The Telegraph 14th April 2005
It is not the venality that shocks, but the flagrancy. Presented with achance to end outrageous allowances scams, MEPs voted down every proposedreform. They threw out an amendment that would have provided for thereimbursement of their travel expenses on the basis of actual ticket price.They rejected having to pay their pension contributions from their personalaccounts (rather than, as at present, deducting the sum from their officeallowances). And, most brazenly of all, they voted against having theirexpenses audited.
Whenever they are asked about their finances, Euro MPs tend to say: "Yes, weaccept that there is a need for reform, and we are getting around to it."This is a lie. As Tuesday's vote showed, MEPs have not simply failed to getaround to hosing out their stables; they have deliberately and calculatedlyheaped the ordure higher. An MEP can now make about £800 a week on histravel allowance, based on the most expensive notional air fare rather thanthe Ryanair flight he has actually taken. He can pocket a further £2,400 amonth on his "general expenses allowance", which, after Tuesday's vote,remains unscrutinised. Add in £180 a day for signing the attendance registerand £10,000 a month of secretarial allowance, much of which goes toimmediate family members, and you're talking serious money. All of thesesums are tax-free since they count as expenses rather than income.
The most curious thing is how the vote broke down. The MEPs who voted forreform came, by and large, from countries that are coolest about Europeanintegration, notably Britain and Scandinavia. They were joined by littleEuro-sceptic parties from across the Continent. But the big,Euro-enthusiastic blocs - the Socialists, the Liberals and the EuropeanPeople's Party - all voted for the status quo. On the surface, this seemsodd. After all, one would have thought the Euro-idealists would be keen toimprove the Parliament's image. And so they are - but not if that meanshaving to lift their own snouts from the swill.
No national parliament would behave like this - not because MPs are morevirtuous than MEPs, but because they know they couldn't get away with it. InBrussels, however, there is no public scrutiny to speak of. Turnout hasfallen at every European election since 1979, and MEPs are all butanonymous. They can afford to disdain their constituents. That's enoughgravy: bring on the champagne!
Thursday, April 14, 2005
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