Members of the European parliament on Tuesday rejected several reform proposals designed to make the workings and finances of their institution more transparent.
MEPs also voted-down a suggestion that the parliament should choose whether to sit in either Brussels or Strasbourg, dealing a blow to efforts to end the costly monthly shuttling of the assembly. The parliament's multiple-seat arrangement is estimated to cost €200m ($259m, £137m) a year.
Chris Davies, parliamentary leader of the British Liberal Democrats, described the outcome as an “all-clear to embezzlement”.
Mr Davies had pushed in particular for changes to ensure that private contributions to MEPs' pension schemes could not be paid out of public funds.
He added: “After the votes today, people across Europe can hardly be blamed if they think that some MEPs are engaged in corrupt practices and that they don't belong in a parliament but in jail.”
The parliament's “gravy train” reputation is seen as one of the reasons for the constant decline in turnout since direct European elections to the parliament started in 1979.
Disillusionment among voters and concerns about fraud prompted some MEPs such as Mr Davies to tablenew proposals recently to reform the institution.
Yesterday's outcome reduces the chance of an agreement soon between the parliament and European Union member states on a comprehensive reform of the legal status and salary of MEPs, which has been a long-standing subject ofdispute.
The Luxembourg government, which currently holds the EU's rotating presidency, has been working on a new proposal to end the deadlock at a time when salary discrepancies among MEPs have widened considerably following last May's EU enlargement.
Ona Jukneviciene, a Lithuanian MEP who steered the budgetary discharge report that included the various reform proposals, said: “After what happened today, the Luxembourg presidency cannot be blamed for concluding that parliament is not yet ready to proceed with reform.”
MEPs rejected by 345 votes to 259 a proposal to reform the generous system of travel expenses, which has been one of the most visible perks for MEPs, with a system that would only reimburse their actual travel costs. Among the new plans rejected, MEPs voted by 351 votes to 248 against a proposal to allow auditors to check the way they fund their private pensions. The parliament's pension scheme has also come under fire from the Court of Auditors, the EU spending watchdog, which claims it does not have a “sufficient legal basis”.
MEPs similarly turned down the introduction of a system of sanctions for MEPs found guilty of violating parliamentary rules.
In another disappointment to the reformers, MEPs rejected a proposal from the Liberal group to create a code of professional ethics that would, for example, help clarify links between MEPs and lobby groups.
Terry Wynn, an MEP from the UK Labour party, said it was shocking to see some of his colleagues fill their annual declaration of interests simply with “as before”.
As an example of possible conflicts of interest, he said: “What I still have not come to terms with is the amount of people who have agricultural interests and there are a lot of them and who then vote on questions of agricultural interests.”
The decision about whether to maintain the Strasbourg seat rests with EU member states and France has repeatedly said that it would block any attempt by MEPs to leave the city.
Reformists insist the only way to increase pressure on France to end the parliament's travelling circus is for MEPs to give a clear and united message something they markedly failed to achieve yesterday.
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