13,000 officials spent €120m on EU credit cards in space of one year
European Union officials spent more than €120m in a year on specially issued credit cards to pay for meals and hotels, figures show, prompting calls for greater transparency on spending.
About 13,000 employees of the EU and related agencies have been issued with cards to pay for accommodation and entertainment while travelling on business, as well as making personal purchases.
The disclosure comes from a tender document issued as the institutions seek a new six-year contract with a credit card supplier, and offers a rare insight into an allowances regime that is opaque compared with the system in other EU states.
EU staff working away from home "on mission" are entitled to a daily allowance of up to €117 a day, depending on the country they are in, to cover meals and "incidental expenses". The rate does not include hotels.
They can also claim for an "entertainment allowance" where deemed necessary in the course of their duties.
A total of €103.4m was charged to the cards in 2013. That does not include train and air travel costs, and amounts to around €9,300 per cardholder.
Cards were issued to 143 officials based in the UK who spent €50,690. Some 362 officials in Germany spent €2.15m and 79 officials in France spent about €396,000. The majority were based in Belgium.
The cards are issued to help officials claim expenses, but they are linked to their private bank accounts. They then apply to the European Commission or their own department for reimbursement to pay the credit card bill within 60 days. They are also allowed to make private purchases on the cards.
EU sources said it was impossible to say how much of the €120m spent on the cards was ultimately claimed back as expenses - and therefore the overall cost to the taxpayer - because it would require "lengthy and costly research" into individual claims.
Officials declined to release a copy of the full regulations on expenses claims, saying it would "compromise" the contract tendering process.