On 9 August, you reported that Austrian authorities had charged a former MEP, Ernst Strasser, with corruption following the 2011 ‘cash-for-influence' scandal. The MEP denies all the charges, and OLAF, the the European Commission's anti-fraud office, is conducting an investigation (“Former MEP indicted for corruption”, EuropeanVoice.com).
The case of another MEP, Adrian Severin, who was incriminated in the same scandal, is even more worrying. Strasser stepped down as an MEP, but Severin did not. His party has disowned him and the European Parliament has lifted his immunity at the request of the Romanian authorities. But the Parliament has imposed no sanction and has not initiated any monitoring procedure.
The absence of such measures has become even more glaring since the filing of separate charges in July by the Romanian authorities against two assistants of Severin's, this time for alleged involvement in defrauding the EU of more than €400,000, for fictitious services from six ‘shell' companies.
Since the ‘cash-for-influence' scandal, a new ethics code for MEPs has been introduced, including an improved system of declarations of interest. But this is unlikely to protect the Parliament from scandal. Recent analysis by Friends of the Earth Europe of MEPs' declarations of financial interests found that the new system is not yet living up to its purpose. For instance, the accuracy of statements is doubtful (one in four MEPs claims to have had no occupation before entering the Parliament). There is confusion about terms. There are no systematic checks. There is no pro-active investigation by the Parliament.
Without checks and investigation, transparency will not bring the improvement in ethics that is much needed in Brussels. Without such steps, doubts will linger about the credibility of declarations by MEPs. Severin's declaration seems comprehensive, mentioning several remunerated activities and unpaid memberships, but how ethically he behaves is at least equally important to regain the public trust.