EU assembly looks to clean up salaries

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As of July, European parliament members will receive a standardised monthly salary of over EUR 7,500, are not allowed to employ their family members and have to provide proof of their travel expenses.

Brussels – The European parliament is seeking to clampdown on salary and expenses abuse after a series of scandals, but its reforms could create new euro jealousy.

With Britain's parliament expenses storm grabbing the international spotlight, the EU assembly is battling to prevent a record high abstention rate for this week's election and is eager to avoid any hint of scandal.

But it has been forced to act after even bigger sums of money than those were revealed to have been misused or wasted, again with British deputies tainted.

One British member was accused of paying more than GBP 500,000 (EUR 580,000, CHF 875,560) in expense allowances to a company owned by his family.

Nigel Farage, head of the anti-European UK Independence Party at the parliament, admitted recently that he pocketed GBP 2 million over 10 years in expenses and allowances -- on top of his salary.

From July, when the new assembly sits for the first time, all 736 members of the European parliament (MEPs) will receive a monthly salary of EUR 7,665.31, paid by the parliament.

Currently, the money is provided by the country the MEPs come from and is limited to the level deputies in their national parliaments earned. This has created a pay gulf, especially between eastern and western European members of the 27-nation EU.

Italian deputies earn more than EUR 11,700 a month, while a Bulgarian counterpart takes home less than EUR 1,000 and a Lithuanian lawmaker pockets EUR 1,200.

French and German MEPs, who earn EUR 7,000 and EUR 7,670 respectively, will feel little change.

Countries like Italy and Austria, do not want to see their representatives lose pay, but the difference will have to be made up by the nations themselves.

And there will still be pay problems.

"The European deputies from Poland or Romania are going to earn a lot more than their national colleagues, and even more than their prime ministers," said Hans-Herbert Arnim, German specialist in administrative law.

"The euro deputies represent their people and their treatment should not be allowed to get out of hand" compared to their national lawmakers, he said, "That would not serve Europe's interests."

The EU is also seeking to tighten up on expenses following recent abuses.

On top of pay, the deputies get EUR 17,540 a month to pay for a secretary or parliamentary assistant and for research.

Some have used the money to hire relatives, turning their offices mini-family companies. Some used the money to pay for fictional services, according to an EU audit last year.

From July, lawmakers will no longer be able to hire their own family, although those already being paid will be able to stay for a transitional period.

Travel expenses will also be cleaned up.

Until now there have been no limits on travel expenses, but a ceiling will be set and MEPs will have to provide proof of payment, unlike the very generous travel allowances they receive now.

"The criticism that the system has come in for is justified," conceded German conservative deputy Klaus-Heiner Lehne.

Some British MEPs have agreed to publish their expenses details even though the parliament as a whole voted against such action.

And some of those who have come in for criticism still defend their actions.

Farage, who has seen his eurosceptic party's support increase since the scandal erupted over expenses in the British parliament, insists he ploughed the money he received into his campaign for Britain to leave the European Union.

"The bad reputation is there and it will be difficult to erase it," Lehne said.

AFP / Expatica

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