There is a saying that you can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink. Perhaps there should be a contrary one about the difficulty of stopping MEPspigs from gorging when they have their snouts in the trough. Apart from occasional bouts of interest when rebels out the criminal tendancies of proposed EU commisioners I, and I suspect most others, have tended to ignore the European parliament as a non-entity. However it does have some power and certainly it has lots of budget to hand over to its members, that is to say those people who are elected as MEPs.
The Toygraph editorialises today about the way the MEPs failed to reform their gravy train and jolly depressing reading it is too.
Presented with a chance to end outrageous allowances scams, MEPs voted down every proposed reform. They threw out an amendment that would have provided for the reimbursement of their travel expenses on the basis of actual ticket price. They rejected having to pay their pension contributions from their personal accounts (rather than, as at present, deducting the sum from their office allowances). And, most brazenly of all, they voted against having their expenses audited.
The Torygraph goes to to list the various bits of pork on offer
An MEP can now make about £800 a week on his travel allowance, based on the most expensive notional air fare rather than the Ryanair flight he has actually taken. He can pocket a further £2,400 a month on his "general expenses allowance", which, after Tuesday's vote, remains unscrutinised. Add in £180 a day for signing the attendance register and £10,000 a month of secretarial allowance, much of which goes to immediate family members, and you're talking serious money. All of these sums are tax-free since they count as expenses rather than income.
I did some sums - using the Torygraphs numbers and assuming than an MEP works for 45 weeks a year, signs in for attendance on 4 days during those weeks, takes the maximum monthly general expenses and pays his wife/family his entire secretarial allowance then he gets an extremely good tax free deal as follows:
General Expenses (£2400/month)
Signing In (£180/day)
*Note: The Euro sums may not quite add up because I did some rounding after I converted at £1=€1.47
MEPs get the same salary as domestic MPs as well (which varies by country) and on which they have to pay tax, and that salary is generally not too shabby but not wonderful either - UK MPs get around £60,000/€90,000 per annum which is probably low compared to what they could expect as a senior lawyer, senior accountant etc. but clearly not the sort of wage that should require one to diddle one's expenses in order to keep the wolf from the door.
But as you can see from the table an MEP can snarf almost a third of a million Euros in addition to his salary. Perhaps we should not be surprised that they are unwilling to give up the loot. And perhaps they in turn should not be surprised when Eurosceptics complain about the EU.
By the way the European Parliament website has, at first sight, masses of information about its activities but despite that, finding the actual resolutions and votes about their allowances is somewhat difficult with the published information about agendas, votes and resolutions being rather cryptic. The relevant votes appear to be here, but I defy you to tell me from the document which vote is which. Anyone would think they had something to hide... Update: Elaib makes a reasonable point in the comments - I am probably exaggerating slightly but €200k-250k looks entirely feasible and that is still a heck of a lot of dosh