Euro MPs lose lavish perks in drive to clean up image

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The Independent Online

Euro-MPs voted yesterday in favour of scrapping their notoriously lucrative expenses and introducing a single rate of pay, with MEPs from Scotland to Slovakia earning the same annual salary; and the majority receiving a pay rise.

The deal, approved by most members, will increase the pay of British MEPs by almost 30 per cent at current exchange rates. But it also means that, for the first time, MEPs' travel expenses will only be reimbursed on production of receipts.

The decision is the culmination of a long campaign to shed the gravy train image that has sapped the authority of the Strasbourg parliament. European Union governments will be asked to endorse the package next month, and Britain yesterday gave it a cautious welcome.

Under the present system, Euro MPs are paid the same as MPs in their own country's national parliament, leading to huge differentials in salaries, with Italian and German deputies earning significantly more than, for example, Irish or British, counterparts.

To make up the difference in salary, lower-paid MEPs have systematically exploited the lax expenses system. With no requirement to produce proof of payment, MEPs can legally fly economy class but claim a full-cost fare.

Under the plan agreed yesterday, all MEPs will earn a gross monthly salary of €8,600 (£6,045), which is equal to 50 per cent of the earnings of a judge at the European Court of Justice. At current exchange rates, that works out at around £72,500 a year for British MEPs; a rise of around £17,000 on their current pay of £56,358 which is based on the remuneration of a Westminster MP.

Italian members will see the largest pay cut, dropping from their current monthly salary of €11,000.These members and German MEPs had resisted attempts to cut their salaries. But the vote was seen as the last chance for parliament to get its house in order before the arrival of 10 new member states next year and ahead of European elections in June. The arrival of MEPs from the former communist countries of eastern Europe would have led to even more drastic disparities.

Pat Cox, the president of the European Parliament, said: "With this vote, we as MEPs have played our part. We have done the business and cleaned up our act. EU governments must not miss this opportunity to settle an issue that has been outstanding [far] too long". Michiel van Hulten, a Dutch MEP, argued: "We've all had to give some ground. After years of wrangling, the parliament is finally cleaning up its act."

British Conservative MEPs abstained in yesterday's vote, saying that they wanted their salaries to stay the same as Westminster MPs. But Labour and Liberal Democrats backed the new deal to ensure the reform of the politically-damaging expenses system.

Diana Wallis, Liberal Democrat MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber, said: "When we face Europe's citizens in elections next June, we could either have a parliament with its own house in order and its members treated and respected equally, or we can continue with the current disgraceful mix and muddle which leaves us all open to ridicule."