MEPs using allowances to rent offices from themselves

Dozens of MEPs are paying their national political parties from their expenses allowance, and only 133 of the EP’s 748 members were willing to disclose documents on how they spent the money

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Matthew Vella
31 May 2017, 4:30pm
MEPs are renting offices from themselves and banking the cash using a €39 million taxpayer-funded pot, an investigation by an EU-wide group of journalists into how MEPs use their €52,000 annual expenses allowances shows.

According to Euronews.com, dozens of MEPs are paying their national political parties from their expenses allowance, and only 133 of the EP’s 748 members were willing to disclose documents on how they spent the money.

The investigation includes the Times of Malta as its Maltese partner.

It is not yet clear whether the investigation will touch upon Malta, where the Labour Party has accused the Nationalist Party of having used MEPs’ general expenses allowance to pay the salary of individuals stationed at the party's headquarters in Malta. PN MEPs Roberta Metsola, David Casa and Therese Comodini Cachia each published audit statements, dated March 2017, certifying that “the public funds made available by the European Parliament to the MEP have been used in full compliance with the established rules of the European Parliament”.

Metsola makes her annual transparency commitment form and certification statement public through her website. Comodini Cachia’s statements can be accessed here.

MaltaToday is informed that one of three Labour MEPs could also be the subject of the investigation, but the information is not yet confirmed.

Labour has accused the three PN MEPs of hosting their constituency offices at the PN’s headquarters, which means their assistants work inside the PN headquarters at Pietà.

But the European Parliament does permit MEPs to rent offices from themselves or from their national political parties, as long as certain conditions are fulfilled: these include paying a market rent for the office so as not to indirectly finance the political vehicles of which they are members.

The offices also cannot be used by other people or for other purposes and they must be clearly marked as being one for EP work, but the parliament has no way of knowing whether the rules are being adhered to.

It has admitted it doesn’t ask MEPs for invoices to justify expenditure or have any records of what offices the politicians work from.

MEPs are paid an €96,000 annual salary; a 3.5 percent contributory pension; and an annual travel allowance of up to €4,264, among other expenses.

“Renting an office is one of the expenditures covered by the General Expenditure Allowance. This is a lump sum that – as a principle – is not controlled by the European Parliament,” EP spokeswoman Marjory van den Broeke said.

“An MEP may indeed rent an office from a national political party, provided certain conditions are respected and the rent is at market price, in order to prevent an indirect financing of the national party. Moreover, the office should be used solely for the exercise of the European mandate. As such, the office should be separate from other offices and clearly marked as one for European Parliament work. It can also not be used by other people or for other purposes. Those are all the conditions that have to be respected.”

The Nationalist Party said this was a confirmation that MEPs are in fact allowed to rent office space from national political parties.“ All PN MEPs rent local constituency offices from Media.Link at market prices, respecting all conditions set out by the Parliament and have always made public their audited accounts, line-by-line every year for everyone to see. Every cent is accounted for, publically accessible and has always been certified as being used in compliance with European Parliament rules,” PN head of delegation David Casa said.

“This was an issue that, despite the sad lies of Joseph Muscat, was never in any doubt and just goes to show how far Joseph Muscat is willing to go to mislead voters. I am pleased that the truth has come out before the election allowing voters to weigh the facts before choosing who will lead our nation in the next legislature. Despite the clear, black on white evidence, I would not hold my breath on Joseph Muscat admitting his lies and issuing an apology.”

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Matthew Vella is executive editor at MaltaToday.