Parliament’s Bureau agreed on Wednesday evening to EP President Jerzy Buzek’s proposal to make public the report drawn up in 2008 by the EP’s internal auditor on the operation of the parliamentary assistance allowance in 2004-06. The entire system for employing MEPs’ assistants has since been replaced and steps have been taken where necessary to recover sums unduly paid.
Parliament will not appeal against the decision by the EU General Court on 7 June 2011 that the report should be made available to a citizen who had requested it.
President Buzek said: "The report from 2008 deals with events from 2004-06 and led to an overhauling of the system of payments for Parliamentary Assistants in 2009. We are pleased that the situation described in the report has been remedied."
Completely new system for MEPs’ assistants since 2009
The report pinpointed a number of weaknesses in the system that existed at the time. Parliament reacted by reviewing the system, which was in fact scrapped entirely and replaced with a new one with effect from the 2009 elections.
MEPs assistants in Brussels now have a formal EU statute and are employed directly by the EP administration. Assistants in the MEPs’ countries of origin are paid via officially qualified paying agents, who ensure their contracts meet all national law requirements and that tax and social security arrangements are properly handled. Up to a quarter of the allowance can be used for non-staff services from companies (such as legal advice or website design) and this too is paid via official qualified paying agents.
None of the Parliamentary Assistance Allowance is paid to or via the MEP themselves. It is a budget (of €21 209 per month) held by the Parliament, from which the costs of employing assistants are deducted as they are paid out. Any unspent funds remain with Parliament.
In general, MEPs may no longer have close relatives among their staff, though there is a transitional period to 2014 for those individuals already employed in the previous parliamentary term.
Allegations of abuse of the system
There were weaknesses in the old system of employing MEPs’ assistants. This is why it was replaced.
But even relating to that system, where there were doubts about the regularity of any payments, Parliament’s services always sought more information to clarify the situation. If it turned out that funds were not properly justified or erroneously paid, the EP services took steps to recover the money.
Parliament's services have cooperated fully with investigations by OLAF, the EU's anti-fraud body, which can pass files to national prosecutors if there is evidence of wrongdoing.
Why did Parliament not make the report public before?
In general, in both the public and private sector, internal audit reports are not published, so that the authors can be completely frank in their assessments, enabling the organisation to discover problems and correct them, as happened in this case.
The Parliament can nevertheless decide to make a report of this type public, but to have done so in this case might have disrupted the decision-making process on reform of the system.
With the passage of time, and the fact that the complete overhaul was enacted in 2009, this is no longer such a pressing concern, and Parliament is now happy to accept the Court’s decision that the document should be published.
Access to the report
Parliament has made the 2008 internal audit report on the former parliamentary assistance system directly available via the website of the European Parliament Register of Documents.