Sunday, October 17, 2004

The gravy train gathers yet more speed

Pity those poor MEPs. They have acquired more work with the accession of the new countries. According to the French Green representative, GĂ©rard Onesta, he now has to follow 20 committees instead of 17 and he has only three full-time staff to do so. Speaking as someone who has never managed to find any information whatsoever about committees from a single MEP, no matter of what political persuasion, I am delighted to hear that M Onesta takes his job so seriously.

The trouble is that he thinks, together with many others, notably the Parliament’s bureau, which consists of the President Josep Borrell, who won the election under somewhat dubious circumstances and his 14 vice-presidents, that MEPs should have higher allowances. The suggestion is that their secretarial allowance be increased by €200 a month from €12,500 to €14,500. This will be on top of all their other allowances for office staff, travel, attendance of conferences and so on.

Curiously enough, there is no proposal that, as allowances increase, there should be a greater transparency in the way these are spent. As the European Voice says:
“Following a partial reform aimed at stopping abuse, MEPs must now produce contracts of employment for their assistants and tax certificates proving they are paying them the agreed salary. But the standard contract provided by the Parliament does not stipulate how many hours a week staff are supposed to work.”
This is all sadly reminiscent of other accounting practices in the European Union. And, as Conservative MEP Chris Heaton-Harris (who, incidentally, has not as yet expalined why he agreed meekly to march back into the EPP group) and the Danish eurosceptic Jens-Peter Bonde, have both pointed out, this sort of development is not likely to improve the MEPs’ image with the public. Extraordinarily, they do not seem to care.

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