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In an unusual display of European unity, the European Parliament's biggest groups, the European People's Party and the Socialists, joined forces in March to suppress a critical report on the Parliament's spending habits, writes Stephen Gardner.

The report, by Belgian MEP Bart Staes, on the discharge of the Parliament's 2008 budget, was smothered by more than 200 amendments in the budgetary control committee. The amendments, said one MEP, "absolutely demolish this report" and mean that officials will not have to face further questions about their management of the Parliament's vast £1.4 billion budget (nearly three times the cost of both British Houses of Parliament).

Among the highlights expunged from Staes's report: an undertaking that taxpayers would not be fleeced to cover a £108 million actuarial deficit in the MEPs' voluntary pension fund; criticism of failure to implement external audit recommendations; a paragraph stressing "that European citizens have a right to be informed about [MEPs'] use of public funds"; and any mention of the Parliament's colander-like budgetary control and risk management procedures.

This last means that the directors of the parliament's different departments will continue to sign off their own spending without second opinions. Unsurprisingly, these declarations "are always good news stories," Staes said. The weak control was neatly summed up by the purchase in 2005 of six body scanners – the type that strip scannees naked. These cost £650,000 but MEP health and dignity concerns mean they have never been used. The Parliament has recently tried and failed to offload them, finding demand for now rather out-of-date second-hand body scanners to be limited.

But it's not all bad news. German MEP Jorgo Chatzimarkakis, who supported Staes, said that at least the European Parliament is not the continent's dodgiest when it comes to budgetary oversight. That would be the British parliament.

A version of this article appeared in Private Eye.

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