Wed, Jun 08, 2005 - Page 6 News List

EU parliamentary pay scam facing clampdown

THE GUARDIAN , BRUSSELS

Members of the European parliament (MEPs) are facing a crackdown on their expenses, ending a 30-year ruse that has allowed them to boost their salaries by thousands of pounds a year.

Efforts have been going on for years to agree to a new pay and expenses regime to replace the current lax system, described by one British government official on Monday as "iniquitous and outrageous."

It enables many MEPs to pocket, quite legitimately, tens of thousands of pounds a year in first-class travel payments, even if they have hitch-hiked their way across Europe to meetings.

It also leaves plenty of slack in the distribution of a ?2,653 (US$4,831) per month handout to run constituency offices, in addition to salaries for secretarial and research staff.

Under the new proposals, MEPs will be forced to produce receipts for travel and staff costs. Their expenses will also be "properly audited," so they cannot claim that a spouse who is living at home runs their office.

"This will end the iniquitous expenses regime that has brought the parliament into disrepute," one EU diplomat said. "It will end the days where they charge the most expensive airfare and then head home on a camel."

The reforms are part of a series of proposals agreed by the European council of ministers.

Other reforms include creating an annual ?60,000 salary for all MEPs. The MEPs are paid the same as MPs in their own country, creating an anomaly in which Italian members of the European parliament, for instance, receive ?85,000, while colleagues from Slovakia get ?5,000.

A more generous pension scheme to compensate for pay cuts will also be introduced. At present, governments fund the pensions, with British MEPs getting help for schemes in which they can contribute 6 percent or 10 percent of their salaries.

Under the new system, the European parliament will fund a scheme that will be the same for all MEPs.

The leader of Britain's Liberal Democrat MEPs, Chris Davies, said: "It is an important principle that every MEP should be paid the same salary. But even more importantly, this is the key that unlocks the door to reform of the discredited arrangement for the payment of expenses."

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