independent

Monday 21 April 2014

Taxpayers funding €1m EU gravy train

THE EU gravy train rumbles on despite sweeping austerity measures in place across the country.

The European Commission has spent more than €1m of Irish taxpayers' money on limousines, restaurants, school fees and a range of perks for officials, the Irish Independent can reveal.

Staff working in Ireland have enjoyed lavish parties, meals and subsidised transport to work as part of a massive spend on luxuries in 2010 and 2011.

The spend comes despite the Irish public being forced to endure a series of deep cuts in public spending over the past four years – with more on the way in Wednesday's Budget, including a property tax.

But despite the sweeping austerity, bureaucrats continue to enjoy the high life, with an analysis of spending records showing that taxpayers' money is being used to fund a range of staff perks.

They include private school fees, payments to help cover the cost of providing childcare and transport to work, health screening and language courses.

Almost €30,000 was spent on a BMW for the Dublin chief, along with a staggering €10,000 on a social event in Dublin last year.

This is the first time that details of lavish spending by the Commission in Ireland have emerged. It comes following detailed analysis of financial records by the Irish Independent, which reveals:

• Almost €125,000 was spent on catering and restaurants, including €5,000 on Ballygowan mineral water, in 2010 and 2011.

• Another €43,000 was spent on school fees and almost €500,000 is budgeted to help cover childcare and transport costs for staff working at The Grange in Meath, the European Union's Food and Veterinary office, up to 2015.

• €17,000 was given to the office's social club.

• €100,000 was paid for language training, and €19,000 on health screening.

• €10,000 went on hiring chauffeurs, and €12,000 on hospitality and hotels.

• Another €250,000 was spent in 2010 and 2009 employing a Social and Political Correspondent.

The spending also includes investment of more than €1m in films, €100,000 in town twinning meetings and more on academic research including €242,000 on a study in UCC on 'Sex in the Early Modern City: Musical Eroticism in Rome'.

Errors

It comes after the EU Court of Auditors recently criticised a litany of errors in all EU funding programmes, including those managed by the Commission, raising questions over more than €5bn in spending last year.

The data is gleaned from the EU's Financial Transparency system, which details spending in each member state. The expenses are funded by taxpayers across the bloc, including Ireland.

The EU Commission in Dublin defended the expenditure, but said it could not comment on all as it came from different budget headings.

This included money spent by the Commission's official representation in Dublin, the Food and Veterinary Office in Co Meath and payments made directly from Brussels to companies based in Ireland.

However, it said the amount spent on catering was incurred during a "large number" of events held for stakeholders including the public, social partners and non-governmental organisations.

School fees were only paid in "exceptional cases", and money was also spent on promotional material including pens, umbrellas and mouse-mats, along with prizes of cameras for young people.

Staff were obliged to undergo an annual medical exam, and chauffeurs were hired for visiting commissioners and VIPs.

A spokeswoman added that the spending was incurred by the Dublin office, the Food and Veterinary Office and the Commission under other budget headings.

Last year, the EU spent €129.4bn, with much of the money spent on structural funding, agriculture payments, investment in research and development and assistance to business. Some €60m was spent in Ireland on administrative expenses and research and other grants.

Plans by the Commission to increase its budget to more than €1trillion over the next seven years have stalled due to opposition from member states.

Among the sticking points was an increase in the Commission's administrative budget, where much of this spending would have occurred.

The Government is expected to conclude negotiations during next year, when we hold the EU Presidency.

Labour MEP Nessa Childers said the spending needed to be urgently looked at, especially in light of tough budget negotiations.

"All commission officers in member states have to look at their offices and see how they are spending money," she said.

"The EU budget needs to be directed for rural development and job creation, not for this kind of thing.

"Given the austerity being imposed on everyone, a lot of these things could be paid for out of people's salaries."

Irish Independent

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