So apparently MEPs are on the make. Well, that’s according to Chris Davies, Lib Dem MEP for the North West. Some bloggers follow up in a similar vein: Matt Wardman, Norfolk Blogger, and there’s a less pro-Davies line from The Yorkshire Guidon.
What should be made of all of this? I reckon it’s dead certain that there’s some fraud in how MEPs spend their expenses – after all Derek Conway is doing it in Westminster, so I reckon there’s a high chance of it in Brussels and Strasbourg. On the other hand a quick search has found no other MEPs being as inflammatory in their language as Chris Davies – Gary Titley, leader of the UK Labour MEPs, welcomes the OLAF investigation. Plus Davies himself has form in talking in an over-the-top manner, having had to resign as leader of the UK Lib Dems in the EP in 2006 over comments that someone he was corresponding with saying he hoped she enjoyed “wallowing in her own filth”.
The Budgetary Control Committee, the EP body looking into this issue, has decent form in stamping out fraud – they were part responsible for bringing down the Santer Commission. The Chair of the Committee is fearsome Austrian Socialist MEP Herbert BÃ¶sch – you don’t really want to mess with him. Also in the Committee are prominent whistle blower Paul van Buitenen and Alexander Stubb, one of the Parliament’s very best MEPs.
So I reckon Davies’s ‘dynamite’ allegations need taking with a pinch of salt until more is known.
In the meantime Political Penguin has discovered that one British MEP seems to be employing a ‘lazy-ass law student, professional slacker‘. At least that’s honest.
[Update – 21.2.08, 2200]
I’ve left the post above intact, as I wrote it at 1915 today, but have amended the title. This is because I have now had the chance to read Jean Quatremer’s take on the issue (in French). He quotes Gerard Onesta, long standing French Green MEP and sometime Vice President of the EP. Onesta describes the allegations as “une vraie bombe” and goes on to say “Attention, il ne faut pas croire que ces pratiques dÃ©sastreuses sont gÃ©nÃ©ralisÃ©es […] il nâ€™y a pas plus dâ€™une poignÃ©e de brebis galeuses, mais Ã§a suffit pour jeter une ombre sur tous les parlementaires” – essentially saying that the bad practices are not generalised, but that a handful of bad cases cast a shadow over all of the Parliamentarians.
[UPDATE – 22.2.08, 0900]
Mark Mardell has some more information about what Chris Davies alleges is going on. It’s also stated that Gary Titley is ‘furious’ about all of this, in that it gives the EP a bad name and makes things hard for the decent MEPs. So we’ll be counting on you Gary to get to the bottom of this…? Bruno Waterfield also looks at the issue in some depth, and – surprise, surprise – comes across an official line to not want to make the documents public. Which administration would, EU or anywhere else? What Mardell, Waterfield, Quatremer, Davies and all the others fail to answer is this: of the â‚¬100 million a year for MEPs’ staff, how much of it is allegedly spent fraudulently? Because for sure it is not â‚¬100 million. Maybe if a number could be put on it the press would behave in a less hot header manner.
[UPDATE – 22.2.08, 1530]
Chris Davies tries to explain things further on this page on his website. While most of it is good stuff, I dislike the line “But the job is open to anyone. If you want to put your name forward as a candidate in the European elections you are free to do so. All you have to do then is to win!” Smug, very smug. So speaks the MEP already reselected at the top of the list in the North West for the Lib Dems – sit back and relax Chris, your seat is safe until 2014.