Thursday 16 July 2009

The question of the Quaestors in the European Parliament

For the list of new Quaestors, see the end of the post!

Until I started this blog, I haven't been an expert on small details of EU politics, and I am still learning. For example, until quite recently, I had never heard about the term "Quaestor".

So let's use the occasion of yesterday's election of the five Quaestors (in the last term there were six of them) to take a short look at this function whose role is defined by article 26 of the European Parliament Rules of Procedure.

This rule states that they:
"shall be responsible for administrative and financial matters directly concerning Members, pursuant to guidelines laid down by the Bureau."
Let me first point to Grahnlaw who in February wrote an article about their legal background and some questions in this context. There is also a European Parliament sub-page on the College of Quaestors with some more details.

But most interesting is this interview (French video, ca. 5:30 min) with the ex-Quaestor Jacques F. Poos in which he says (quote from the translated transcription; my highlights):
"[T]he Quaestors are responsible for administrative matters that concern the MPs: everything regarding the financial modus operandi, allowances, travel expenses, as well as things to do with the activities of the European Parliament concerning visitors, publicity and the internal organisation, the allocation of offices among the groups, the organisation of exhibitions, events and so forth, which take place within the European Parliament.

It is work that is not considered as a political activity, but it is clearly necessary since Quaestors have to take decisions on individual cases regarding disputes between MPs and the administration. This happens from time to time.

For example, they are currently playing a role preparing for the establishment of the new enlarged Parliament. Preparatory work is obviously needed in order that when our new colleagues arrive in early July, things are in order, they have their offices and everything is in place.

But perhaps the most interesting prerogative of the Quaestors is that they are members of the Bureau of the European Parliament and thus participate in the meetings of the Bureau, where all the policy regarding staff and buildings and so on is discussed.
Taking into account that according to Grahnlaw they also issue the lobbyists' entry passes to the European Parliament, the Quaestors seem to have quite an interesting regulatory function that should get more attention by the outside world...

Names and voting results of yesterday's elections

First round (absolute majority needed):
Second round (absolute majority needed): None.

Third round (simple majority needed):
For the names of those not elected you can consult the EP press release.


Erik Wesselius said...

In his A Theoretical and Empirical Study of Corporate Lobbying in the European Parliament, researcher Pieter Bouwen explains the formal role of the Quastors and evaluates how they perform their role as gatekeepers of the Parliament:

"The five quaestors of the college have an important internal function within the Parliament, in that they are responsible for administrative and financial matters directly concerning the members. They are also politically responsible for the implementation of the rules on "Lobbying in Parliament" and "Transparency and Member's Financial Interests" (Rule of Procedure 9, Annex I and Annex IX). These rules are the cornerstone of the Parliament's policy to regulate the interaction between members of Parliament and private interests."

"The quaestor responsible for security in the Parliament is also responsible for the implementation of the rules that regulate the interaction with private interests."

"Any dispute of a member with regard to the activity of a representative or lobby is referred to the quaestor, who may decide whether to maintain or withdraw the pass concerned."

"It would however be wrong to conclude on the basis of the Rules of Procedure that the quaestors act as effective gatekeepers of the European Parliament. In practice, hardly any requests for passes based on the Rule of Procedure 9 (2) are refused."

"According to an administrator of the secretariat of the college of quaestors, the application of the rules over the last years has shown that passes are almost never withdrawn. In addition, the implementation of Rule of Procedure 9 (1) does not really shape the interaction between the private interests and the MEPs."

At CEO we have had some experience with the Questors, for example in the case of the European Business and Parliament Scheme, which had an office in the EP premises, using EP telephone numbers and email addresses. In the end the decision to break all links between the EP and the EBPS was taken not by the Quaestors but by the Conference of Presidents.

At another occasion we sent recommendations on improving transparency and oversight on EP cross party groups (often involving private interests) to the Quaestors, but never received a reply.
Our experiences thus seem to confirm Bouwens' negative evaluation.

Keeping the spotlights on the newly-elected Quaestors might help to make them perform their task as gatekeepers of the Parliament better than their predecessors.

Julien Frisch said...

That is an excellent comment, indeed!!