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How to Maximise Your Expenses: Advice to new Members of the European Parliament

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Dear Colleague,

Welcome to Brussels!  Less than half of those eligible to vote in the June 10th elections to the European Parliament may actually have done so - despite the fact of compulsory voting in three EU countries. So not exactly a great victory for European democracy.  Nevertheless, you have achieved a great personal victory.  Never mind that yours was just a name on a party list and ninety nine per cent of voters will never remember it.  The fact is that you have been given the opportunity to play a part in completing the great European Project and to live in a style commensurate with the high importance of your work.

In this connection, it is worth explaining a vital and central aspect of the life of a European parliamentarian: the system for paying expenses.  It is important this is clearly grasped not just in your own interests but in those of the  other MEPs  - with whom cordial relations must be established if your parliamentary career is to blossom.  European politics are not like the adversarial politics of Westminster.  Forming relations with Parliamentary colleagues with common interests is what being an MEP is all about, and there is no doubt we have a shared interest in preserving the present system of MEPs’ expenses.

Hence this explanatory note.  The first thing to understand about the system for payment of Members’ expenses is that it will most certainly differ from any system that you may have known in the past;  expectations will have to be revised accordingly.  This is because in other walks of life ‘expenses’ refers to the reimbursement of sums spent in the course of one’s work.  In the case of the European Parliament, however the situation is quite different: ‘expenses’ refers to a remarkable stream of non-taxable income, well, actually to four remarkable streams of tax-free income.  Payments may consequently have little relationship with what has been spent.  MEPs have fought courageously to preserve this system against a barrage of misplaced criticism; it is part of our heritage and it is incumbent upon new members to defend it.

Perhaps the least understood aspect of that heritage is the travel allowance.  British and German tabloid newspapers have frequently alleged that this is being abused by Members who fly to Brussels or Strasbourg on one of the many budget airlines, then fraudulently claim for First or Business class and trouser the difference.  This is libellous and quite without foundation.  The great merit of the travel allowance is that it prevents the submission of claims on the basis of actual air fares.  You simply hand in your boarding pass and receive a sum calculated according to kilometerage.  In nearly all instances this  amounts to a sum in excess of Business Class and so provides a very nice little earner – worth maybe £600 a week and even more if you happen to live a long way from Brussels.  No receipt is required and the money rolls in without a fib being told or any kind of effort, criminal or otherwise, on your part.  It is true that there have been one or two regrettable instances where MEPs have invented far flung addresses in order to bump up their claims: it cannot be stressed too strongly that this kind of behaviour threatens to kill the goose that lays the golden egg.

You should also be warned against allowing a sudden fit of morality to lead you to try to demand a sum equivalent to that which you have actually spent. This will not only play badly with colleagues; an official will politely explain that no machinery exists to pay honest expenses (while privately entertaining doubts about your sanity).

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