It’s that time of year that the political parties and their foundations are being audited for their expenditures by the European Parliament’s DG Finance and then rubber stamped by the European Parliament’s Political Bureau. A very important task for accountability and indeed democracy as citizens’ taxes are given to European political parties as grants and spent under specific terms and conditions – such as expenditure having to be for projects with a European dimension, and that projects cannot be carried out to further national politics of a particular party.
At the top of the administrative pyramid that sees the money European political parties are dependent on to keep functioning is the European Parliament’s Secretary-General, Klaus Welle. The implementation of the checks and balances is under the management of the Director–General for Finance, Didier Klethi. Kassandra has found that sadly, the process is more politics than procedure.
This year, 19 out of 25 files were given the Green light at first instance. Klethi and his team sent on the files with their seal of approval for the Political Bureau to rubber stamp, which they did at the last meeting. Three European political parties, and three foundations found themselves in muddy waters, having to respond to follow-up questions from DG Finance.
Procedurally, these follow-up questions are submitted to DG Finance, which then makes a note for the political bureau to vote on whether penalties are imposed, or if the file closes without problems.
The process behind the money
Interestingly, among the 6 accounts which have been put in question, is the European political party of Matteo Salvini – Movement of a Europe of Nations and Freedom (MENL), in the European Parliament known as the Europe of Nations and Freedom Group. Salvini, an up and coming force of anti-Brussels sentiment, may well want to run as a Spitzenkandidat for the European Elections. In the run up to the European Elections in 2014, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who was yet to come into office, ran as the lead candidate for the European Left.
The budgets for the political parties are significant. Last week, Kassandra unveiled the estimated budgets for the European political parties and foundations. Salvini’s European political family and foundation stand to benefit from the increased budgets of 2019 to a tune of over €3.5m to use for their election campaign.
So Director-General Klethi has presumably had a further exchange with MENL, to tell them that some of their projects are ineligible for X,Y,Z reasons, asking for further explanations when projects are considered not in line with the rules.
A source from one of the political parties singled out in this process, told Kassandra that Klethi confirmed that there is no appeal process foreseen. Which means that Klethi’s note, and subsequent bureau vote is irreversible and not subject to appeal.
The decision of whether Salvini’s party and the other 5 entities will see the money for their functioning, their election campaigns, and the core operations come through in their entirety or at all.
The source told Kassandra that this very significant amount of money focuses on arbitrary technicalities such as the sizing of logos and locations of conferences. It is peculiar that all parties which have seen the closing of their accounts approved (including the EPP, ALDE, and PES), have all held events outside the European Union including places like Las Vegas, Ethiopia, Niger, Ukraine, Morocco, Lebanon, and many others.
In an exchange with Klethi over a project that was singled out by DG Finance, the Source told Kassandra that Klethi retorted, “do it in Europe,” completely ignoring the whole list of other events that he had already approved.
The politics behind the process
After Klethi and his team will have listened to all the reasoning of the 6 entities for which the files were not approved for closure, a note is drafted for each case, and then the political bureau will vote on each of the six entities after taking that note into account – with simple majority taking the win. However, there is a conflict of interest, as the political bureau is comprised of politicians. The 20 members are comprised of: 7 from the EPP, 6 from the S&D, 2 each from the ECR and ALDE, and 1 each from EFDD, Greens/EFA, GUE/NGL.
Last year, the EFDD’s European Political Party and foundation were forced to close through the very same process and their money was redistributed to the other political parties – with the EPP and S&D netting over 50% of the total amount.
This year, 6 of the 25 parties and foundations have their budgets hanging in the balance. Their political opponents stand to benefit from the redistribution of this war chest, and the ones casting deciding vote. Judge, jury, and executioners.
The cherry on the cake: Salvini’s Group in the European Parliament has no representative in the Political Bureau to defend itself.
More on this from Kassandra as the story develops.