The EU’s highest court has been accused of raising “ethical risks” by allowing judges to use taxpayer-funded chauffeurs for personal trips, and of failing to engage with the European Parliament over its concerns.

All 38 judges and top lawyers at the Court of Justice of the European Union in Luxembourg have an official car with a driver at their disposal. Last week, lawmakers in the European Parliament sounded the alarm over a potential misuse of this service for private trips to judges’ home countries during the 2018 financial year.

The Parliament warned of “high reputational and ethical risks” for the court, stressing that suchtrips outside of Luxembourg unrelated to work should happen “only in exceptional and justified cases.” Lawmakers also raised concerns about incidents in which judges ordered chauffeurs to drive to their home countries unaccompanied.

“Nobody understands whether these chauffeur services can be qualified as work trips or whether they are private trips. It’s very problematic,” said Tomáš Zdechovský, a Czech lawmaker for the European People’s Party who drafted the resolution. “There needs to be full transparency.”

The warning from Parliament comes at a critical moment for the EU’s highest judicial body, after Germany’s Constitutional Court this month issued a bombshell ruling perceived to challenge its authority.

Juan Carlos González, the court’s spokesperson, told POLITICO that the court had started to apply “a more restrictive approach” to the use of official cars with drivers since 2018 because it “felt the necessity to clarify the internal rules.”

González said there had been 32 cases in 2017 of judges traveling with their driver to their home country or other countries for reasons that could not be specified as work travel. These included for attending private viewings of art exhibitions, as well as for health or security reasons or for funerals. In 2018, there had been 23 cases, while in 2019 there were only three. González said all these cases had been “exceptional and justified.”

He also said there had been 13 cases in 2018 in which a driver went to a home country to pick up a judge because a strike or bad weather had impeded other travel options. “Since then, such trips have effectively ceased,” he said.

Zdechovský accused the court of failing to reply to Parliament’s questions directly about the nature of the trips and what steps the court was taking on the issue, in advance of the resolution.

“It would have been enough to reply in an email. But they didn’t engage at all. This is why we were so critical,” he said.

Parliament’s warning was issued as part of an annual review of the court’s spending, the so-called discharge procedure. While the legislature passed the court’s 2018 accounts, it stressed that it “deplores not having been informed by the [Court of Justice] of any plans to enhance the control system related to the use of official cars.”

The resolution, adopted by 604 votes in favor to 78 against (with 11 abstentions), asked the court “to report back” on improvements made no later than June.

Asked to respond to the criticism of a lack of engagement, González said: “The Court is committed to implementing the recommendations and to respond to the questions of the [Parliament] as quickly as possible and confirms both its openness and its determination to enhance constantly the control of all its activities. We are not aware of this absence of response on our side to a question concerning the control system for official cars.”

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