By Elias Hazou
WITH THE typical Member of European Parliament (MEP) making a neat €200,000 a year – not including perks – it’s little wonder that would be politicians are drawn to Brussels like bees to honey.
For the European Parliament on Sunday, a record 61 people in Cyprus have submitted their candidacies, ranging from run-of-the-mill politicians, to psychiatrists, dog rights activists and free-love advocates.
The Brussels gravy train has been well documented, but here’s the latest. One source is the recent documentary ‘Euromania’ which found out, straight from the horse’s mouth, just how pampered MEPs are.
In a candid moment, Dutch MEP Daniel van der Stoep showed the journalist his pay slip.
His base salary: €8000, plus a daily allowance of €300 (totaling €9,000 a month), giving a grand total of €17,000 a month. That works out to €204,000 per annum. The president of Cyprus, earning some €100,000 a year, doesn’t even come close.
The distinguished gentlemen and ladies in Brussels are also entitled to around €4000 a month on expenses.
As van der Stoep explains on camera, this expenses allowance is “meant basically for having an office… you can use it and you never have to explain what you spend it on.”
Sweet deal. But wait, there’s more. MEPs also get a monthly travel allowance of €650, not to mention free haircuts.
What about their personal assistants? This may come as a shock, but the allowance for PAs comes to €21,000.
And as the filmmaker sardonically remarks, most MEPs don’t even pay taxes as they live in Brussels. All in all, a nice little package some might dare say.
It’s so good that a report last year by the German website Preisvergleich.de scrutinised how MEPs’ income is way off the charts when compared to what their average fellow countrymen make.
The study, as reported by the Daily Mail, found that MEPs made up to 20 times more than the people they represent.
The biggest discrepancy was in Bulgaria, where the average wage was less than a twentieth of the salary of an MEP.
The salaries of Cypriot MEPs were 840 per cent – or about nine times – the average salary on the island.
The bumper salaries as well as all the extras led the same report to compare MEPs’ lavish lifestyle to that of “latter-day Roman senators”.
Outgoing MEP Kyriacos Triantafyllides (AKEL) said he was aware of public perception about the high salaries, but said “there are a lot of things people may not know about”.
“MEPs have to pay for hotels, their flats and so on,” he said. He went on to cite the fact that since the 2009 elections, all MEPs receive a basic yearly salary of 38.5 per cent of a European Court judge’s salary.
“And how much do European Commissioners get?” he offered.
Up until the May 2009 European Parliament elections some MEPs (including Cyprus’) wid, by their own member state, the same salary as an MP in their own country. But for the next term (2009 to 2014) it was decided to introduce a uniform system, equalising salaries based on those of the best-paid countries. The MEPs are now paid from the EU budget.
This at a time when their own citizens are being bled dry, either through austerity or indirectly through disguised inflation in the form of monetary expansion.
Previously, MEPs’ assistants had been hired on a personal basis. The system was abused, with some MEPs taking on family members. The practice led to an inquiry and reform of the system.
More recently the Daily Mail reported on the golden handshakes for MEPs. The paper looked at the ‘transitional allowance’ paying one month’s salary for each year an MEP has been in office. But as a minimum MEPs will get six month’s pay, despite each term lasting only five years.
So if you’re wondering what the fuss is all about, now you have some idea. And public service, naturally.