Saturday, February 12, 2005

Our new masters and transparency

For some years now a battle has gone on in the House of Lords about the question of former EU Commissioners and their pensions.

In January Lord Pearson of Rannoch put down a written question asking Her Majesty’s Government
“… what are the pension arrangements for former European Union Commissioners,including the amounts paid”.
Former European Union Commissioners can be seen from a long way off, according to another eurosceptic peer: they are the people who, because of their ever increasing girth brought on by all that jollification at the taxpayers’ expense, occupy two or three seats wherever they happen to be.

Presumably, the government does not see it that way. Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean wrote the followint reply:
“Former European Union Commissioners are entitled to a pension from the day they reach 65 of 4.5 per cent of the commissioner's final basic salary for each whole year of service in the Commission plus one-twelfth of this amount for each additional month's service, subject to a maximum of 70 per cent of the final basic salary. The pension is subject to Community tax and exempt from national taxes. Former Commissioners may start drawing their pensions from the age of 60,subject to the application of a coefficient ranging from 70 per cent at age 60 to 95 per cent at age 64. Since 1 July 2004, the basic salary of a Commissioner has been 18,233 euros a month, for Vice Presidents 20,259 euros a month, and for the President 22,366 euros a month.”
The invaluable fortnightly eurofacts did the necessary calculation and came to the conclusion that if a former Commissioner, say Neil Kinnock, who was also Vice President, waits till he is 65, he will receive a pension of (at present rates) £76,503 before Community tax.

What sort of a pension fund would most people have to have to get that kind of dosh? Please note that the former Commissioners are exempt from national taxation, cannot have their pension fund raided by greedy Chancellors of the Exchequer and pay only the minimal Community tax.

But then Commissioners and Commission employees are exempt from a great many things, as we have already noted and shall continue unravelling on the blog.

There is another aspect to this. It is customary for peers to declare interest if they are speaking on a subject somehow affected by that interest. Thus, the Countess of Mar, for instance, always scrupulously declares that together with her husband she runs a small farm of goats, sheep and a few poultry as well as selling goat cheese at farmers’ markets. (It happens to be the world’s best goat cheese but she need not declare that.)

That is hardly an income in the £76,000 plus bracket. Similarly, other peers declare whatever minor interests they or their spouses or, indeed, other members of the family may have, financial or otherwise.

There is only one exception. Former Commissioners need not and, therefore, never do declare that they have received huge salaries together with perks in the past and continue to receive enormous pensions after their retirement, when they speak on matters to do with the EU.

Incidentally, Lord Pearson’s question did not deal with the sizeable sums Commissioners receive to help them to relocate and to adjust to normal life after the flesh pots of Brussels.

As I said, a long battle on the subject has been going on. So far, the government and its minions have refused to acknowledge that a Commissioner’s pension is an interest to be declared. After all, their sage opinions and pronouncements are not going to be affected by anything so paltry as £76,503 per annum.

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