The Vote for Europe: MEPs win bonuses in perks `cutback'

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The Independent Online
EURO MPs will collect bonuses of up to pounds 200 per week under new rules designed to crack down on waste, The Independent has learnt.

The travel allowances, designed to slow down the European "gravy train", replace a flat-rate fee with a reimbursement of the actual fare. MEPs will also be able to claim a generous "distance allowance" and mileage to and from airports.

In many cases, the new arrangements will actually cost the European Union more because they remove an incentive for members to travel cheaply and keep part of the payment.

It was estimated that MEPs pocketed up to pounds 800 per month under the old system - almost exactly the same as those who are living farthest from Brussels will keep under the new rules. The new allowances will take effect after next week's Euro elections.

The claims revelation comes as the Conservatives press for a wholesale clean-up of the European Parliament. They want a committee like the one headed by Lord Neill of Bladen in London to oversee the running of the parliament and European Commission, and a commissioner who can penalise MEPs if they fail to register commercial interests.

MEPs are not penalised if they fail to register their interests fully, and constituents must visit Brussels or Strasbourg if they wish to discover their members' outside earnings. Despite this, many members do register directorships and consultancies.

Ken Collins, Labour member for Strathclyde East, lists advisory posts with the public service sector union Unison and with Jeremy Kane International, which is run by a director of a lobbying company called European Public Policy Advisers. Tom Spencer, former leader of the Conservative group in Brussels, receives lecture fees from the European Centre for Public Affairs, of which his wife, Elizabeth, is also a director. Mrs Spencer is director of Jeremy Kane International and European Public Policy Advisers.

Some MEPs benefit, too, from being members of more than one legislature. Three MEPs - the DUP leader Ian Paisley, the SDLP leader John Hume and the Conservative MP Anne McIntosh - have Westminster seats and are entitled to receive an extra pounds 15,669, one-third of their European salary, on top of their pounds 47,008 UK salary. Mr Hume and Mr Paisley have also been elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly, and are entitled to another pounds 9,600, or one-third of its interim salary of pounds 29,000. If the new assembly gets up and running that payment will probably increase to a further third of pounds 47,008, making a total of pounds 78,346.

The number of MEPs who are members of their national parliaments is dwindling, however. In 1979, one-fifth of members held two seats, but the number has dropped to just 25, or 3.8 per cent. There are now seven Italians, five Irish, five Danes, four French and one Luxembourg MEP in addition to the three UK MEPs.

David Heathcoat-Amory, shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury and Conservative MP for Wells, said it was time standards in the European Parliament were overhauled. He said: "No one is going to take them seriously until they sort our their rules and bring them in line with common sense."

Strasbourg's New Gravy Train

t In addition to their air fares, members will claim a minimum of pounds 28.56 in mileage, plus a distance allowance of pounds 71.40 if their round trip is less than 1,000km and pounds 171.36 if it is 1,000-1,500 km.

t An MEP travelling to Brussels from Manchester, Cardiff or London will claim pounds 99.96 per week on top of the air fare. An MEP travelling from Edinburgh or Belfast will claim pounds 199.92.

t Under the old system, an MEP travelling from Edinburgh claimed pounds 573.20 for a round trip. Now he or she will claim a BA fare of pounds 586.30 plus distance and mileage allowances of pounds 199.92, making a total of pounds 786.22.

t Allowances cover meals, accommodation and taxi fares en route. MEPs have free passes for airport parking and are assured of an in-flight meal and drinks.

t MEPs receive a "general expenditure" annual allowance of pounds 28,392, subsistence allowance of pounds 167.79 per day and a pounds 83.89 accommodation allowance when travelling to meetings outside the EU.

t Fare quoted in the rules is "YY economy class". BA says this equates to its Euro-budget business class fare.

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