Tuesday, May 25, 2004

How Americans see it

That’s the way with stories about European Parliament ‘perks’: you wait for ages for one and then two come along on the same day. To be fair they were written by the same two journalists but slightly different versions appeared in the New York Times and the International Herald Tribune.

The stories tell nothing new to anyone with the slightest knowledge of how the Brussels gravy train works but to the uninitiated the tale of travel allowances, claims put in as MEPs skip away merrily to the airport, employment of entire families and so on, must seem rather shocking.

The authors point out that all those who call for reform also find ways of justifying the system, that plays badly with the voters.

"I have been accused of boarding the gravy train," said Bill Miller, a Scottish member who argued for reforms. "I have been accused of being dishonest. I've been accused of being greedy. I've been accused of being a parasite. I've been accused of being a leech. And that's just by members of my own political party."

Mr Miller, apparently, thinks that reforms of the system is absolutely essential. Whether he thought that before the former journalist Hans-Peter Martin controversially filmed some of his colleagues saying one thing and doing the opposite is not clear.

And what of the upright Scandinavians? This is how the New York Times article ends:

“Esko Seppanen, a Finnish member of the Green Parties bloc, endorsed reform in a recorded conversation with Mr. Martin just after 8 a.m. one morning last November. He had just signed for his daily stipend.
He noted that all Finnish members support changes in the benefits system. But, he said, while waiting for his free ride to the airport, ‘As long as it's paid, everybody takes it.’”

How true, how very true.

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