Ljubljana,  12  Sep.  –  Journalists  covering  all  EU  Member  States  have  asked  the  European  Court of Justice (ECJ) to deny the European Parliament’s refusal to disclose how the 751 Members of the European  Parliament  (MEPs)  spend  more  than  71  million  euros  in  allowances they receive on top of their salaries every year.

We  find  it  very  concerning  that  the  European  Parliament  has  no  control  over  how  38,7  million euros of European taxpayers’ money is spent each year, and even more concerning that the  Parliament  itself  finds  this  justified”, said Nataša Pirc Musar, the journalists’ lawyer, about lack of control over MEPs’ General Allowance Spending.

The court case started in November 2015 when the consortium filed 29 complaints (one on behalf of each journalist) with the ECJ, calling for the release of all documentation detailing how the MEPs spend their  allowances  –  which  include  a  general  allowance,  travel  allowance, daily subsistence and funds for staffing. This was the first time that journalists took a European  institution  to  court  for  refusing  to  grant  them  access  to information on these kinds of expenses.

Earlier in July 2015, each journalist had contacted the European Parliament (EP) to request documentation related to the MEPs coming from his/her country. All requests were denied on the grounds of personal data protection, as well as an alleged excessive workload that granting  access  to  these  documents  would  cause.  The  EP also said it did not hold  any documents related to how MEPs spent their general allowances.

After  the  journalists  filed  their  complaints  with  the  Court,  the  European  Parliament  put  forward the same arguments in its defense. The journalists are not backing down and are reiterating their demand for the documents to be made public.

It  is  time  for  the  European  Parliament,  an  institution  that  is  meant  to  be  accountable  to  European citizens, to face up to the task and release the information”, said The MEPs Project’s leader, Slovenian  journalist Anuška  Delić.  ”We hope that  the  MEPs  themselves  will  come  forward and put pressure on the Parliament to do the right thing.”

After replying to the EP’s arguments, the law firm Pirc Musar issued a statement on behalf of the 29 journalists that counteracts some of the points the EP made in its defence.

“We are quite disappointed with the EP’s defense, because it is rather bland,” Nataša Pirc Musar  said. “Their  core arguments hide behind three legal cases in which the facts were distinctively different from our case. First, in the Bavarian Lager case the requested data concerned  lobbyists, people with no public functions. In our  case, the data we want disclosed concern MEPs, their assistants, and advisers – decision-­makers who spend public funds in order to perform public functions. Second, in the two Dennekamp cases the requested data concerned the MEPs’ pension schemes, which are of a more personal nature. In  contrast,  we want to shed  light on how public funds allocated to MEPs are spent. Is it truly for the purpose of their work in the Parliament as elected representatives of European citizens?”

“Worryingly,  the EP claims it does not hold any documentation on how the MEPs spend their General Expenditure Allowance because it is paid in the form of a lump sum, of some 4.300 Euros per month to each one of the 751 MEPs. While we know that we won’t succeed with this part of our Application with the court, as we cannot receive documents that do not exist, we have already revealed a significant flaw in the EP’s oversight of public spending. We expect decision-­makers to make the appropriate changes to the system.”

“Finally, we also emphasise that the personal data of European officials and employees is by ‘letter of law’ far  more  protected  than  for  ordinary  citizens.  We  call  on  the  European  Parliament to stop hiding behind an outdated interpretation of whose personal data should be better protected. Rather, we want the EP to enable a fairer balance between European officials’  and  employees’  right  to  data  protection  and  citizens’  right  to  freedom  of  information. If the EP deems it impossible to interpret the relevant EU legislation this way, then it’s up to the institution to change the status quo by pushing for appropriate legislative changes, instead of shrugging its shoulders.”

About the MEPs Project

The MEPs Project was created in November 2015 when journalists covering all EU member states  filed  complaints  with  the  European  Court  of  Justice  due  to  infringement  of  their rights  of  access  to  information.  Journalists  requested  from  the  European  Parliament  documents revealing how MEPs spend the allowances they receive on top of their salaries that are meant to be spent exclusively for the exercise of their public functions, a request which the EP has so far denied.

A timeline of The MEPs Project, articles and documents can be found here: www.ir-­d.dk/the­‐meps‐project/

You can contact the team at anuska.delic@delo.si