The European Parliament eventually gave its approval to the 2010 accounts of the European Environment Agency (EEA) last week. The approval – or ‘discharge' – had been held up for months by Monica Macovei, a centre-right Romanian MEP. She drafted the Parliament's report on the EEA's accounts and was clearly gunning for Jacqueline McGlade, the executive director.
Macovei was outraged that McGlade had allowed the campaign group Worldwatch Institute Europe to set up home in its offices. McGlade told members of the Parliament's committee on budgetary control that she was unaware of this rent-free arrangement, and ended it as soon as it came to light. But it emerged later that she had made a speech at the group's inauguration ceremony – at the EEA's premises.
Macovei was also upset at what she regarded as McGlade's own travel, which she said used up 13% of the agency's total travel budget in 2010.
McGlade was forced to resign from the board of a non-governmental organisation, Earthwatch, but only after a conflict of interest had come to light. Macovei found that 29 staff members of the EEA, including McGlade herself, went on research trips to see biodiversity projects in the Caribbean or Mediterranean managed by Earthwatch. In return, the EEA made payments to Earthwatch of €34,000, according to MEPs.
The 2010 discharge was granted after the Parliament's budgetary-control committee had noted that the European Court of Auditors had not actually made any criticism of the 2010 accounts. Unfortunately for McGlade, last week the ECA published its report on the 2011 accounts.
The auditors comment on the Earthwatch conflict of interest (though they put the payments much lower, at €6,000) and also draw attention to failings in the recruitment procedures, a subject that they had criticised when examining the 2009 accounts. This is all very bad timing for McGlade, whose term as executive director has come up for renewal. The Commission is to announce its shortlist in December after having interviewed McGlade and other candidates, but the omens do not look good.