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Widespread Fraud Alleged in European Parliament

A member of the European Parliament has accused hundreds of his colleagues of pocketing allowances for parliamentary sessions they have not attended. The parliament says it could investigate as many as 200 members.

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Playing hooky in Strasbourg and Brussels and getting paid for it?

Hans-Peter Martin told Germany's mass-circulation Bild newspaper on Monday that he has collected detailed records over the past two years that show that many of his colleagues in the European Parliament habitually enter their names in the parliamentary register, but then skip meetings. For signing the register, based on the understanding that they attend the sessions, members of the European parliament (MEPs) receive a €262 ($320) per diem.

Martin, an MEP from Austria, claimed many either sign the register, which is accessible between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m., before flying home or send "front men" to sign on their behalf. He said he had discovered 7,200 instances of fraud through what he alleged were forged per diem claims and attendance records to claim expenses.

Wide-spread abuse?

"Brussel's enormous expense system is being abused," he said, "especially when delegates come in early, quickly sign in and then leave the city."

Martin also claimed that a favorite practice among MEPs has been to take an evening flight to Brussels, sign the register before 10 p.m., sign again the following day and attend a session before signing again the next morning and flying home.

This would earn them around €795 in supplements on top of travel costs and the usual salary for spending just one session in parliament. (MEPs are given salaries that are equivalent to those of members of their national parliaments and can range anywhere from just over €2,000 a month to nearly €10,000. Efforts to reform the pay system and implement a single salary for members of the European Parliament have repeatedly stalled since they began to be discussed earnestly in 1998.)

Allowance may be legitimate

David Harley, spokesman for the European parliament, said MEPs could legitimately claim their daily allowance if they were present in parliament, whether or not they took part in debates. He said members could be working in their offices, writing reports or talking to journalists and also complex travel arrangements meant they often arrived late and left early.

But Martin has described the practices as a "scam," and he claimed nearly half of all German MEPs and several from other countries including Britain are part of it.

The allegations of misuse of funds have shaken parliament, and many have stepped up to defend their fellow parliamentarians.

German MEP Hans-Gert Pöttering said MEPs are conscientious and work long hours. "The vast majority of our colleagues do their work conscientiously, with a workload of 60 to 70 hours a week," he said.

Meanwhile, Ireland's Mary Banotti, a conservative, said Martin’s allegations are causing immense distress to many colleagues.

Daniel Cohn-Bendit, a prominent German Green Party member who is also in parliament, criticized Martin for revealing his allegations to a German tabloid newspaper. "To reveal this issue in this way is simply mobbing," he said, referring to the practice of bullying workers until they leave a company.

Parliament expenses under the loop

Members of the European Parliament are currently paid a salary and expenses under an oft-criticized system set up in the 1960s that, among other things, allows MEPs to pocket the difference between full fare air tickets and discount fares when traveling between Brussels, Strasbourg and their constituencies.

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  • Date 31.03.2004
  • Author Anita Purcell (dsl)
  • Print Print this page
  • Permalink http://p.dw.com/p/4r05
  • Date 31.03.2004
  • Author Anita Purcell (dsl)
  • Print Print this page
  • Permalink http://p.dw.com/p/4r05