During the European Parliament’s last Strasbourg session, one vote did not go unnoticed: the rejection of the Parliament plenary to waive the immunity of the leader of the European Parliamentary Group of the EPP affiliated New Democracy party of Greece, over a case alleging (among other things) tax evasion. A former assistant of MEP Manolis Kefalogiannis who brought the case to light, alleged that MEP had asked for part of her salary to be returned to him – an amount totaling €127,000 according to a recent press report.
The Greek justice system, and OLAF, which are running parallel investigations, will come to their conclusions about the case of Kefalogiannis. If the alleged illegal activity is found to have taken place in Belgium – its national authorities could also get involved. But this article will not go deeper into the specific case. Let’s forget about Kefalogiannis. This should be about a broken system that allows such abuse to happen. Because even if Kefalogiannis did not do these things, they are routinely done in many more cases than anyone would like to see in the press.
Indeed, the practice of Members of the European Parliament taking back part of the pay of assistants, or scientific advisors (or whatever the label on the business cards) under the table is not exactly the best kept secret of Brussels.
The method is simple. Over €20,000 is given to each MEP to hire staff. Staff in Brussels, and local staff in their home country. As an aspiring young person who wants to enter the fray of politics, imagine you are called in for an interview with your prospective employer, the new, or re-elected MEP.
“You’re highly qualified. I want you to work with me,” you are told, and then asked, “how much money would you be happy with after tax?”
It’s your first or second or third job. You know there is competition, so you respond coolly but calculatedly: “I’d be more than happy with €3,500 Euro.”
The next word makes you smile: “Deal.”
“…But, I’ll pay you €7,000 and you will give me back the €3,500. You see, I have to factor in that I have to contribute something to our political party, and of course my next re-election campaign. It’s really hard you know…”
And so it happens.
Every month, you leave an envelope on your new boss’s desk with the sum agreed – right next to the other two envelopes left by your two colleagues. Or, in slightly more advanced cases, you go to the bank and issue a second ATM card, so that your boss can just take the money out him/herself. Just two of many methods that are known to be used.
This is not a scoop. Too many people in Brussels know that it is happening. And it’s time we put the issue on the table
The reason the Kefalogiannis case is being actively swept under the rug (whether innocent or guilty), is because it could cause many, many whistleblowers to come out of the woodwork. Inspired by the momentum and empowerment of the #metoo campaign, it could finally happen.
And in an election year, that would be devastating for the European project. Hence It should come as no surprise that his immunity was not lifted. And it should also not come as a surprise that everything possible is being done behind the scenes to put the issue to rest as quietly as possible.
Why has no-one said something? So far, not because of the damage to the European project, but because of the damage it would cause to so many young people who make up the future of Europe working in the European Parliament. It’s a very small town, after all.