NIKIFOROS DIAMANDOUROS: THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT HAS REFUSED TO GIVE OUT THE DATA DETAILING THE INDIVIDUAL PAYMENTS TO MEPs
Europe Gateway presents an interview with the European Ombudsman Nikoforos Diamandouros concerning the public access to MEPs' expenses and public policies.
Have you received complaints about the current expenses of MEPs? Could you give an example?
I received a complaint from a Maltese journalist who asked the European Parliament (EP) to give him access to data detailing the EP's payments to its five Maltese MEPs. The journalist's request to Parliament was made under Regulation 1049/2001 on access to documents. The EP rejected his request, justifying its refusal on the grounds of data protection. The journalist turned to me, arguing in his complaint that taxpayers should have a right to know how MEPs spend public money.
During my investigation of the case, I consulted the European Data Protection Supervisor. He considered it obvious that the data must be disclosed, arguing that the basic consideration in a transparent society must be that the public has a right to be informed about the expenditure of public funds.
In a draft recommendation (which is available here), I asked the EP to grant access to the requested data. The EP requested an extension until the end of February for submitting its detailed opinion and I have granted the request.
What public access do European citizens receive to documents concerning MEPs` expenses?
At the moment, it is possible to obtain general information about MEPs' allowances (these allowances are paid to cover the costs of parliamentary duties, in particular travel allowances, subsistence expenses, a monthly general expenditure allowance, and a parliamentary assistance allowance to cover the cost of hiring assistants). But to date, the Parliament has refused to give out the data detailing the individual payments to MEPs, hence the aforementioned complaint from the Maltese journalist and my investigation into the issue.
Which model of transparency, accountability and democracy in the EU best complies with your view of solving the problem?
One of my principal roles is to promote transparency, accountability and democracy in the European institutions. There has been significant progress in recent years. However, I still receive a substantial number of complaints concerning access to documents and information, such as the aforementioned complaint on MEPs' allowances.
In April 2007, the European Commission published a Green Paper outlining a number of areas in which the EU's current rules on access to documents might be improved. In my contribution to this debate, I stressed that transparency is essential for citizens to participate in the political process and to hold public authorities to account. I called for improved transparency standards concerning access to EU documents, as well as for shorter review procedures in cases where access to documents has been denied and the applicant turns to the Ombudsman.
The Commission has announced that it will publish proposals aimed at improving the rules on access to documents in the coming months.
Have you received complaints concerning the Bulgarian MEPs? If yes, what?
I have not received complaints against Bulgarian MEPs. But it is important to clarify that, in any case, I am not competent to deal with complaints against individual MEPs. Their political work is not within the Ombudsman's mandate. The European Ombudsman deals with complaints against the European administration - for example the European Parliament's administration or the European Commission.
In 2007, I received a total number of 91 complaints from Bulgaria. Six inquiries have been opened. Among the complaints I received were, for example, cases where the EU institutions failed to reply to requests for information. I also received complaints from Bulgarian citizens who participated in selection procedures for jobs in the EU institutions and who were not satisfied with the outcome or the conduct of these procedures.
Interview taken by Maya Tsaneva, Europe Gateway.