In February 2008, a closed meeting was held by the budget committee of the European Parliament. No media were permitted to attend, and members of the committee were not permitted to record any part or take any notes from a report they were given. The report, drafted by the Parliament’s own Internal Auditor Robert Galvin, is called the Parliamentary Assistance Allowance Report 2006, and details a litany of corrupt expenses practices in the European Parliament, in detail.
On hearing of the report, a young Irish barrister called Ciaran Toland wrote to the Secretary-General of the European Parliament requesting a copy of the report. Let me put something on the record about Ciaran Toland. Ciaran is a close friend of mine, and is well known in Irish pro-European circles. When the Nice Treaty was rejected in June 2001, Ciaran was a founder member of Ireland for Europe, and played an active role in the Yes campaign in the second Nice vote. He then became a member of the board of the European Movement, a member of the youth convention on the European Constitution, a member of the Forum on Europe, and was active in the Lisbon 2 campaign. Ciaran Toland believes in the European Union, and European unity. Yet he was outraged to receive a letter from Diana Wallis MEP (Liberal Democrat), on behalf of the European Parliament Bureau of Presidents, representing the European Parliament, and stating that “The use Members make of the allowances available to them is a sensitive matter followed with great interest by the media. Elements of the report could be used to derail the debate on the reform of the system and compromise rapid reform. Therefore, disclosure of the Report would, at present, seriously undermine the decision-making of the European Parliament”.
In other words, the European Parliament has said that the taxpayers of Europe who fund the parliament cannot be trusted to know how their money is being spent by that parliament. Now, this all sounds a bit technical, but just imagine if Enda Kenny said the same thing about Oireachtas expenses: that there is a report outlining abuse, but “to grant access to this document, even partially, would compromise the effective use of its contents and the early introduction of reforms to the parliamentary assistance allowance system”. Would it be quietly accepted, or would he now be fighting for his political life?
But parliament had spoken. That was that, wasn’t it? For most people, myself included, would have shrugged their shoulders and walked away. I mean, this is the European Parliament. You’re not going to fight the European Parliament, are you?
Except, that’s what he did. Ciaran took the European Parliament to the European Court, where they gave judgment today, after a hearing on December 7th 2010. He did so with great reluctance, knowing full well the danger of being labelled a eurosceptic, which he is not.
As I said, Ciaran is a friend of mine, and so I’m biased. He’s not doing this because of he wants to damage the EU, or the European Parliament. He believes in both. He is standing up because he is outraged that a democratic institution believes it has a right to deny information to the very people who elect and fund it. That is damaging to both the European Union and the Parliament, and someone has to stand up and say so.
One man just did, and this morning the European Court agreed with him. You can read about his victory in the European Court of Justice here.