Scandal in European Parliament steals spotlight from accomplishments

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

It has happened again. And just when things were looking up.

The image-suffering European Parliament has been hit yet again by a financial scandal.

This one involves ''only'' about $100,000. But public attention has been distracted from the good things this legislative arm of the European Community continues to do.

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Forget that it repeatedly condemns martial law in Poland. Forget that it consistently calls on national governments to combat unemployment and terrorism. And forget that although it lacks real power, it comes closer than anything else to reflecting the true European voice, with 434 members representing 10 countries and ranging the gamut of political persuasion, conservative to Communist.

The latest scandal was unearthed mainly by British reporters last week, who reported the cost of a one-day celebration on Wednesday marking the 30th anniversary of the world's only directly elected international assembly. It turns out the festivites set the European taxpayer back 118,000 European currency units (about $112,000).

Parliament officials defended the sum, saying that what they got for it - a concert by the 112-member European Community Youth Orchestra conducted by Sir Georg Solti (and flown to Strasbourg, France, and housed for five days of rehearsal), a buffet for 1,800 guests, and a ceremonial setting of the Parliament including birthday speeches to be translated later into the EC's seven official languages - was a bargain.

''But who celebrates a 30th anniversary of anything anyway?'' one member of the Parliament asked. ''It seems the Parliament goes out of its way to spend money.''

The scandal was small change compared with previous so-called revelations. Some officials say a CBS ''60 Minutes'' documentary last years, called ''The Gravy Train,'' may have ruined the Parliament's image in the US for good. Earlier this year, some parliamentarians were accused of fiddling with millions of dollars in expense money. An investigation is under way.

While the current ruckus may be minor, it is damaging.

A joint statement by several Parliament members calling the celebrations ''an amazing Euro beanfeast'' and ''an insult to the 10 million unemployed in Europe'' was quickly picked up by the media.

Former British Cabinet Minister Barbara Castle - now an influential member of the Parliament - said she was boycotting the festivities, adding that it would be ''hypocritical'' of her to attend.

''We'll survive,'' a Parliament official said philosophically, ''until the next scandal.''

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