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1ST LEAD EU Parliament confronts far-right group over Champagne, meal expenses By Helen Maguire, dpa

Europe
29.03.2018
By our dpa-correspondent and Europe Online    auf Facebook posten  Auf Twitter posten  
Brussels (dpa) - Far-right EU lawmakers spent more than 400,000 euros (492,300 dollars) of taxpayer money on expenses including Champagne, lavish meals and generous gifts in 2016, according to an opinion issued by the European Parliament‘s budgetary committee.

The Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF) group includes eurosceptic and far-right parties such as France‘s National Front, the League in Italy, the Party for Freedom led by Dutch right-wing populist Geert Wilders and Austria‘s Freedom Party (FPOe).

The group‘s 2016 financial report was subjected to an external audit which identified "several instances of non-compliance" with the EU parliament‘s expenditure rules, the budgetary committee wrote in its opinion, seen Thursday by dpa.

Among other things, the group bought 228 bottles of Champagne, plus an "additional six bottles of a value of 81 euros," according to the budgetary committee.

Austria‘s FPOe put the blame on the French legislators of the National Front.

EU lawmaker Harald Vilimsky, who leads the FPOe delegation in the EU legislature and serves as ENF deputy chief, suggested that the French drink Champagne in the way that Austrians drink white wine.

The FPOe had not ordered a single bottle, he told Austrian press agency APA. "I don‘t drink champagne. I don‘t like the taste," he said.

"The criticism is justified," Vilimsky added, noting that the ENF had reacted by parting ways with its former secretary-general Ludovic de Danne.

The Champagne "is in effect an expense undertaken by the French delegation," said EU lawmaker Nicolas Bay of the National Front. The bottles were ordered for receptions, he said, noting that this was common practice in the parliament.

Bay also argued that most of the expenses were being challenged on the basis of rules that only came into effect in 2017.

The committee found that more than 388,000 euros worth of expenses were non-compliant by exceeding thresholds, failing to abide by procurement rules and possibly creating conflicts of interest, while around 39,000 euros worth of expenditure lacked supporting evidence.

"Meals costing 400 euros per person are not reasonable nor compatible with the principle of sound financial management, and therefore not acceptable," the committee wrote. "The same should apply to 110 individual Christmas gifts worth 100 euros each," it added.

The funds should be recovered from the ENF group, the committee said in its opinion, which was sent to EU Parliament President Antonio Tajani on March 23.

The 2016 expense reports for the parliament‘s seven other political groups were approved without further incident.

 

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