Thursday 19 September 2019

MEPs gain little from secrecy

MEMBERS of the European Parliament, of whatever nationality, are notoriously shy when the subject of expenses comes up. For months now, pressure has been mounting on the EU to publish a confidential report into MEPs' expenses. The leaked Galvin Report revealed huge abuses which had been kept under wraps.

A random 167 MEPs were checked and a culture of members paying huge "bonuses" to staff was uncovered.

Some MEPs were even claiming allowances for non-existent staff. No Irish MEP was named in the report.

Recently, former journalist, now MEP, Mairead McGuinness argued that questions about expenses were an attempt to slur MEPs. When she was a journalist, nobody questioned her accountability, she said. Now that she had turned to politics, it was being implied that her ethics had changed.

While it is widely accepted that journalists are scrupulously honest and truthful when it comes to submitting expenses, their money does not come from the public purse, Irish or EU.

The gravy-train allusions are nothing new. Naturally, it is a term that irritates the Irish MEPs, but with their high pay, munificent benefits and lavish expenses, there are valid reasons why taxpayers should expect transparency.

Last year, a BBC reporter spent a week trailing British MEPs to see what their job entailed. He calculated that an individual MEP costs about €400,000 a year. That adds up to a hefty €2m for each MEP's five-year term of office, a total of €26m over the five years for Ireland's full contingent.

MEPs' salaries are currently paid by their home state, but other expenses are paid for by the EU. Each Irish MEP earns the same amount as a TD in the Dail, €101,191 a year.

Because the salaries are pegged to national parliament pay scales, MEPs' pay across Europe varies considerably. Irish MEPs are the third-highest paid in the EU after Italy and Austria. Latvian MEPs, for example, have an annual salary of €14,197 for doing the same job as an Irish MEP.

Those Irish MEPs who refuse to make public details of their expenses are simply playing into the hands of the Eurosceptics, lending credence to claims that the EU suffers from a deficit of accountability and transparency.

What have they got to hide?

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