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7th Dec 2019

MEPs award themselves €1,500 more in staff expenses

  • Parliament's plenary chamber (Photo: EUobserver)

As European citizens come to terms with the array of austerity measures being doled out across the union at the insistence of EU and international lenders, MEPs have agreed to increase the money they use for expenses.

Voting in Strasbourg on Wednesday (19 May), the euro deputies argued the extra money was needed to help them cope with the additional work created under the Lisbon Treaty, the EU's new rulebook which came into force on 1 December 2009.

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In approving the report by Slovakian Social Democrat MEP Vladimir Manka to top up the parliament's 2010 budget with an additional €9.4 million, the plenary said it was determined to meet its additional co-decision responsibilities and greater legislative workload.

The money can only be used to increase staff salaries, or take on new employees. Staff budgets for each MEP are currently €17,540 per month, prior to any increase.

Some deputies conceded that members of the public may query the move. "This is a difficult time to ask people outside the parliament to accept us voting for an increase, but there are extra duties associated with the Lisbon Treaty," said Irish centre-right MEP Mairéad McGuinness.

Only a day before, a number of EU finance ministers meeting in Brussels baulked at the European Commission's request to see its 2011 budget increased by six percent.

The UK's Conservative minister George Osborne said the rise was clearly "unacceptable".

In a contradictory move however, the finance ministers adopted the parliament's 2010 amending budget, allowing the expenses increase without debate.

The parliament initially rejected the council of minister's 2008 budget discharge earlier this year, but may now be more inclined to give their approval when they vote in June.

Traveling circus

The gaggle of MEPs gathered in Strasbourg on Wednesday also rejected a motion to squeeze September's two plenary sessions into one week, a move that supporters say would have greatly reduced the body's travel costs.

The plan was put forward by the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group, which said it could save parliament some €17 million a year.

Under EU treaties, MEPs are required to attend 12 sessions per year in Strasbourg. As a result, more than 700 MEPs, plus about 3,000 aides and piles of documents, have to travel the 450 km from Brussels to Strasbourg each month, in order to attend the week-long plenary sessions.

The arrangement, strongly defended by France, costs around €200 million per year to the taxpayer and is estimated to release 20,000 tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere.

With no plenary session in August due to the summer recess, MEP Ashley Fox, of the anti-federalist European Conservatives and Reformists group, had argued that the two sessions in September could easily be moved into one week, with a single day of committee work in between them.

"Strasbourg is given a bad name by the costs, environmental damage and inconvenience to the thousands of people who are forced to make the journey," he said before the vote on the motion that was ultimately rejected. "Rather than being a symbol of unity as originally intended, Strasbourg has become associated with profligacy."

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