Monday, April 26, 2004

Euro MP silent

By Ross Smith,
Newcastle Journal

A Euro MP silent? Now there's a thing!

A leading North Euro-MP has become caught up in a extraordinary row with an Austrian counterpart over parliamentary allowances.

Footage emerged over the weekend of North-East Euro MP Gordon Adam in an altercation with Austrian MEP Hans-Peter Martin in the normally sedate setting of the European Parliament in Strasbourg. Dr Adam yesterday refused to explain the picture of him standing over Mr Martin, who is lying on the floor of the parliament building.

Dr Martin had been trying to film Dr Adam, alleging he was claiming a daily payment of £175 on Friday - a day when the Parliament does not sit. Mr Martin claims to have video evidence of many MEPs claiming their attendance allowances only to leave Parliament minutes later.

There are no rules to prevent the practice. One Sunday newspaper alleged that Dr Adam had tried to first grab the Austrian's video camera, then Mr Martin himself, who subsequently fell over. Dr Adam was reported as denying Mr Martin's allegations and referring to the Austrian as a "disgrace."

But yesterday Dr Adam refused to say if he had ever claimed an allowance and then left the Parliament building straight away. He referred all questions to a statement made by European Parliament President Pat Cox last week, in which former investigative journalist Mr Martin's methods of spying on his colleagues were described as "reminiscent of another time and another place".

Mr Cox said: "It appears to me that there has been no attempt to use the normal procedures of this house, which have been bypassed in a grotesque attempt to maximise personal publicity." And on the question of allowance claims, he said: "On the basis of what was sent to me there is zero evidence to support the claims of wrongdoing or a breach of the rules."

Yesterday, at his converted farmhouse home on Tyneside, Dr Adam said: "I'm not prepared to say any more than that.

"While he (Pat Cox) has been president, he's tried to eradicate some of the little problems we have. There is no evidence at all that anything the President said is not correct. Obviously, the matter has been looked at very carefully."

Dr Adam will not stand in this year's postal ballot. But he plans to play a prominent role in trying to secure the re-election of his Labour colleagues Stephen Hughes and Barbara O'Toole.

Yesterday Ms O'Toole also attacked Mr Martin's methods, saying: "When MEPs sign into the House they are usually doing Parliamentary work that day.

"That can be any sort of Parliamentary work, from dealing with emails, office work, case work, working in committee. When an MEP signs in, you can safely say that day they are working on behalf of their constituents. What he (Martin) seems to have done is interpret the role of the Parliament in a very novel way."

Currently MEPs can claim attendance allowance on Fridays at Strasbourg - even though the Parliament sits from Monday to Thursday. This is on top of their annual salary - £55,000 for UK representatives. Mr Martin believes this is immoral and claims to have records of 197 MEPs - including 36 from the UK - signing on for their allowance and leaving the Parliament building within the hour.

Neil Herron, a leading anti-EU campaigner and one of Sunderland's `metric martyrs', said: "We are aware that all an MEP has to do on the day is sign on to get his allowance. "This is not an abuse because members are quite entitled to claim the allowance, but there is no scrutiny of this, which is not acceptable."

Mr Martin could not be contacted for comment yesterday.

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