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

Page 3 of 5

In its own way the attendance allowance of €262 (£180) – widely known as the ‘sign-on and sod-off’ fee – is just as remarkable. In order to claim this it is merely necessary to sign on before 10 am on any or all of the 155 days on which the European Parliament sits; there is no need to speak in a debate or even to stay.  Thus, like many words, ‘attendance’ does not mean what it means elsewhere.  After signing on there is, of course, nothing to stop you from pursuing business or professional interests, returning home or heading for the nearest swimming pool in order to work up an appetite for the top class lunch you can expect a few hours later.

Glenys Kinnock, wife of the former Labour leader whose duties as vice-president of the EU Commission included rooting out fraud and corruption, is a record breaker when it comes to signing on and sodding off: she did so 26 times during the last parliamentary session according to one of her colleagues, Hans-Peter Martin who has been rash enough to campaign on the issue of MEPs expenses and to what he refers to as ‘sleaze’.  When contacted by the media, a spokesman for Mrs Kinnock said - perfectly correctly- that she had not broken the rules and that she would not dignify Peter-Martin’s allegations with a further response.  Glenys, who is very popular among MEPs, is an example to us all: always respond to criticisms of that kind by asserting that these amount to an attack on the dignity of your office.  Remember: it costs well over a million pounds to send you to Brussels – more than two and a half times the cost of sending a British MP to Westminster and thirteen times the cost of maintaining a member of the House of Lords.  So it is important that you should deport yourself in a style commensurate with the sacrifice made by the taxpayer. 

In theory, the attendance allowance is paid to cover accommodation and meals.  In reality, most MEPs have wisely bought flats in Brussels, many of which are sub-let to research assistants who hand back part of the income they receive from the Member’s staff allowance (see below) as rent.  As for meals there is no reason to spend a penny of your allowance or your £56,000 salary - salaries are presently set at the same levels as those received by members of their national parliaments.  To eat well simply flag down a passing lobbyist who will be delighted to take you to breakfast, lunch or dinner. (Some friendly advice here: until you get into the swing of things you may find a working breakfast too much to take after the working dinner the previous evening and the working lunch and reception that you enjoyed earlier in the day).  Brussels is the home to many thousands of lobbyists and the number is still growing.  Since there are usually more lobbyists wanting to dine an MEP than there are MEPs wanting to be dined, you can expect to eat out a first class restaurant every night.  My own favourites are the Chez Marius en Provence in  the Place du Petit-Sablon where the bouillabaisse is  quite delicious and the Comme Chez Soi in the Place Rouppe where Pierre Wyants, surely one of Europe’s greatest chefs,  prepares exquisite concoctions of snipe, eel, truffle and lobster – all worthy of Europe’s legislators.  Oh, and bearing in mind that you won’t be picking up the bill, don’t pass up an opportunity to visit the sumptuous La Maison du Cygne situated in one of the guild houses of the Grand Place.  Another useful tip: should you linger too long over brandy and miss the opportunity to use the official limousine service which stops running at 10pm, don’t worry:   the £35 a week taxi allowance ensures that you will not be out of pocket.

Spouses frequently complain that politics is a career which is unkind to families.  Not so in the case of the European Parliament, I am pleased to report.  Indeed, thanks to the extremely generous staff allowance (£8,500 a month at current rates of exchange) you can put the family on the payroll. Around seventy per cent of MEPs demonstrate their commitment to the family by employing a wife, husband or other member of their family as secretary or assistant, which, of course, leaves plenty of money left over to employ a researcher and still provide a handsome surplus.  The British seem particularly keen to employ their spouses.  Dan Hannan, the eurosceptic Conservative MEP for the South East recalls being asked by a French MEP: ‘What is it about you English? You employ your wives, and you sleep with your staff’.  The important thing to remember about the staff allowance is that it is entirely up to you how you spend it.  No receipts are necessary and there is no audit.

No receipts are necessary either in the case of the general expenses allowance.  This is meant to cover office expenses and the like.  It amounts to £2,540 a month.  The system is not subject to audit and you may, if you wish, have this paid directly into your account.

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