A bid has been launched by four political groups in the European Parliament to overturn a recent decision by the Parliament's leadership to exempt certain gifts of hospitality from transparency requirements. The Parliament's largest group, the centre-right European People's Party (EPP), is resisting the bid.
The Socialists & Democrats, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in Europe and the Greens, which are respectively the second, third and fourth largest groups in the Parliament, plus the European United Left/Nordic Green Left, together account for 367 MEPs in the 754-strong assembly. They are jointly putting forward a proposal to treat paid-for accommodation and travel the same way as other gifts, which have to be declared if their value exceeds €150.
The Parliament's bureau, which comprises the vice-presidents and quaestors, decided in May to set higher thresholds for gifts of hospitality than for other gifts. Under the new rules, MEPs are not required to disclose hotel accommodation as long as it does not exceed a value of €300 per night. Economy-class air travel and second-class railway travel are also exempt from the transparency requirements. After protests from Socialists, Liberals and Greens, Joseph Daul, the leader of the EPP, blocked attempts to bring the matter to a vote in the plenary.
Daul's spokesman said: “We are happy with the decision that was made by the bureau, we voted the way we voted and we have not changed our views. We will stick to our position.” He said that Parliament “should not over-regulate” and that it would be “too complicated” to set a lower threshold for exemptions “because much more would need to be declared”.
Roberto Gualtieri, a centre-left Italian, Andrew Duff, a British Liberal, Gerald Häfner, a German Green, and Søren Søndergaard, a Dane from the European United Left, have, on behalf of their groups, submitted a proposal that would require declaration of any event or trip whose combined value, whether of travel or accommodation, was greater than €150.
They have found a procedure to get the matter on the agenda of the constitutional affairs committee, and from there to plenary. This, however, would require the approval of the committee's five co-ordinators, who are responsible for managing its agenda. The co-ordinators include two MEPs from the EPP, one from the Socialist and Democrats, one from the European Conservatives and Reformists and one representing the unattached MEPs.
The position of Ashley Fox, a British Conservative MEP, could be crucial. He is the co-ordinator on the constitutional affairs committee from the ECR group, which is split on the issue. Oldrich Vlasák, a Czech ECR MEP, who is a vice-president of the Parliament, voted in favour of the €300 threshold when the bureau decided on it in May, citing procedural reasons. But many British Conservatives disagree and Fox's vote could decide whether the proposal will be debated in the committee.
Fox told European Voice that while he had not seen the proposed amendment, the ECR group viewed €300 as a “reasonable limit” at the time it was set. However, according to Fox, the ECR “would consider any amendment that other groups wish to propose”. A spokesman for the group said that it had yet to agree a formal position.
Rainer Wieland, a centre-right German MEP and member of the Parliament's bureau, defended the exemptions agreed by the bureau. He said that the €300 threshold was a “reasonable indicative value” set to correspond to the per diem allowances that MEPs receive to cover their costs while Parliament is in session. “Hotel nights and travel are not a gift,” he said. “You cannot sell them on.” “It is not reasonable for MEPs to have to sit down and figure out the cost of a charter flight first thing after they return from a trip,” he said.