From EU OBSERVER 13/4/05
MEPs water down reform of their expenses system
BRUSSELS - The European Parliament has voted down several proposals for more efficient management and stricter controls of MEPs' allowances.
MEPs on Tuesday (12 April) voted strongly in favour of a report (483 votes to 69) by liberal MEP Ona Jukneviciene, approving the Parliament'sspending in 2003.
The report points to the differences in MEPs' salaries and refers to a common Statute for Members of the Parliament to make the system more"clear, transparent and fair".
However, MEPs refused to set a deadline after which new and stricter,cost-based rules for reimbursing their travel expenses would apply.
"I am very disappointed to see that a majority of MEPs are comfortablewith their expenses regime which is not clear or transparent, and is criticised by both citizens and media", Mrs Jukneviciene told the EUobserver.
"While senior MEPs from old member states prove conservative - feeling that they know this system and don't want to change it after so many years,many members from the new EU countries have fresh ideas and are ready to make the system more efficient".
"However, as they get so much less than their colleagues from western Europe, they view travel allowances as an addition to their salaries,needed for a much more expensive life in Brussels. So, in the end, they oppose a change too", she said.
Mrs Jukneviciene also said that salaries and travel allowances should not be mixed up, as it would not encourage MEPs to work efficiently, but rather to "become stewardesses or pilot assistants - as they have to fly a lot to earn more".
The European parliament has also turned down measures for stricter control of voluntary pension schemes.
MEPs contributions are deducted from public funds, which are not properly scrutinised and the Parliament's pension fund is currently running adeficit of 42 million euro.
Bad timing for scraping Strasbourg, Another surprise vote was the rejection (by 350 to 208 votes) of the suggestion that Parliament should decide on its own seat, even though MEPs approved a note pointing out that the cost of it sitting in three countries is estimated to come to more than 200 million euro per year.
Mrs Jukneviciene had originally suggested a paragraph directly proposing that Brussels would be "the most logical location for a single seat".
However, MEPs adopted an amendment due to concerns among French deputies about the possible negative impact of such a move on the referendum on the EU Constitution in France at the end of May.
"We all had to admit that the timing for such a message would not be very good", commented Mrs Jukneviciene.
However, she added that she did not see it as a realistic proposal even after the controversial referendum.
"I don't think French MEPs look further and consider such a decision even in a middle or long-term perspective"
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