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

Page 4 of 5

How much profit can one make out of all of this?  Well, this may certainly exceed your formal income.  Estimates range as high as £300,000 per annum, but naturally it is not the kind of thing that you expect me to be precise about.  Should you be weak enough to accept the case for ‘transparency’ or ‘reform’ expect trouble: Dan Hannan was ‘sent to Limoges’ as a result of a few critical words about the way in which EU expenses were paid.

Worse befell Hans-Peter Martin, an Austrian Social Democrat MEP when he rashly exposed the ambiguities of the attendance allowance earlier this year, pointing that some MEPs had even claimed the allowance on a day when there was no debate to attend.  Called to account for his actions at a meeting of the Socialist group on 11th February Martin was rightly condemned for his lack of solidarity and ‘his inquisitorial and policing methods’.  Some members accused him of ‘Nazi tactics’ in asking his assistant to observe the behaviour of his fellow MEPs.  Martin, however, refused to apologise, was ordered from the room by Enrique Baron Crespo, the then leader of the Socialist group, and immediately expelled from the group.  Martin was also wrestled to the ground by a parliamentary colleague when a scuffle broke out later in the parliamentary foyer.  But he is back as an independent with an enhanced majority and the issue of reform is unlikely to go away.  Indeed, the present arrangements will have to be robustly defended if they are to survive.

In December 2003 we successfully fought off an attempt to ensure that all expense claims were backed by receipts.  But I am ashamed to report that a few weeks later, some of my weaker colleagues gave way as the result of sustained and unprecedented media attack on our rights and privileges ahead of the June elections.  By a narrow majority MEPs voted for a ‘reform’ package that promised to ensure strict ‘accountability’ and ‘transparency’ whilst also unifying pay rates. True, we did not sell ourselves cheaply.  As part of the deal it was agreed that MEPs should in future receive a salary of just over €100,000 (£68,000) according to a formulae that - for no obvious reason - fixed pay at half the salary received by a judge in the European Court of Justice.  So while MEPs may have felt traumatised at the loss of an historic right  - I personally suffered many sleepless nights - there was the consolation of a huge  salary increase - 20 per cent in the case of British MEPs, considerably more in the case of Members from Spain,  Portugal, France, Finland, Luxembourg, Denmark and Belgium.

Still, in terms of overall earning power there was no doubt that we had suffered a considerable set-back.  Then, unexpectedly, deliverance came in the form of intervention by Joschka Fischer, the German Foreign Minister who announced that his government, supported by France, would block the deal in the European Council on the grounds of ‘timing’.  With elections looming Fischer apparently took the view that voters would not warm to the spectacle of politicians being bribed to give up the right to payments for attending parliamentary sessions they didn’t attend and air fares they had not paid for.  And quite right too!  The deal was defeated at the eleventh hour, and I celebrated in a most unusual way – by buying my own lunch at the Chez Marius.

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