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Posted by Helen Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Here is a story akin to that famous apocryphal one: European Parliamentary candidates promise to be honest (well, almost). According to an article in the International Herald Tribune “[m]ore than 200 candidates have signed a pledge in nine different languages with the Campaign for Parliament Reform to strengthen the Parliament's code of conduct.”

To the candidates’ (and some journalists’) surprise the issue has shown itself to be more important than “weightier ones like the war in Iraq or immigration”. Why anyone should think that the subject of our legislators’ honesty and how the taxpayers’ money is spent are not weighty issues, passes comprehension, but that’s journalists and politicians for you.

Almost 100 German candidates have signed a pledge to take reimbursements of travel expenses at actual cost. They have been supported by the Austrians, even the socialists, who have been shunning their colleague, Peter Martin, since his temerity of filming various MEPs signing in to collect expenses without doing any work at all.

The Greek socialist party, rather tarnished by past financial scandals, have chosen a completely new list of candidates. These have pledged to impose stringent accounting controls on their pay and privileges, causing some surprise among hardy campaigners for reform in the European Parliament as the Greeks had never signed or supported any previous attempts to overhaul the system.

In Britain, the inevitable Martin Bell has popped up and promised the following: "If elected, I shall: Open my expense accounts to public scrutiny on a monthly basis. Work from a constituency address that really exists. Not employ any of my relatives." He, of course, as some of our readers will remember, forfeited his white steed and shining armour by admitting that his campaign against Neil Hamilton had been run and financed by the local Labour and Lib-Dem parties, by breaking his previous promise not to stand the second time, and by standing against an inoffensive Conservative MP rather than any very offensive and corrupt Labour ones.

The problem with all this outbreak of transparency was perceived immediately by the Austrian Peter Martin and the Dutch “whistleblower”, now independent parliamentary candidate, Paul Van Buitenen. A rather patchy, nationally based set of pledges and promises, which remain infuriatingly vague as to date of commencement, is not going to alter the fact that the European Parliament is incapable of putting its own affairs into order.

We shall have to see how many of the pledge givers, when elected, will live up to their fine words.