Sunday

20th Jan 2019

New MEPs to face tougher expenses regime

  • The newly elected parliament will have its inaugural session in July (Photo: EUobserver)

The European Parliament returns to business in July with a flat wage rate for all 736 MEPs and an overhauled expenses system, after years of winning a reputation for being little more than a gravy train for out-of-touch deputies.

In the next legislature, all new MEPs from across Europe will earn a gross salary of around €7,000 a month, ending the current system whereby the euro deputy earns the same as the MPs of their home country.

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The new rules put an end to an uncomfortable situation where there were wide discrepancies between how much MEPs from different countries pocketed at the end of each month.

The situation became ridiculously acute in recent years when poorer eastern countries joined the European Union, meaning that Italian MEPs earned almost 15 times more a year than their Bulgarian counterparts. A German MEP earned around €7000 a month, while a Hungarian earned less than €1000.

The new wage will create its own discrepancies however with some MEPs now earning more than their national heads of state - as will be the case with Bulgarian deputies and the country's president.

Compromise

The new rules were agreed in 2005, after years of wrangling and stalling by euro-deputies, particularly within the centre-right and Socialist factions, the two largest groups.

However, reflecting the struggle for agreement, the compromise says that re-elected deputies may opt to keep their old wage for the whole of their membership of the European Parliament.

While the new wage does not see too much change for German deputies, it represents a significant wage cut for Italians. The difference would have to be made up by member states.

At the same time, they agreed to improve the expenses system whose loose rules allowed MEPs to claim travel expenses based on a flat rate, regardless of the actual cost of the voyage.

With the onset of cheap airlines and rock bottom prices, deputies were able spend less travelling from their constituency to Brussels or Strasbourg and thus gaining something of a windfall by being allowed to claim back a set rate.

Re-imbursements will now be made on the basis of actual expenditure.

Change after pressure

MEPs have not helped themselves when it comes to their image however, often changing the rules only when pressure became too strong to withstand.

It was media exposure that led them to reform the rules to prevent hiring family members and to bring parliamentary assistants, who run the day-to-day life of deputies, onto a legal and fairer footing. These changes will also come into effect in July, although family members already in employment will be allowed to continue for the next term.

The moves followed a scandal created early last year by a leaked internal audit report – which deputies later voted not to make public - detailing how some MEPs abuse their monthly allowances for staff, including in some cases letting the money flow to fictitious or family-owned companies.

Additionally, the assistants were often paid a pittance and social benefit and tax rules were ignored.

Critics of the system say there is still room for improvement. They note that the rules on collecting daily allowances (€298) should be tightened up so it is not possible to simply turn up in the morning to collect an allowance and then leave.

They also argue there is still not enough oversight of the money granted to MEPs for running their offices. They are entitled to receive a maximum of €17,540 a month.

They were given fuel for their criticism after deputies in April voted through an amendment to a report on transparency that says that MEPs' personal files and accounts should not be made accessible to others.

MEPs say this is a data privacy issue while transparency campaigners say it will allow them to wiggle out of laying their accounts bare.

However, since the vote, external events have forced the hands of some deputies. The ongoing expenses scandal in the UK, which has seen national MPs exposed for playing fast and loose with their expenses claims, has had a significant effect on British euro-deputies.

British Labour MEPs will now be required to publish receipts for all their office claims. They will also publish details of travel costs and the number of times they claim the daily allowance - as will their British Conservative and Liberal counterparts.

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