investigation but, if they're found guilty and perhaps even if not, this particular story is shocking enough to engrain the 'gravy train' image of MEPs in the public's mind's eye for good. Various attempts to 'reform' the EP (back in 2009 there were some harmonisation of rules on pay and a ban on hiring family members as staff) have clearly done nothing to stop the rot.

One can't help thinking that the real root of the corruption and general money-grabbing behaviour of many MEPs is the fact that the EP still thinks that it can behave like a banana republic assembly without anyone noticing.

Perhaps MEPs should forgive people for taking the view that the EP, at the end, is not a 'real' Parliament. This was the conclusion of the German Constitutional Court, which said in its ruling on the Lisbon Treaty that:
"Measured against requirements placed on democracy in states, its election does not take due account of equality, and it is not competent to take authoritative decisions on political direction in the context of the supranational balancing of interests between the states. It therefore cannot support a parliamentary government and organise itself with regard to party politics in the system of government and opposition in such a way that a decision on political direction taken by the European electorate could have a politically decisive effect. Due to this structural democratic deficit, which cannot be resolved in an association of sovereign national states (Staatenverbund), further steps of integration that go beyond the status quo may undermine neither the States’ political power of action nor the principle of conferral."
Unfortunately, with the implementation of the Lisbon Treaty in particular, the EP now has extensive powers over laws that impact on people's everyday lives.

Scandals such as these will prompt more people to suggest that it's time to move on from the argument about getting rid of just one of the EP's extra seats in Strasbourg and consider scrapping the entire thing...


christhai said...

Unlike other Parliaments in the Western World, the EU parliament is not in any sense a Parliament other than in name. In the first instance the members are not accountable to their electorate and secondly, the EU organisation calling itself a Parliament cannot introduce legislation, then study, vote, amend vote it acceptable or not. Members exclaim it has not been possible to study bills of instruction handed to them by the unelected Commission. The French and German delegates complain that Bills are voted into law in batches. Amendments to Bills are documented falsely, giving the impression that they were read. It is a savagely corrupt pantomime.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Christhai it is not a parliament as we in Britain know it. And some of the things which are voted for by our MEPs (CON/LAB) seem to show that not only do they have no power but no brain cells either - who are these idiots voting in laws like driving 24 hrs a day with headlights on? If you believe in global warming (dreamt up and driven by the EU) then to use so much fuel on something so unnecessary, especially in midsummer that I wonder if they really do have any brain cells between them.

Jon Moore said...

The EP was never intended to be a parliament, rather it was intended to act as an emasculated counterweight to the Commission, and latterly to the Council of ministers, working more on the side of the Commission, as a pay off for its new found post-Lisbon pseudo powers. It has always been an irrelevant smokescreen to the the neo-soviet form of government the EU project favours, where electorates are an annoyance and disenfranchisement of voters, to further the social-democrat fascist agenda, is the order of the day. Now when people are waking up to the sham, the Lisbon Treaty, the final nail in the coffin of democratic scrutiny has been driven home behind our backs with the most pusillanimous and feeble arguments of the political elite, that it is not a constitution and therefore we needn't worry our dim little heads over it: Thanks, Gordie; so much for your democratic pretensions!

James Fenton said...

"MEPs caught in newspaper sting accepting €100,000 bribes to amend EU laws"

It would be very interesting if the newspaper could discover whethere this corrupt and illegal bribe has been declared for income tax purposes by MEP Adrian Severin the former Deputy Prime Minister of Romania. He may deny any wrongdoing but he has agreed ihe received the payment. However both the making of the payment and his receipt of it has to be illegal - so perhaps he has not declared it ....

Anonymous said...

The sooner the UK pulls out of the EU the better. It is a corrupt organisation which the British people do not want, but unfortunately the British MP's do not want to put it to a referendum.

Charlotte Bull said...

What is the matter with the British public. Everyone is up in arms when some on benefits manage to earn a few extra pounds cleaning windows or serving behind a bar. Without condoning such practices, at least such people have the excuse of poverty.

If this isn't 'benefit' cheating I dont know what is. Were those stung previously known to be dishonest or may this really be normal practice? With so many other questionabel privileges showered on MEPs and EU officials added to their unearned high salaries I suspect this kind of corruption is not uncommon.