The European Commission nearly lost the Parliament’ confidence

Mikuláš Peksa MEP
Headquarters building in Brussels, Belgium, Europe

Frontex, Council and EESC under fire

Belgium, (Brussels Morning Newspaper) In this year’s discharge procedure, which aims at scrutinising the implementation of the EU budget of 2020, the European Parliament identified a number of serious shortcomings in the management of the EU institutions. As Pirates, we pushed for more transparency, respect of fundamental rights, protection of whistle-blowers and victims of harassment, as well as promotion of digitalisation based on open-source principles. 

For the first time since 1998, the Commission came very close to losing the confidence of the Parliament. Back then, the Commission headed by Santander refused to answer questions related to financial mismanagement and, therefore, following a negative opinion of the Parliament, resigned as a whole. We now again demanded the EU executive to step up the budgetary controls and act more decisively in cases of breaches of rule of law, conflicts of interests, misuse of agriculture and cohesion funds, as well as the growing oligarch structures drawing on EU funds. We also want to finally see the full list of the biggest final beneficiaries of EU funds, which should be publicly accessible. It is unacceptable that this information is kept secret, mostly by Member States. 

However, the fatal case of Frontex was probably the most striking this year, as the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) confirmed that the agency was doing illegal pushbacks of migrants on their way to Europe. Following this revelation, our alliance of progressive parties managed to gather a majority against supporting the agency. This led to the resignation of the Frontex Director, Fabrice Leggeri, and will be followed by a reorganisation of the agency that will hopefully allow for better respect of human rights and international laws. 

The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) also failed to obtain support from the Parliament for the second time already because of poor Human Resources practices. The inability of the institution to protect and support victims of harassment and misconduct by one of their members led to mistrust in the impartiality of the Secretary General, Gianluca Brunetti. 

When it comes to the Council, this is the 12th year in a row that the Parliament is refusing to grant discharge to the institution, as they persistently refuse to cooperate. The institution argues that, being the co-legislator, the Parliament has no right to overlook how the Council spends its budget. We believe that there shall be full transparency over the spending of public money and this should always be checked by the institution representing the citizens. The current situation is absolutely unacceptable in a free and democratic union. 

Great emphasis and scrutiny also descended on the European Court of Auditors (ECA) this year, in light of the numerous media reports about the alleged abuse of benefits available to the Members, who are selected by their Member State’s government. The discussion on the urgent need for more transparency, regaining of trust, and deep reform of the ethics rules in the Court started when it was revealed that the ECA President, Klaus-Heiner Lehne, was sub-renting rooms in his apartment to his subordinates, while receiving all household related allowances. Following the critical discharge report, he has announced that he won’t be running for the next presidency anymore. 

Last but not least, we managed to push for more transparency and fundamental rights in the Parliament. The administration is now obliged to check the spendings done with the General Expenditure Allowance, which is provided to Members to cover their office costs. This additional scrutiny means that less public money will be misused in the institutions. We also managed to introduce strong language against the use of biometric technology in the Parliament, as we believe that there are less invasive methods, which do not require mass surveillance, in order to check on the attendance of Members. For example, electronic attendance registers could rely on Members badges or their mobile phones, in addition to random checks by human monitoring.

Overall, we are very happy with the outcome of the discharge reports on the EU institutions, bodies and agencies. While the Commission did manage to secure its support for now, thanks to the conservative votes, the pressure on the executive body has been felt and some first results have emerged. 

The use of the Rule of Law Mechanism against Hungary is the main example of a positive achievement. More effort still needs to be done to effectively protect the EU’s budget, such as the activation of the Rule of Law mechanism against Poland as well. In October, we will reconsider whether there have been any improvements that deserve proving the Parliament’ support after all. In the event of a sustained negative opinion, the institutions will be considered as less trustworthy and they will have to undergo some internal changes and submit to even greater scrutiny.

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Mikuláš Peksa is a Czech biophysicist, activist and a Czech Pirate Party politician elected Member of the European Parliament in the 2019 election, member of the Greens–European Free Alliance parliamentary group.