June 2024

Westminster’s thieving is nothing compared to what they’re doing in Brussels

In Britain, we’ve been shocked by the avarice, dishonesty and greed of our Westminster MPs. But they are mere amateurs compared to those we’ve elected to the European Parliament.

Typical Westminster MPs will cost us around £250,000 each a year in salary, pension and of course a wide range of generous and flexible expenses. From this, they can comfortably pocket at least £50,000 a year tax free by employing family members and through skillful manipulation of the expenses system. This probably feels like a tidy sum to many readers, but must seem like small beer to our Members of the European Parliament (MEPs).

The biggest pot of money MEPs can dip into is for employing staff. This is worth up to £184,000 per MEP per year. You could employ quite a few people for this amount. However, many MEPs have one secretary and at most one or two usually poorly-paid researchers. Some even band together to save money by sharing researchers and secretaries. Yet most still manage to claim much of their allowance. Where this money goes is one of life’s great mysteries. The European Parliament’s auditors recently looked at how a selection of MEPs used their assistants’ allowances and found ‘major irregularities’ in about ninety per cent of the cases they reviewed. Basically most MEPs are stealing our money. But as our MEPs have voted to prevent us ever seeing this report, we’ll never know exactly what happens to our cash.

Although all MEPs have fully-furnished, rent-free offices at the European Parliament, they stillget over £44,000 a year to run an office in their constituencies. Many do not even have a constituency office. Or if they do, the office consists of a room in their house which they rent to themselves. But whether they actually have an office or not, they still get the money without having to provide any receipts – £44,000 a year tax free must make a useful contribution to our lucky MEPs’ household expenses.

MEPs can claim a subsistence allowance of about £270 a day tax-free for every day they turn up to work. This gives them another £43,000 a year tax free. Again no receipts are needed. MEPs call this the SOSO (sign on sod off) allowance because all they have to do to get it is to sign in. Given that a three-star hotel near the Parliament costs about £80 a night including breakfast, that leaves MEPs about £190 a day for lunch and dinner. But with access to generously-subsidised restaurants in the Parliament and with political parties and around 15,000 lobbyists hosting endless champagne-fuelled dinner events, most MEPs would struggle to use much of this money, making it relatively easy to pocket at least another £20,000 or more a year tax free.

Then once you add in the thousands more to be made from travel expenses and the money MEPs receive for themselves and their assistants when they complete their time at the Parliament, most MEPs can live like royalty at our expense and still walk away with around a million pounds in their bank accounts after just one five-year term.

After years of fighting any attempts to control their wonderful (for them) expenses system, MEPs have finally and reluctantly agreed to some supposed reforms. After the June 2009 EU elections, control over the use of the assistants’ allowances will theoretically be improved. Also MEPs will only be allowed to claim for actual travel expenses. However, MEPs will still get the £44,000 a year office expenses and the £270 a day subsistence allowance without any receipts. Moreover, as the European Parliament has never enforced any of its own rules in the past, it’s doubtful that greedier MEPs will have anything to fear from the new rules.

As a reward for possibly taking less of our money in expenses, our MEPs have just given themselves a massive salary increase and have decided to pay special low EU income taxes rather than their, usually higher, national income taxes. This will give British MEPs about a 40 per cent increase in their take-home pay.

As their expense claims for bathplugs, manure, patio heaters, moat cleaning, duck houses and the like are embarrassingly exposed, many of our Westminster MPs must envy their Brussels colleagues who are able to pocket vast fortunes effortlessly, without the slightest public scrutiny and without the need for anything so boring as having to provide receipts.

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