Friday, May 29, 2009

Makes for Interesting Reading!

Open Europe
Open Europe Bulletin: 29 May 2009
  • Open Europe publishes league table of MEPs
  • MEPs are entitled to expenses and allowances of up to £363,000 a year
  • Commission's proposals on banking supervision equate to "pan-European regulator"
  • News in brief
  • Open Europe in the news

1. Open Europe publishes league table of MEPs

With elections to the European Parliament less than one week away, Open Europe has published a league table of all 785 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), scoring their record on promoting transparency and reform in the European Union over the last five-year term.

Open Europe 's league table is based on 20 different categories relating to transparency, accountability, democracy, and waste. The ranking is based on a range of activities, including voting records, attendance, written declarations, and whether the MEPs themselves have taken part in wasteful activities, such as the controversial second pension fund.

In compiling the ranking, Open Europe discovered that in April 2009, a majority of British MEPs (60%) voted to keep details about their own expenses secret, as well as voting against financial disciplinary measures for MEPs found guilty of misuse of funds, and voting to keep secret demands to pay back money. Only 24% of all British members voted to make expenses public.

MEPs have been awarded points based on a 'Premier League' model, where 3 points is the highest score, followed by 1 point and 0 points. On attendance, a scale from 1 to 6 was used. A total of 58 points is available for each MEP. In addition, MEPs who have been the subject of substantive press reports of wrongdoing have been shown a 'red card' in our ranking and had 10 points deducted from their score.

UK party positions

Average score per MEP:

1. Green Party, 2 MEPs, 39.5

2. Scottish National Party, 2 MEPs, 38.5

3. Liberal Democrats, 11 MEPs, 35

4. Conservative Party, 28 MEPs, 29.5

5. Labour, 19 MEPs, 29.3

6. Independents, 4 MEPs, 26.75

7. UKIP, 9 MEPs, 24.89

Others: (Jillian Evans MEP, Plaid Cymru, 27 points; Baibre de Brún MEP, Sinn Fein, 27 points; James Nicholson MEP, Ulster Unionist Party 30 points;)

To see the full ranking, click the link below:

http://www.openeurope.org.uk/research/mepranking.xls

To read the guide to the ranking, which gives an overview of the criteria used, click the link below:

http://www.openeurope.org.uk/research/rankingguide.pdf

To read the UK and EU press releases, which show the top and bottom ranking MEPs and how different countries performed, click the link below:

http://www.openeurope.org.uk/media-centre/press-releases.aspx

2. MEPs are entitled to expenses and allowances of up to £363,000 a year

Open Europe has found that in total, MEPs are entitled to expenses and allowances of £363,000 a year, including a £261 daily subsistence allowance and £45,648 in general office expenses even though they are provided with offices in Brussels and Strasbourg . This equates to £1,816,250 per MEP over a five year term and no receipts are required. (Sun, 26 May; Times, 29 May; Open Europe blog) This comes on top of £83,282 in salary, £29,309 in pensions and £41,641 in transitional payments. In contrast, UK MPs claim up to £144,000 on average in expenses. (Telegraph, 31 March)

Swedish Left Party MEP Jens Holm has provided a candid account of how the current travel expenses system can lead to MEPs pocketing thousands of euros a year because no receipt is required to account for the actual cost of a journey. He said, "I know that until February this year, the European Parliament has paid me about €200,000 in travel allowances and I'd say that I have donated around €150,000 to charities and also to my own party." (Open Europe blog)

Under new rules, from June onwards, the travel allowance system will be reformed so that MEPs need to provide receipts for their tickets. However, for the majority of their expenditure (office expenses, daily subsistence allowance, staff allowances) MEPs will still not be required to produce receipts.

In the wake of the Westminster expenses scandal, Gordon Brown has ordered all Labour candidates for the European election to agree to publish all receipts for claims made under the MEPs' office allowance. Conservative MEP candidates have taken a pledge to disclose details of their expenses online but they will not provide receipts, while the Lib Dems have made a similar commitment to publish an audited breakdown of their MEPs' costs but also will not publish receipts. (FT, FT, 24 May)

However, it should be noted that none of the parties' manifestos mention publishing receipts. (Open Europe blog)

Meanwhile, it has emerged that more than a third of British MEPs are paying one or more relatives. The wives, husbands and children of MEPs are earning up to £40,000 a year to work as secretaries and researchers at a total annual cost to taxpayers of more than £700,000. (Times, 29 May)

3. Commission's proposals on bank supervision equate to "pan-European regulator"

The European Commission has tabled a proposal to create three new EU bodies to oversee national banks, insurances and securities. The three bodies - a European Banking Authority in London; a European Insurance Authority in Frankfurt; and a European Securities Authority in Paris - will be composed of chief regulators from the 27 member states and, controversially, will have binding powers to impose decisions on member states and overrule national regulators.

