Sun, Jun 13, 2004 - Page 6 News List

EU perks-buster wins little popularity


Using a tiny, hidden camera, Hans-Peter Martin filmed his European Parliament colleagues as they signed in at work to get a daily allowance -- and then headed to the airport to fly home.

Such methods have made him a Robin Hood to some, but an underhanded sensation-seeker to others. But -- more than anyone else -- the Austrian EU parliamentarian has succeeded in shaking up Europe's staid assembly with unconventional sleuthing meant to uncover abuses of its generous perks system.

The perks can be worth some US$14,700 a month, one member of the parliament was quoted as saying.

Martin's efforts meet with general resentment by his colleagues, but are grudgingly recognized by others.

Jens-Peter Bonde, a veteran parliamentarian who represents Denmark's June Movement party, said he expects the next session of the EU parliament to tighten up the system of allowances and other perks given legislators.

Martin's methods are "uncivilized," but, "I am very thankful for the result," said Bonde, initiator of 50 failed reform motions aimed at reducing perks.

However, a spokesman for parliament's Socialist group, Peter Reischert, said Martin had "excluded himself" from the group through his methods.

"Spying on your colleagues -- that will never work in any organization," he said.

Because of such Socialist condemnation, Martin, a parliamentarian since 1999, is running for re-election as an independent. He told reporters he was compelled to blow the whistle on a system he says is so lavish that it essentially provides EU lawmakers with "hidden income."

Deputies, for example, are reimbursed for full-fare airplane tickets home, regardless of what their tickets cost, and they get at least extra compensation if they travel more than 500km.

"I consider what I have done an act of self-defense in the interest of the taxpayers," he said.

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