By Vaggelis Georgiou
Most of us are making assumptions about the amounts spent by the members of the Commission for their various missions and business travels. There were also cases we learned about the tens of thousands of euros spent by Mogherini to travel and stay in a luxury hotel; Or theremoval of 25,000 euros from the European funds to jet off Jean-Claude Juncker to Rome for in night leaving. But this is the tip of the iceberg’s top.
The problem is that there was no regulatory obligation, forcing the institution to inform on a timely basis what is the cost of such expences to the EU taxpayers.On Friday the 2nd of February, the Commission formalized its initial commitment – first pledged in September 2017- to make the Commission’s transport costs public. It is now embedded in the new Code of Conduct for the members of the Commission the clause to publish travel expenses every two months.
The Commission was «forced» to make such a move after the constant pressures of the “Access Info Europe” organization, which has launched a campaign since last year, demanding the publication of the travel expenses of the Commissioners. The use of private air taxis has been the red cloth for the efforts to increase transparency, given the wild social inequalities in large parts of Europe.
We recall that the Commission spokesman was trying to convince that these costs – which were bloated for critics – were a necessity, adding that that, in an effort to reduce such expences, the Commission sometimes shared the same air taxi with the President of the European Parliament and the President of the European Council
The devil is in the details
A question that arises at this point, is whether this enrichment of the Code of Conduct is sufficient enough. Probably not. Talking with Helen Darbishire, the Executive Director of “Access Info Europe”, she explained to me that what we now have is a formal commitment to publishing a report, though «what is important is to have everything in detail , i.e. how much money were spent and why. We would like to see details per trip, hotel expenses, etc. This is basic transaprency of sending that every one of the 500+ million European citizens has a right to expect«.
As Darbishire said, «This is an important step for the public’s right to know, but the «devil hides in the details.» I asked her to rate the European Commission transparency but this is quite difficult. «I can’t say on a scale of 1 to 10, but I would say that it’s rather mixed. For example on the 7th of February – the European Court of Justice will rule in Access Info’s case to get information from the EC about the EU-Turkey deal to expel migrants / refugees from Greece».
As a matter of fact, the content of these documents is a legal analysis of the legality of the EU-Turkey deal. “We see it as rather incredible the fact that EU citizens have to go to the court to get such information” she said.
«We are worried that if the EU is not open to key issues such as travel costs – which must be available in every country – then the Union risks losing public confidence«.