Fact checking: Are MEPs overpaid?

UKIP MEP Nigel Farage. London, November 2013. [Peter Broster/Flickr]

The income of MEPs has often come under scrutiny. In the lead up to the European elections, euractiv.fr reveals the truth.

Personal allowances, travel allowances, administrative costs, salaries. The sources of MEPs’ finances are multiple and often prove controversial. However, after close analysis, they turn out to be more transparent than those of the French parliament, and roughly equivalent.

How much does an MEP earn?

Since July 2009, all 766 MEPs receive equal remuneration, that is to say, €7,956.87 gross wage, or €6,200.72 net. Previously, they were paid by their national parliaments, which often led to significant inequalities.

The salary agreed upon under the single status is relatively high in comparison to those of the member states’ parliaments. British members, however, still receive slightly more. This change, which was designed to prevent corruption, was well-received in the European Parliament.

“The adoption of the single status is positive, as the past system created differences relative to the country of origin, which is not right,” said Sylvie Goulard, French MEP from Mouvement Démocrate (MoDem).

“It seems normal to me that all MEPs should have the same status and remuneration for their parliamentary work,” stressed Corine Lepag, French MEP of Mouvement Europe Citoyenne.

As well as the monthly €6,200, MEPs receive a daily allowance, a general expenditure allowance, and reimbursements for travel expenses. Capped since 2012, these allowances have not increased in the period of 2012-2014. The next European Parliament, which will be voted in May, will decide whether to maintain or increase allowances.

The daily allowance, also called “subsistence allowance”, covers accommodation and costs related to the everyday presence of MEPs at the parliament during recess. It amounts to €304 per day, and €152 per day for non EU meetings.

General expenditure allowance amounts to €4,299 per month, and covers the costs of their offices, telephones and computers. For MEPs who fail to attend half of plenary sessions, their general expenditure allowance is halved.

Finally, MEPs are entitled to transport allowances when participating at plenary sessions in Strasbourg or Brussels, parliamentary committee meetings, and political group meetings. The transportation costs of the Strasbourg headquarters is a fundamental argument for those in favour of moving it to Brussels.

According to the Assembly’s rules, “MEPs are refunded the actual cost of their travel tickets for attending such meetings on presentation of receipts, up to a maximum of a business class air fare, a first class rail fare or €0.50 per km for car journey.”

Parliamentary assistants

In order to carry out their parliamentary duties, MEPs are entitled to parliamentary assistants. They have €21,209 at their disposal, to pay a maximum of three certified assistants.

The European administration states that “MEPs can choose their own staff within a budget set by Parliament. Accredited assistants, based in Brussels (or Luxembourg/Strasbourg) are administered directly by Parliament’s administration”.

For example, French MEPs Corine Lepage and Sophie Auconie (Union of Democrats and Independents) both have three certified parliamentary assistants. Whereas Sylvie Goulard has three certified assistants in Brussels, and one in the French parliament, for matters regarding her constituency.

It is difficult to know exactly the salary of a European parliamentary assistant, but according to Constance Le Grip (UMP MEP member of the Union for a Popular Movement): “Parliamentary assistants are paid between €2,700 and €3,500 per month, depending on their level of studies and years of experience”.

All MEPs questioned by EURACTIV believe that their budget is sufficient.

Corinne Lepage says that “the voting lists of plenary sessions, like many debates, sorely test my colleagues, who verify every voting list. However, I believe that if the team is truly dedicated to parliamentary activity, the current budget is sufficient to ensure a thorough job. I do have a regret in relation to the minimal resources of committee secretariats, which are hugely important colleagues, and cannot report on certain matters due to the lack of technical means. I am thinking in particular of two scientific persons, who sit in the committees that I chair.”

Only Sophie Auconie believes that the “human resources budget” could be greater.

“I believe that the human resources budget is not sufficient, considering the colossal workload required in publishing a report and, more generally speaking, the entirety of legislative work. Indeed, the investigative and informative work they carry out, which enables us to ratify amendments with full knowledge of the facts, is a hefty task. When compared to the means available to American parliamentarians for example, or even to those available to the European Commission or the Council, our ‘legislative partners’, I believe that the funds provided to MEPs is insufficient.”

Total: between €30,000 and €40,000 depending on their parliamentary activity

In total, the costs of an MEP changes depending on their activity, attendance and number of trips. For example, Cypriot MEPs cost relatively more than French MEPs, due to reimbursements of transport. However, they attend parliament in Brussels and Strasbourg less than other European counterparts. The average cost of an MEP is somewhere between €30,000 and €40,000 per month.

In France, the budget for members of parliament is virtually the same. With a gross wage of €7,100 per month, general allowances equal to €5,770, funds to remunerate assistants and workers of €10,000, and the “parliamentary reserve” allocated to their party and constituency of €13,000; French members of parliament cost the public €35,000 per month.

Questioning the profitability of MEPs

According to a study carried out by the London School of Economics, the remuneration of MEPs does not necessarily have a direct influence on the quality of their work. On the contrary, in certain cases their involvement can be inversely proportionate to their remuneration.

Parliamentary work varies greatly on the national and the European level. However, proof of their work is clearer at a European level, thanks to the transparency of European institutions. Indeed, all debates, questions and reports can be found on the internet. Many MEPs do more work than their colleagues in national parliament. For example, one third of French legislation, and half of Polish legislation, come directly from European law.

In less than two months, 500 million Europeans will be tasked with choosing their representatives in the European Parliament and define the political direction of the Union. But for the first time, they will also indirectly choose the person who will lead the European Commission, the EU executive, for the following five years.

Faced with allegations that the European institutions lack democratic legitimacy, policymakers have been trying to make the case that “this time it’s different”.

  • 22-25 May 2014: European elections will determine the MEPs who will decide whether the cap on allowances remains


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