European parliamentarians will not be obliged to disclose how they spend their expenses, a top EU court has ruled. Journalists had attempted to use freedom of information requests to force transparency.
The European General Court ruled on Tuesday that members of the European Parliament (MEPs) should not be forced to disclose their expenses, as doing so could reveal personal information and thereby contravene EU privacy law.
The claim was brought before the court in Luxembourg back in 2015 by an association of journalists from all 28 EU member states. The group had demanded complete transparency into how EU parliamentarians and their assistants spend their allowances. Specifically, the reporters had asked for information concerning all money parliamentarians received on top of their basic salaries.
Prior to Tuesday's ruling, the European Parliament had refused freedom of information requests related to expenses paid out to its 751 MEPs, citing data protection rules and excessive workloads.
The judges on the General Court agreed, finding that although one solution could be to redact personal information for public disclosure, this would amount to "an excessive administrative burden."
It is estimated that €450 million ($530 million) of the parliament's annual budget goes towards MEPs' salaries, travel expenses and office costs. According to the Parliament's website, allowances currently amount to a monthly sum of €4,416 per lawmaker.
Critics have long expressed concern that EU taxpayer money may be subject to spending fraud. In March, the parliament's budget committee reported that far-right MEPs charged some €400,000 on champagne and expensive dinners in 2016.
Nevertheless, the Parliament remained adamant that all the necessary checks and balances are in place to mitigate the risk of fraud.
The group of reporters can appeal the ruling before the EU's top court, the European Court of Justice.
dm/rt (dpa, AFP)