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Lawmakers to demand EU Parliament report on allowance abuses is declassified

Lawmakers to demand EU Parliament report on allowance abuses is declassified

Members of the European Parliament's budget control committee will demand Tuesday that a confidential internal report allegedly pointing to abuse of staff allowances by lawmakers be made public.
Under the chamber's rules, the report by the assembly's internal auditor assessing the system for paying staff has been available only to a handful of lawmakers on the committee and some senior deputies, none of whom is allowed to discuss it with anyone.
Nevertheless, some deputies who have seen it have said they are worried about the way funds for assistants and other support staff are spent, and some have called for the system to be overhauled.
"The most difficult thing to establish is whether what is described by our own auditors is fraud or whether it's simply a huge exercise in creative accounting which doesn't break the European Parliament's rules," said British Liberal Democratic deputy Chris Davies, who has seen the report.
Under the current rules, each of the 785 MEPs can claim euro15,496 (US$22,835) a month to pay his or her staff. Anybody, including family members, can be employed by parliamentarians as an assistant, and there are three different methods of contracting staff and 27 different national taxation, social security and administrative systems. Some assistants work in Brussels and others work in the member states.
Davies said the report _ a copy of which has already been received by the EU's anti-fraud body, OLAF _ lists what appeared to be cases of "grossly unethical behavior rather than lawbreaking." He said in one case a parliamentarian claimed to have paid his assistant a Christmas bonus 19 times his salary, and in other instances money had been paid to what appeared to be fictitious service providers.
The European Parliament has "set rules which they simply wouldn't tolerate in any public institution," Davies said.
Davies and other parliamentarians have said they would push for the parliament's secretariat to declassify the report at Tuesday's meeting of the budget control committee.
"There is absolutely nothing in that report that shouldn't be made public but I think this would cause gross embarrassment to MEPs. ... I believe the auditor wrote the report to be seen by the public," Davies said, adding that he thinks the EU assembly wants to keep the report secret "to try and avoid political embarrassment."
European Parliament spokesman Jaume Duch Guillot said that although the audit did not reveal any individual cases of fraud, it would still implement a new, central recruitment system for support staff after the next European elections in 2009.
The legislature has already reformed the much-criticized pay-and-perks deal for its members in an effort to shed its gravy train reputation.
From next year, salary disparities between politicians from different countries will disappear and lawmakers will no longer be able to claim expenses without proper receipts.