The proposal has come under heavy criticism in the UK as the three new bodies will have the jurisdiction to over-ride national authorities, marking a significant transfer of powers to the EU level in the sector. As Ambrose Evans-Pritchard noted in the Telegraph, the proposal does not technically create a pan-European regulator, but might have a similar effect - crucially, the European Court of Justice is to have the final say over any appeal. The Commission hopes the proposal will be adopted before the end of the year.

The proposal comes as a recent survey by eFinancialCareers indicates that London City finance professionals are so worried about the future - due to proposed EU regulations and an increase in taxes - that nearly 30 per cent are planning to leave London for destinations such as Zurich , New York , Singapore and Hong Kong . (FT 27 May European Voice FT Irish Independent Telegraph EurActiv WSJ Irish Times: Leader Irish Times Irish Times: Jamie Smyth blog El Mundo Le Figaro El Pais Le Monde 28 May)

4. News in brief

18 "ghost MEPs" to cash in on £6m. Due to the fact that the Lisbon Treaty has not been ratified, 18 MEPs elected in June's European elections will receive normal MEPs' salaries despite the fact that they will not be able to take up full political office for at least two years. The Irish rejection of the Lisbon Treaty means that after June's election 736 instead of 754 MEPs will take office. However, 18 further MEPs will be elected under the Lisbon rules, despite the fact that the Lisbon Treaty is yet to be ratified.

Amid confusion over when and how they will take up their seats, the European Parliament has decided to give the MEPs only "observer" status from next year. These 'observer members' will receive a normal MEPs' salary, and collectively account for a £6m bill, including their salary, assistant and office allowances, as well as tax-free allowances on a daily basis. (Telegraph, 22 May; Mail, 24 May)

Conservative MEP paid husband £22k for 15-page leaflet. It has emerged that Conservative MEP Caroline Jackson paid her husband £22,500 to help her write a 15-page leaflet on waste management. Dr Jackson failed to list the fee in two of her 'declarations of interests' before finally listing it in a footnote as three payments of up to £10,000 for "consultancy fees". (Sun, 26 May)

Former Czech PM: The Lisbon Treaty "is bad and we know it". Having now relinquished his role at the helm of the Czech Republic's EU Presidency, former Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek has said what he really thinks of the Lisbon Treaty: "This treaty is bad and we know it...If we hadn't signed the Lisbon Treaty and had been pushed to the sidelines of the European Union we would have had no chance of promoting our national interests. That's the main reason [we signed]. It was the lesser of two evils." (BBC: Mardell blog, 18 May)

Ireland expected to have highest turnout in EP elections. 66 percent of Irish people say they will definitely vote in the European elections compared to an EU average of 43 percent, according a TNS poll of all 27 countries commissioned by the European Parliament. Ireland was the only country to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty - suggesting that the practice of holding referendums on EU treaties increases voters' interest in EU affairs and makes them more likely to vote. (Irish Times, 27 May; FT: Letters, 29 May)

Highest paid MEPs have the worst attendance at European Parliament. The worst attendance record at the European Parliament has gone to the highest-paid MEPs - the Italians. Italian MEPs currently earn €134,291 (£120,000) a year but came bottom of the 27 EU nations for turning up in Brussels and Strasbourg . (Times, 16 May)

5. Open Europe in the news

A third of British MEPs employ family members on expenses

29 May Times

Open Europe's Research Director Mats Persson was quoted in the Times arguing that even though there is no suggestion of wrongdoing the employment of relatives reinforces the public perception of the European Parliament as a "gravy train". He said, "It is not acceptable for any MEP to continue employing members of their family."

