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Friday 22 August 2014

Transparency on spending tucked way out of sight

Paul Melia

Published 01/12/2012 | 05:00

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THE European Commission's Financial Transparency System is far from transparent, with the figures buried in thousands of pages of records and requiring huge efforts to extract.

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The files are so large that most home computers would crash if trying to access the data.

Details of more than 90,000 individual payments are available on massive spreadsheets, but they are not broken down by country. This means the data must be sorted into payments made in each member state – which still produced more than 700 individual payments for Ireland for each year.

This is despite the Commission being repeatedly criticised for not providing detailed information on its spending, in an easily accessible format.

Just two years ago, the UK-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism revealed that officials across the 27 member states had spent €7.5m hiring private jets between 2006 and 2010.

At the time, it criticised the lack of detail on spending saying it was "almost useless".

The investigation revealed that senior officials travelled in limousines, stayed in five-star hotels and splashed out on lavish gifts including Tiffany jewellery as member states grappled with savage budget cuts over the four-year period examined.

In some cases, senior officials demanded the use of private jets, while tens of thousands of euro was spent accommodating commissioners at luxury five-star hotels in locations including Ghana, Vietnam and Papua New Guinea.

More than €300,000 was spent on cocktail parties – including one event in Amsterdam costing €75,000 which was described as "a night filled with wonder like no other . . . state-of-the-art technology, challenging art, combined with trendy cocktails, surprising performances and top DJs".

Orchestras were hired to play at exclusive parties.

Guest speakers were presented with expensive gifts, with commissioners also holidaying at luxury resorts in Papua New Guinea and Ghana during 2009.

On one occasion, a delegation of 44 staff was flown to the five-star Palm Garden Resort in Vietnam for an event to "facilitate internal cooperation".

Irish Independent

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