Monday

13th Jul 2020

Magazine

The murky perks of an MEP

MEPs in the European Parliament are entitled to generous perks on top of their monthly salaries of over €8,000.

But weak oversight, and the lack of a proper paper trial on these 'expenses', may have helped generate some of the backlash against an EU institution which already often struggles to connect with the public.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

Turnout at the elections went from a high of 62 percent in 1979 to only 42 percent in 2014, official figures show.

Sensing this voter antipathy, even antagonism, recent manifestos from the centre-right European People's Party (EPP) and the liberal Alde groups have all demanded greater transparency in the EU institutions.

Yet the voting records at committee level since those manifestos were published point to a concerted effort to maintain a culture of secrecy at the European parliament - a position largely pushed by the EPP.

The EPP in January even imposed a secret ballot of MEPs on pro-transparency measures regarding lobbying. They lost.

Internal deliberations among political party presidents and vice-presidents had also overruled wide support by MEPs for greater transparency on how they spend taxpayers' money on themselves.

Among those seeking to keep a lid on it all is German centre-right MEP and vice-president Rainer Wieland.

Wieland had been entrusted to spearhead reforms to build public trust in the EP ahead of elections in May. But he has opposed proposals which would require MEPs to keep receipts for expenses, and have MEPs only meet with registered lobbyists.

The salary

Up until 2009, an MEP's salary was pegged to their domestic national counterparts.

This created some large salary gaps between MEPs from different member states. For example, MPs in Malta earned around €21,000 a year compared to some €170,000 in Italy.

To counter such a divide, a decision was made to set an MEP's monthly pay check at 38.5 percent of the basic salary of a judge at the European Court of Justice.

It means that today an MEP, regardless of nationality, receives €8,757.70 per month - €6,824.85 after taxes.

A whole range of benefits come on top of that, some of them controversial. Some perks continue to pay out even if they no longer work at the European Parliament.

For instance, European commissioner for climate Miguel Arias Canete, a former MEP, continues to draw a pension from the European parliament, despite the approximately €20,000 he now takes home every month for his job at the commission.

He draws the money from a controversial voluntary pension scheme that last year was running a €326m actuarial deficit.

The pension scheme was stopped in 2009 but continues to pay out - and is likely to go bust in a few years, leaving the EU public with the bill.

The MEP top-ups

In addition, MEPs receive an extra €4,500 a month for office expenses, tax-free. This money goes directly into their personal bank accounts, and costs a total of some €40m a year.

Unlike most employees' 'expenses', MEPs are not required to keep any receipts, leaving it an open question as to what extent they actually spend the money on things like office supplies.

A group of journalists in 2017 from across Europe had attempted to find out but were met with either derision, silence, or partial responses.

Of the MEPs they approached, some 249 either said they had no office, or refused to reveal their addresses. In some cases, the location of their alleged office could not be found.

Manfred Weber, a German centre-right MEP who is vying to become the next president of the European Commission, has his local office in an annex to his private home in a small village in the Bavarian countryside.

He did not reply to questions, when pressed by the journalists to explain. Yet he is also asking, as part of his campaign to become commission president, for greater transparency.

In a resolution in late 2017, the European parliament backed plans for greater transparency on how such monthly expenses are spent. The following year, some 540 MEPs voted in favour.

Those MEPs in favour demanded that the monthly expense sum be deposited in a separate bank account; that MEPs should keep receipts; and that the unspent share of the general expenditure allowance (GEA) should be returned to the parliament's coffers at the end of an MEP's mandate.

But only the demand to have the money go to separate account, still with no oversight, was allowed following a behind-closed-doors meeting by the Bureau in 2018.

Other efforts to allow willing MEPs to voluntarily publish an audit of their monthly expenses on the European parliament website have also been met with resistance, mostly from centre-right MEPs. And the EPP resistance to such measures has found allies with the liberal Alde group.

Hotels and travel

Aside from the €4,500 tax-free general allowance expenditure, MEPs are also entitled to a flat-rate of €320 per day to cover things like hotels when on official business in Brussels or Strasbourg.

They also receive a daily allowance of €160 whenever they meet outside the European Union. They can get up to €4,454 per year reimbursed for any travel outside their own country. Another two-thirds of their medical expenses are also reimbursed.

Despite all this, many still hold second jobs in the private sector, posing further questions on their mandate to serve the public that voted them in.

Among the biggest outside earners is Lithuanian MEP Antanas Guoga, a poker champion and entrepreneur who pulled in just under €800,000 in outside income in 2018.

Nigel Farage, the British eurosceptic MEP who often rails against a 'Brussels elite' but has used a private jet to attend the plenary sessions in Strasbourg, earned up to €420,000 in outside income as well, mostly from lucrative broadcast contracts.

This story was originally published in EUobserver's European Parliament elections 2019 magazine. Click here to access EUobserver's entire magazine collection.
Leading MEP defends expenses secrecy

The man tasked with making the EP more transparent has said there are more important issues than making MEP monthly expenses public.

Exclusive

How eight MEPs overruled 540 colleagues on office expenses

The EU parliament spends €40m a year on a lump sum for MEPs' expenses with barely any scrutiny. A majority of parliamentarians called for more transparency - but a handful of powerful MEPs mostly dismissed that request.

Investigation

Citizens pay for MEPs' ghost offices

Each member of the European Parliament gets €4,342 every month, mainly to fund an office in their own country. But many of these offices seem nowhere to be found.

Exclusive

Ombudsman backs EUobserver on MEP expenses

The European Parliament should have granted access to documents on a decision about how transparent MEPs should be in future with their office expenses, says EU Ombudsman.

Opinion

The non-accountable MEPs

We did not ask what tax the parliamentarians pay or how they use their salary, or for information about their private lives. Rather we asked for documents to verify that this public money is spent in accordance with the rules.

News in Brief

  1. Croatia opens for US tourists, defying EU ban
  2. Poll: only 61% of Germans would get Covid-19 vaccine
  3. UK to spend €788m on new UK-EU border control system
  4. Berlin wants first use of EU cyber sanctions on Russia
  5. Erdogan warns neighbours over hydrocarbon reserves
  6. Bulgaria: political crisis amid anti-corruption protests
  7. Pope and Turkish-German leader join Hagia Sophia protest
  8. France and UK create joint migrant intelligence unit

Commission chief under fire for Croatia campaign video

EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen recorded a video in support of Croatia's ruling party, which the EU executive said was in her "personal capacity" - and admits it was a "mistake" that this was not made clear.

Parliament vaping booths 'too confidential' to discuss

The European Parliament is refusing to disclose documents on an internal debate on whether to set up e-cigarette smoking booths at its premises in Strasbourg and Brussels, posing questions on how it handles transparency on relatively minor issues.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDANext generation Europe should be green and circular
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNEW REPORT: Eight in ten people are concerned about climate change
  3. UNESDAHow reducing sugar and calories in soft drinks makes the healthier choice the easy choice
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersGreen energy to power Nordic start after Covid-19
  5. European Sustainable Energy WeekThis year’s EU Sustainable Energy Week (EUSEW) will be held digitally!
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic states are fighting to protect gender equality during corona crisis

Latest News

  1. Poland's EU-battles to continue as Duda wins tight vote
  2. EU 'in-person' summit plus key data privacy ruling This WEEK
  3. Let's have positive discrimination for EU stagiaires
  4. We need to do more for our small and medium-sized enterprises
  5. Romania's virus surge prompts queues and new worries
  6. Michel lays out compromise budget plan for summit
  7. Border pre-screening centres part of new EU migration pact
  8. EU 'failed to protect bees and pollinators', report finds

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us