THE BLOG

Minus Six in Brussels

24/04/2014 11:13 BST | Updated 23/06/2014 10:59 BST

Imagine if your government announced that six key ministries - industry, budget and economic and monetary affairs amongst them - are being job shared by other ministers as the six are taking time off to try and land another job. If they fail to land said jobs, they can come back to work.

I can predict that in the UK the media would have a field day and a political crisis would manifest itself fairly quickly as the opposition levelled accusations that the government was treating the public that pays for their position with disdain.

It seems such a ludicrous situation that it is hard to picture it.

But the very same thing happened in the European Union a fortnight ago, minus the media coverage and minus the public backlash, mostly because people didn't even know it had happened.

The European Commission - the EU's executive arm - announced that six of its Commissioners are taking 'electoral leave' to fight the upcoming European Parliament elections. Their roles will be taken over by other Commissioners with no hands on experience of their brief, never mind their departments.

Once I got over my incredulity at the sheer absurdity of the situation, an interesting thought rose in my mind. If these departments can be shared, even for a short period, what is the point of the six commissioners? Are they even needed? The savings on their salaries alone of around 240,000 Euro per commissioner (excluding other allowances) is quite a tidy sum.

However the key thing that this fiasco highlights, is the level of political influence, and consequent political interference in the supposedly neutral corridors of the European Commission. There is a huge conflict of interest here. Commissioners are political appointees: Remember these people were not elected by suffrage, but by partisan governments.

So the notion of these people pledging to a code of conduct, promising impartiality in actions and defending the greater good, in this case the EU (an oxy-moron if ever there was one!) is unrealistic, to say the least . Undoubtedly they will remain loyal to their political parties, and also to the Institution that provides them with a lifestyle of private cars, allowances and perks that are the envy of other civil servants around the member states.

I remember when I was Chief Accountant at the European Commission, it was Neil Kinnock who sacked me for 'disloyalty' for the audacity I showed by pointing out that the EU accounts were open to massive fraud and refusing to sign off on payments that I knew could not be checked properly. The 'greater good' for Mr Kinnock was standing up for the organisation instead of the whistleblower seeking to protect taxpayers cash.

What is also alarming is that this political interference is spreading to other supposedly neutral EU entities. Take the European Court of Auditors for example. This body is tasked with scrutinising and reporting back on how EU funds are being spent. Year on year since 2009 the accounting 'errors' as they call them, have been getting worse. Unaccounted for money now stands at almost 5% of the entire EU budget. That is a colossal, multi billion figure.

With an increasing number of ex-MEPs and MPs serving as auditors (there are now 7 of the 30 auditors with such backgrounds) is this a co-incidence? I'm not so sure.

Returning to the European Commission, the arrogance shown by this decision to allow Commissioners time off is breath taking. Break it down and it comes to this: The six Commissioners are being allowed to stand for public office as an MEP and if the public doesnt like them they can just go back to their previous role.

If ever the public needed an example of the democratic deficit at the heart of the EU then this has to be it.