The National Front has moved to block any strengthening of the rules regarding the employment of MEPs’ assistants, even as the party is being investigated for abusing EU funds. EurActiv France reports.
During their examination of the EU’s 2014 budget this week, certain MEPs tabled amendments calling for the rules governing the employment and use of local assistants to be tightened.
The European Parliament announced Monday (9 March) that it had alerted anti-fraud investigators to possible financial irregularities committed by France’s far-right National Front (FN) party over salaries paid to EU parliamentary assistants.
So-called “local” assistants help MEPs in their constituencies and their employment is not controlled by the institution, unlike the “accredited” assistants that work in Brussels and Strasbourg. MEPs have on average two accredited assistants and six local assistants.
But deviations from the rules have become increasingly common in recent years. Some MEPs have even used institutional money to pay assistants to do jobs that are completely unrelated to their parliamentary position.
This situation led to a first rule change in 2015, and several amendments have been submitted this year, calling for the Parliament to strengthen the rules surrounding this issue.
One of the amendments, submitted by the French Socialist MEP Gilles Pargneaux (S&D group), proposes placing a cap on the pay of local assistants at 25% of the MEP’s salary. The total sum available to the MEPs is €21,349 per month.
Another amendment stated that “some of the provisions of the new rules are vague and cause confusion”, and proposed that they be “clarified […] regarding the secondary activities of local assistants and service providers”.
Parliament is trying to clamp down on lawmakers employing excessive numbers of assistants. Among those with particularly high numbers of are Polish, Lithuanian, Bulgarian, Romanian and Eurosceptic MEPs. EurActiv France reports.
“These proposals enjoy the complete support of all the political groups in the European Parliament,” a source in the European Parliament told EurActiv.
But the National Front (NF) MEP Louis Aliot, the extreme right Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF) group rapporteur on the 2014 budgetary discharge, submitted amendments which simply erased these paragraphs.
“This comes as the NF is embroiled in a legal investigation into the employment of local assistants,” the source added.
In fact, in March 2015, the European Parliament had called on the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) to investigate 20 NF assistants suspected of not working for the institution.
The Paris prosecutor then opened a preliminary investigation into the NF’s parliamentary assistants “following the revelation of facts by Martin Schulz, the president of the institution, of facts that might characterise an abuse of trust”.
The Parliament’s internal regulations state that “only expenses for assistance which is necessary and directly linked to the exercise of a member’s parliamentary mandate may be defrayed” by the EU budget.
Attack on Martin Schulz
In Wednesday’s (27 April) plenary debate on the subject, Aliot did not address the question of rules concerning local assistants, but rather launched an attack on Schulz the German president of the European Parliament, accusing him of making fraudulent use of EU funds.
European Parliament President Martin Schulz today (13 March) brushed off accusations of hypocrisy made by Marine Le Pen’s National Front, after he reported the far-right party to anti-fraud investigators.
“Some questions remain unanswered, like the use of the institution’s money by the Parliament president for electoral purposes,” Aliot said.
The National Front had its greatest ever electoral success in the European elections of May 2014, taking nearly a quarter of France's national vote.
The party has the largest French delegation in the European Parliament, with 24 MEPs, from a total of 74 seats.
Marine Le Pen failed to form a group after the European elections last year, despite a surge in support for far right parties. At least 25 MEPs from seven different countries are needed to form a political group, which then qualifies for funding and more influence in the European Parliament.
On the evening of 15 June, Le Pen announced that she had finally fulfilled the criteria to form a group in the European Parliament.