August 04, 2004

How to Maximise Your Expenses: Advice to new Members of the European Parliament

From The Social Affairs Unit:

Dear Colleague,

Welcome to Brussels! Less than half of those eligible to vote in the June 10th elections to the European Parliament may actually have done so - despite the fact of compulsory voting in three EU countries. So not exactly a great victory for European democracy. Nevertheless, you have achieved a great personal victory. Never mind that yours was just a name on a party list and ninety nine per cent of voters will never remember it. The fact is that you have been given the opportunity to play a part in completing the great European Project and to live in a style commensurate with the high importance of your work.

In this connection, it is worth explaining a vital and central aspect of the life of a European parliamentarian: the system for paying expenses. It is important this is clearly grasped not just in your own interests but in those of the other MEPs - with whom cordial relations must be established if your parliamentary career is to blossom. European politics are not like the adversarial politics of Westminster. Forming relations with Parliamentary colleagues with common interests is what being an MEP is all about, and there is no doubt we have a shared interest in preserving the present system of MEPs’ expenses.

Hence this explanatory note. The first thing to understand about the system for payment of Members’ expenses is that it will most certainly differ from any system that you may have known in the past; expectations will have to be revised accordingly. This is because in other walks of life ‘expenses’ refers to the reimbursement of sums spent in the course of one’s work. In the case of the European Parliament, however the situation is quite different: ‘expenses’ refers to a remarkable stream of non-taxable income, well, actually to four remarkable streams of tax-free income. Payments may consequently have little relationship with what has been spent. MEPs have fought courageously to preserve this system against a barrage of misplaced criticism; it is part of our heritage and it is incumbent upon new members to defend it.