Friday, 25 March 2011

Article in Parliament Magazine this week

The EU must confront its own spending mistakes, mismanagement and corruption to avoid alienating its citizens, writes Nicole Sinclaire

I have made it my task this year to identify waste, corruption and irresponsible use of taxpayer’s money by the EU institutions in these times of extreme austerity. Six full body security scanners were purchased by the EU in 2005 at a cost in excess of 115,000 each. They have never been used and were ordered without consultation. Embarrassingly, the parliament itself voted against the use of such scanners – MEPs put their own self importance ahead of security with many refusing to undergo the simplest of checks – after they have been purchased.
These machines have been left to rot on pallets in a disused garage in the depths of the parliament building. It was quite a task to locate them, with security trying to thwart me and pass the buck. Eventually I found them languishing in and underground car park, surrounded by surplus office furniture.
This is but one of many examples of the waste and mismanagement that is endemic within the institutions. It beggars belief that unelected bureaucrats were able to purchase the most expensive machines available at the time, seemingly impervious to the economic realities.
The current economic crisis, and the resultant austerity measures, have led to violent protests in Greece, and the downfall of the Irish government. Against this backdrop, the parliament that knows no cuts continues to bestow upon itself increased entertainment budgets and allowances, as well as increased entertainment budgets and allowances, as well as increased funding for healthcare, among other things.
Working with the British media, I helped expose the abuses of daily subsistence allowances by large numbers of MEPs. We found members signing for their allowances early in the morning and then immediately climbing into taxpayer-funded limos to take them to the airport or to the Eurostar terminal. The daily allowance is intended for those who take part in official meetings of formal parliamentary bodies, it is not intended as a tax-free means of topping up one’s earnings on the way home. The allowance is currently 304 per day, which is ironically close to the average post-tax weekly income of an EU citizen.
The expose has resonated across the EU, and has been reported in many member states. Within house of the story being covered by the Spanish press, I received telephone calls from Spanish TV and radio. Another revelation, concerning the medical perks enjoyed by MEPs and their families – the budget for this was increased by 36 per cent this year – was reported in four newspapers in Romania on one day alone.
If we cast our eyes beyond the EU we see regimes in North Africa falling like dominoes. The situation in Libya shows us the extent to which citizens will go, and the sacrifices that they will make, to rid themselves of corrupt and dictatorial regimes.
There is much talk at this time of “European taxes”, including a financial transaction tax. But how many citizens are aware that the MEPs who may in the future vote through legislation on such taxes, and the apparatchiks who serve them, actually pay very little in the way of tax. How will a citizen on 40 per cent income tax, struggling to look after his family, react to the news that the MEP who legislates for higher taxes pays just 18 per cent tax on their basic salary, and no tax at all on the many generous expenses and allowances that they enjoys.