Open Europe publishes league table of all 785 MEPs, based on transparency, accountability, democracy and waste

29 May WSJ 28 May Evening Standard Limerick Leader 27 May CNBC Berlingske Yle Svenska YLE Helsing Sanomat Jyllands-Posten Dagens Nyheter Scotsman 26 May Sun Sun 2 EUobserver Kilmarnock Standard Conservative Home NRC Handelsblad Standaard STA Galloway Gazette PA Denik Svenska Dagbladet FT Trumpet ADN RP Newsdesk.se Folket

Open Europe's league table was covered on the front page of the FT, in the Sun, the Mail, the Scotsman, on the BBC Breakfast Show, on the Conservative Home website and in several regional newspapers, including the Kilmarnock Standard, the Argus and the Galloway Gazette. It also received coverage around Europe, appearing in Dutch daily NRC Handelsblad Standaard, Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet, on EUobserver and several other papers in Denmark , Finland , the Czech Republic and Slovenia .

Open Europe's Mats Persson appeared on CNBC's Europe Tonight show, discussing the findings of the report, and Open Europe's Lorraine Mullally appeared on BBC Radio 4's the World at One. Mats was also interviewed on Irish radio stations RTE, Shannonside FM, Northern Sound and Ross FM.

Open Europe 's Pieter Cleppe was quoted in the Wall Street Journal arguing, "There's a slow realisation that the parliament has to become more accountable and transparent."

MEPs' expenses: the real expenses scandal is in Brussels

29 May BBC World Service 27 May Comment Is Free: Persson 26 May FT FT 2 22 May Rochdale News 21 May Daily Politics

Open Europe 's Director Lorraine Mullally appeared live on the BBC's Question Time Extra, commenting on the special 'European elections' edition of Question Time. Lorraine described the huge expenses pot available to Members of the European Parliament, who, unlike British MPs, do not have to produce receipts to claim their expenses, calling on the parties to commit to change.

Lorraine also appeared on More 4 News and live on the BBC Daily Politics show, discussing the need for MEPs to publish their expenses. The FT quoted Open Europe saying, "There's no obligation on MEPs to produce receipts for any of the money they claim [apart from travel], so it's impossible for us to see if they are spending public money in an acceptable way. The new rules coming into force after the elections do not address this fundamental shortcoming." Another FT article quoted Open Europe on Labour's decision to make their MEPs publish receipts.

In a piece on the Guardian's Comment is Free page, Mats Persson argued "the real expenses scandal is in Brussels ". Mats also appeared on BBC World Service's Europe Today.

EU referendums encourage voter engagement with the EU

29 May FT: Letters

In a letter to the FT, Open Europe's Lorraine Mullally argued that referendums on the EU stoke public interest and debate and that "national referendums on EU treaties should be encouraged, not avoided at all costs, as is the current consensus in Brussels".

How does the European Parliament impact on business?

27 May BBC Breakfast Show

Open Europe 's Mats Persson appeared on the BBC Breakfast Show discussing how the European Parliament impacts on business.

Communication Commissioner's £1.8m pension

26 May Aftonbladet

Open Europe 's findings that Commission Vice-President Margot Wallström will receive a £1.8 million pension when she leaves the Commission were reported by Swedish daily Aftonbladet.

100 examples of EU fraud and waste

26 May Varlden Idag

Swedish paper Varlden Idag cited Open Europe 's research on '100 examples of EU fraud and waste".

18 'ghost' MEPs to board the EU gravy train

24 May Mail

The Mail quoted Open Europe 's Stephen Booth saying "It is scandalous that the European Parliament could even consider paying MEPs who cannot legally do their job. Taxpayers are forking out enough on MEPs as it is - now we find out we're paying money for nothing."

The cost of EU regulation

22 May Times: Cavendish 18 May Kurier

In the Times, Camilla Cavendish questioned what MPs are paid for, given that Westminster has ceded so much power to Europe . The article cited Open Europe's research into the cost of EU regulation, which shows that EU regulation has cost the UK economy £106bn since 1998.

How the European Parliament influences your daily life

18 May Sunday Business Post

The Irish Sunday Business Post had a feature on MEPs based on Open Europe 's recent briefing on the European Parliament.

Open Europe seminar in Sweden on EU reform

18 May Kristianstadsbladet

The seminar organised by Open Europe in Sweden received coverage in Swedish daily Kristianstadsbladet. Open Europe's Lorraine Mullally was also interviewed by Swedish Radio.

6. Support Open Europe

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Thank you for your support.

http://www.openeurope.org.uk/about-us/makeadonation.aspx




Open Europe is an independent think tank campaigning for radical reform of the EU. For information on our research, events and other activities, please visit our website: openeurope.org.uk or call us on 0207 197 2333.

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