Wednesday, May 27, 2009

From the horse's mouth

For those unable to believe the sheer scale and size of the allowances and expenses available to MEPs, Swedish Left Party MEP Jens Holm provided a candid account of how the current travel expenses system often leads to MEPs lining their pockets on Monday (25th May) on the BBC World at One:-

Jens Holm: I was shocked because I went to what they call the 'cash office' in the European Parliament and I brought my ticket and the receipt, the statement which said how much the ticket cost me, and I handed it over and they said "we are not interested in the receipt because everybody gets the same lump sum, according to the distance you have travelled"

For that trip from Brussels to Stockholm I got almost €2,000 and the ticket didn't cost me more than €500.
Interviewer: So, effectively you made €1,500 on that one journey alone...

JH: That's correct. But I'd like to underline that I do not take this money for myself. I give away all the money that I don't need for my travels.

Interviewer: But there's nothing to stop you, or any other Member of the European Parliament, just putting that money in your wallet...

JH: No, of course not. And I'd say the vast majority keep the money for themselves, they become rich.

Interviewer: Did you make any assessment of the difference between the money you were spending and the money you were given?

JH: I know that until February this year, the European Parliament has paid me about €200,000 in travel allowances and I'd say that I have donated around €150,000 to charities and also to my own party.

Interviewer: Have the authorities at the European Parliament given you any explanation for why the system operates in this way?

JH: Yes. And they give me different answers each time. Sometimes they say that this is a compensation for MEPs coming especially from central eastern and southern Europe where the salaries for MPs is not that high - so the travel allowance should be compensation for that.

Other times, they say that we should get paid this much because then we are free to buy a business class ticket. But still, if you buy a business class ticket it's impossible to find such an expensive ticket. So there aren't really any good explanations.

Well actually I think that they almost try to bribe us ...When you get so much money from a system you become quite loyal to it.

Interviewer: I'm sure you'll be aware that in Britain there's been a lot of debate in the last few weeks about expenses...Do you think we should be looking much more closely at the money our MEPs receive?

JH: Of course you should. The European Parliament just pays out too much money. I think journalists and also the public should scrutinise this and ask for a better system.

As of June, as part of the new 'Members' Statute', the travel allowance system will be reformed so that MEPs need to provide receipts for their tickets. However, for the rest of their expenditure (office expenses, daily subsistence allowance, staff allowances, etc) MEPs will still not be required to produce receipts.

Given the previously overly generous travel allowance one might wonder how much MEPs will continue to pocket in undisclosed expenses, even with the new MEPs' statute.


Henrik Sultan said...

It is amazing how much of our money they just seems to pocket for them self...

I am right now reading Jens Holms book about life inside the EU parliament and it is an interesting read so far...

Don't trust Cameron said...

Let's not forget that the end of the flight scam is not voluntary. Here's Herr Hannan in the Telegraph, 23 Dec 2008:

"Euro-MPs have also voted to end the "kilometrage" scam, whereby they were reimbursed on the basis of a first-class fare, plus a little extra, regardless of how they made the journey. Those who actually flew first-class could make a tidy sum. Those who used Ryanair or Easyjet could trouser the better part of £1,000 a week - tax free, since it counted as expenses rather than income.

Year after year, I and a group of Scandinavian MEPs put down an amendment calling for reimbursement at cost; and, year after year, we lost. Then, to our astonishment, the parliament agreed to the change.

Judging from their expressions when the result was flashed up, some of those who had voted with us were even more astonished. In an elaborate piece of game theory, they had wanted to vote for reform, but lose. When the numbers were declared, they realised to their horror that everyone else had made the same calculation. Still, at least the change was made."