An internal European Parliament report allegedly pointing to abuse of staff allowances by EU lawmakers will remain confidential for now after attempts by parliamentarians to have it declassified failed, officials said Tuesday.
Under the chamber's rules, the report by its internal auditor assessing the system for paying staff has been available only to a handful of lawmakers on the budget control committee and some senior deputies, none of whom is allowed to discuss it with anyone.
Only the parliament's bureau _ consisting of presidents and vice presidents of the political groups and financial officials _ can declassify an audit of the assembly. On Tuesday, some parliamentarians pressed for the report to be made public, while others wanted to keep it confidential.
"All attempts to vote on (calling for the report to be declassified) were steamrolled," British Liberal Democrat Chris Davies said. His political group and the Greens were pushing for the report to be released, while many Conservatives and Socialists were against it.
Danish lawmaker Jens-Peter Bonde said the audit was being kept sealed and under guard in what he described as a "confidential reading room."
Nevertheless, some lawmakers 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.
Under the current rules, each of the 785 MEPs can claim around euro16,000 (US$23,700) a month a month to pay their employees.
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.
"MEPs have the democratic right to manage their funds whichever way they want," Spanish Conservative lawmaker Jose Javier Pomes Ruiz said.
But Davies said the report _ a copy of which is already being studied 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.
"There's suspicion of tax evasion and circumvention of labor law," Austrian independent lawmaker Hans-Peter Martin said.
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.