Recent media reports in some Member States have given a false impression of the situation on MEPs’ expenses. In fact, following an Internal Audit Report made one year ago, the European regulatory framework was subject to a major change last December when Parliament and Council approved a new statute for Parliamentary Assistants.
Moreover, effective controls have already taken place: 99.5 per cent of the payments made by Parliament to Members' assistants in years 2004-2007 under the rules governing parliamentary expenses and allowances has now been cleared as regular based on extensive checks of the relevant documentation.
These checks have been carried out by Parliament’s services for all Members, whether or not they have been subject of reporting in the media or whether or not payments made to their assistants were mentioned in the Internal Audit Report. The checking of the payments relating to parliamentary assistance made in 2008 is currently ongoing.
Major reforms of systems for employment of assistants and travel expenses
Various claims have been made relating to an Internal Audit Report, which found a number of weaknesses in the system for the employment of MEPs’ assistants. The aim of Internal Audit Reports is to enable problems to be fixed, and this report was one of the factors behind Parliament’s decision essentially to replace the system governing the payments of parliamentary assistance allowances with a new European and common regime.
From July this year, Brussels-based assistants are being added on to the employment system for EU officials, with those based in the MEPs’ Member State being handled by qualified paying agents chosen by the Institution, guaranteeing tax and social security arrangements in the relevant Member State. The practice of Members employing close relatives as assistants is being phased out with new contracts no longer allowed.
A major reform of MEPs’ travel expenses will see, from July this year, expenses refunded on the basis of documented costs incurred rather than on a flat-rate basis as is the current practise.
Effective controls in place
Parliament’s services have undertaken and undertake a variety of checks on the various payments made to MEPs' assistants and request further information where doubts arise. If it has turned out that funds have been improperly claimed, the relevant sums have been recovered from the payments concerned. Where there has been and is good reason to suspect fraud, Parliament’s services can, and do, call in the EU’s anti-fraud investigations office, OLAF. This can ultimately lead to cases being passed to the relevant national prosecutors.