Italy's MPs have a fight on their hands to keep €16,000-a-month salaries

While their people are told to tighten belts, Rome's politicians are found to be Europe's best paid

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The Independent Online

Italy's widely-reviled politicians are the best paid in Europe, according to a study that will increase the pressure on MPs in Rome to accept substantial pay cuts. A Europe-wide survey by a parliamentary committee has found that average monthly gross pay for Italy's MPs, including expenses, is more than €16,000 and for some may exceed €18,000.

French MPs, with a gross monthly remuneration of about €14,000 are the second best paid in the eurozone, with German MPs receiving about €12,600. Spanish MPs fare worst, at €4,650 a month, excluding secretarial costs.

The report will reinforce calls for the salaries of Italian MPs to be slashed to the European average, in a period when the public is being told to tighten its belt as the technocrat government introduces new austerity measures to tackle the country's debt mountain.

Premier Mario Monti signalled in his first speech to the Italian parliament in November that unwarranted perks and pay for Italy's privileged classes, particularly parliamentarians, would be cut to save money and set an example.

But MPs rebelled as soon as plans were touted to cut their pay and pensions. The government promptly agreed it was up to parliamentarians to reduce their own salaries. A spokesman for the Prime Minister denied the government had done a U-turn. He told The Independent it had been decided that deciding the remuneration of MPs and senators came under the remit of parliamentary business.

So far, concrete proposals on cutting parliamentary costs have yet to emerge. Giorgio Saccoia, a spokesman for the big public sector union CGIL, said: "We know that we needed an emergency budget, and that we would have to make sacrifices. But we hoped the people in power would lead by example. There's been little sign of it."

Concerns over Italian parliamentarians' ability to adopt their own austerity measures will not have been eased by the tone taken by thereport, compiled by MPs and their colleagues in the Senate, who earn about €12,000 a month.

The document suggests that, given the complexities in parliamentary pay structures and the differences between systems in different EU countries, the data is "of insufficient quality" to use as base to reduce members' salaries.

The press has consistently reported an appetite among ordinary Italians to see parliamentary pay and privileges curtailed. It was noted again yesterday that Italian MPs get free rail and air tickets as well as an entitlement to claim €1,300 a month for travel expenses.

Last year, details of subsidised parliamentary hairdressers and bargain-priced dining also emerged. Italian MPs also enjoy bullet-proof pensions after only one term in parliament and are allowed to keep their day jobs, complete with additional salaries and private pensions.

Just before Christmas, some MPs – including Alessandra Mussolini, the granddaughter of the dictator, Benito Mussolini – attacked suggestions that MPs salaries should be slashed to €5,000 a month. "Because of a few, who've made themselves rich from politics and under-the-counter money, all of us are having to pay," Ms Mussolini said. "They want us to suffer more. But if you lowered our wages to €1,000 euros a month, people would like to see us taking €500."

Some pundits say it is parliamentary corruption rather than large salaries that should be targeted. "MPs should be paid high salaries if they are dedicated, well-qualified public servants. Some are dignified and dedicated. But many are corrupt and simply in parliament to lobby and make themselves rich," said political scientist Professor Franco Pavoncello of John Cabot University in Rome.

There is no shortage of examples of bent politicians, from mafia-associates to those who simply had their hands in the till. Among the best known cases is that of the disgraced former leader, Bettino Craxi, who took a bribe worth more than £10m from a firm, All Iberian, founded by his friend and protege, Silvio Berlusconi.

The EU league table: Monthly salaries

Italy Over €16,000 (£13,345)

France €14,000

Germany €12,650

Greece €8,594

UK €6,562 (£5,475)

Spain €4,650

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