The European Parliament has voted to withhold approval of the 2010 expenditures of three European Union agencies because of alleged conflicts of interest and other irregularities.
In a close vote, MEPs in plenary today (10 May) denied the so-called ‘discharge’ for 2010 spending of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the European Environment Agency (EEA).
Withholding discharge for the three agencies had been recommended by the Parliament’s budgetary-control committee.
Monica Macovei, a Romanian centre-right MEP who drafted the committee’s position on the three agencies, as well as on 21 other agencies whose accounts were approved, called on all EU bodies to reconsider their rules on conflicts of interest.
The plenary vote came two days after Diána Bánáti was asked by EFSA to step down as chair of its management board, after she told the agency that she was going to rejoin the board of the International Life Sciences Institute Europe (ILSI), a research and advocacy group. MEPs had asked the European Court of Auditors to investigate alleged conflicts of interest at EFSA, including Bánáti’s links to the food industry.
MEPs also want answers about the costs of meetings of EFSA’s 15-member board, which amount to €92,630 per meeting on average, according to Macovei’s report.
The centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) group in the Parliament was divided on whether to approve the agencies’ spending, while the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group voted in favour.
The Liberal (ALDE) group followed the committee’s recommendation and withheld discharge of EFSA, but granted it to EMA and EEA, the environment agency based in Copenhagen. Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy, a Dutch MEP who is the ALDE group’s spokesman on the 2010 discharge, said that the EEA had set an example of good management and that alleged conflicts of interest had all been rebutted. “It looks like there is a hidden political agenda directed towards the director of the EEA,” Gerbrandy said, a reference to Jacqueline McGlade.
Macovei had found that McGlade served as a board member of a non-governmental organisation, Earthwatch, at a time when the agency was funding the group.
Ingeborg Grässle, the EPP’s spokeswoman on budgetary control, said: “A discharge for the environment agency would have been a blank cheque for the careless use of taxpayers’ money.”
Grässle welcomed the decision not to approve the spending of the three agencies. “We now have the time to investigate the allegations on expenditure and conflicts of interest,” she said.
The three agencies have until September to provide fuller explanations of their spending in 2010, with the Parliament voting later in the autumn on whether to approve or reject their accounts.
MEPs also withheld approval of spending in 2010 by the EU’s Council of Ministers, as part of a bid for greater oversight of the Council’s accounts. Michael Theurer, a German Liberal MEP who chairs the Parliament’s budgetary-control committee, said that in the committee’s view, no public expenditure should be exempt from democratic control.
The MEPs approved the accounts of all other institutions and agencies, including the European Commission.
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