EU gravy train must run to new timetable

Harmonisation of salaries and restrictions on expenses are likely to benefit `low-paid' British

Katherine Butler Brussels
Friday 08 November 1996 00:02
Comments

Plans for the first clampdown on the lavish expenses and fringe benefits paid to members of the European Parliament could lead to the doubling or trebling of salaries for "low-paid" British MEPs.

Klaus Hansch, the president of the parliament, yesterday endorsed proposals to harmonise salaries for the 626 Strasbourg MEPs as a prelude to any reform of the widely abused expenses system.

British MEPs are paid the same salary as their Westminster counterparts: pounds 42,000 a year, which is about a quarter of the sums paid to Italian or German MEPs, the top earners.

"A single wage is the aim," Mr Hansch told reporters after a meeting of party leaders summoned to launch the tentative first steps towards an overhaul of the generous perks regime which some MEPs abuse, taking home twice or three times what they earn in basic pay.

The latest move to reform the gravy-train image of the Strasbourg assembly comes after an expose by the ITV documentary programme The Big Story of some of the practices which have brought the European Parliament into disrepute.

A hidden camera was used to show a number of MEPs signing on for their pounds 175-a-day meal and accommodation allowance but then leaving the building to return home.

One of those caught on camera was a Danish MEP, John Iversen, who has been spearheading calls for a crackdown on waste and fraud.

The film has prompted an outcry in Denmark, where the former prime minister and Christian Democrat (conservative) MEP Poul Schluter is calling for radical cuts in travel and daily allowances.

Mr Hansch insisted yesterday that only a small minority of MEPs were guilty of misdemeanours and he rejected attempts to tar the institution with the same brush.

He admitted however that the parliament at present did not have the power to discipline those on the fiddle.

He also defended the practice of MEPs absenting themselves from debates or votes on Fridays. "People must travel back to their constituencies and discuss things with the citizens. That is part of the job of an MEP."

Dismissing suggestions of widespread fraud, he hinted that The Big Story may have been sponsored by Euro-sceptic elements in Britain.

Its accusations "fit splendidly" he said with the campaign being waged against the EU by the Referendum Party leader, Sir James Goldsmith.

The Socialist group, which represents 200 MEPs, yesterday listed specific reforms that they will back, such as asking MEPs to produce airline tickets before they can be reimbursed for travel.

The Socialist deputy leader, Hedy d'Ancona, said it was "too funny for words" that this standard business practice was not observed.

But she said the Socialists too would be pressing for a single rate of pay for the job. "As long as we have salaries which differ so much we will have members who feel they need to be compensated with allowances".

Any move to harmonise salaries is likely however to trigger a backlash at national level, as it would result in some countries, such as Ireland, in MEPs earning more than the prime minister. The lax rules on expenses have traditionally been seen as a way of allowing the lower-paid deputies to redress the in-built discrimination they suffer on salaries.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in