•The European Environment Agency is one of those quangos that exists somewhere between reality and subsidy. In 2010, it received from the European Union purse - that is the taxpayer – more than €38m. No small sum. It is headed up by Professor Jacquie McGlade, a statistical marine biologist. Essentially, her career has been about building computer models. Her job runs until the middle of next year. And she has just received the most horrendous dressing-down from the normally supine Budgetary Control Committee of the European Parliament.
I will give you a flavour of the tone of the report. While you read this, please remember it is a European Parliamentary report; so not from a group of people who often criticise, but there you are. This is about her other interests and the particular expertise she has brought to the role of director of the EEA: "14 - notes that, until very recently, the executive director of the agency was a board member of Earthwatch and a member of the European advisory board of Worldwatch Europe, two environmental NGOs, alongside to her activities in the agency. 15 - is seriously concerned that in 2010, while the executive director was still directly involved in the management of Earthwatch, some staff members of the agency, including the executive director, went for five to 10 days of research in different biodiversity projects in the Caribbean or Mediterranean managed by Earthwatch and that the agency paid to the NGO about €2,000 per participant; understands that this unacceptable situation was repeated in 2011.
"16 - calls on the agency and its executive director to give the Budgetary Control Committee concrete information on these trips and to provide the total amount paid by the EEA to Earthwatch and Worldwatch in the financial years 2009 and 2010. 17 - finds it unacceptable that after the Court of Auditors questioned the trips, instead of a thorough investigation on the alleged misuse of funds and conflict of interest with regard to the agency's executive director, the participants – staff of the EEA - were asked to write notes on the usefulness of the research trips; reminds the Court of Auditors that its responsibility is to control the agency."
So we have what looks allegedly like a conflict of interest. And McGlade is still in her post. Next up, we have the news that under her watch there were other problems. The report is, moreover, concerned over alleged cases of fictitious employment of people who work in the private service of some of the agency's staff members, but are paid by the agency. This is the sort of thing that the mafia do. By the way, McGlade's post is what is called in Eurocrat jargon an 'AD 14 role' with a starting salary - before bonus, expatriation allowance and other benefits - of €13,000 or £11,000 a month.
The report also raised other issues, relating to contracts. It cast doubt on deals concerning canteen services, cleaning services, security services and furniture – and asked whether the agency had failed to ensure the maximum competition and value-for-money during the procurement procedures. Did it favour 'historical' contractors, even though these firms changed their official name over time? While McGlade waits to be replaced next June, she will have earned a further £154,000 before all those bonuses. So much for financial controls. Does the EEA do the job, dubious that it is, on its own terms? From this report, that looks dicey. The committee is concerned by the agency's performance. And we have to question the lack of substantial and innovative work from the EEA. So is the financial contribution of the EU to the agency ill-used? In my constituency of Yorkshire the situation would be described as an awful lot of heat, but very little light.
Godfrey Bloom is the UK Independence Party MEP for Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire