In the run-up to the French presidential elections, the European Parliament (EP) made much work of condemning Marine Le Pen for “using funds meant for European parliamentary assistants to pay staff for party work in France between 2012 and 2017, while still leader of the far-right National Front (FN).

Now an international investigation by almost fifty journalists from various European countries finds that that same EP might have been highly hypocrite in focusing on Le Pen. Called the MEPs Project, journalists from Knack, NOS, Stern, Newsweek Polska and 24 other media outlets checked the expenses from 748 (former) MEPs.

On top of a salary of  €8.484 before taxes a month, MEPs are allowed a lump sum allowance for expenses to the tune of €4.342, mainly intended to be spent on office space in their country of origin. This amounts to €39 million each year, but it is completely unclear what it is used for. There are no mechanisms in place to check if the money is spent correctly and MEPs are not beholden to prove their expenses.

One of the discrepancies is, that of 751 MEPs, only 494 say they have an office space outside of Brussels. What the others do with their expenses, is completely unclear. Knack writes:

We asked 667 MEPs to make their receipts public of their own accord so their expenses could be established. Only 53 proved willing to do so. Amongst them: no Belgians. From our investigations, it became apparent none of the Belgians ever refunded any of their expenses.

This should not come as a surprise. When voting on a series of amendments that were to bring more transparency and control over expenses, MEPs voted against it in an overwhelming majority. The NOS notes that 95% of MEPs for the EVP faction rejected the amendments, as did a majority of Guy Verhofstadt’s ALDE. Anti-corruption-organisation Transparency International says the lack of transparency is not sustainable. Director Anne Scheltema Beduin:

A majority of MEPs refuses to account for taxpayer’s money spent. This is detrimental for the trust in European institutions. The arrangement is a thorn in our side.

Knack quotes Belgian MEP Kathleen van Brempt:

The truth is: nobody knows what the rules are. It is high time for the European Parliament to clarify the matter.

And there’s the rub, for if the rules are clarified, you can’t use it as an excuse for selective witchhunts, you’d have to be consistent and open. Which is something of a problem for the EP. In fact, when the MEP Project asked for an inspection of all the expense notes, armed with the Open Government Act, the EP refused, quoting reasons of privacy, security and the assumed excessive workload. The journalists consequently filed a complaint with the European Court of Justice in November 2015. The case is under trial.