MEPs overturn expenses freeze, increase budget by €13.2m a year
MEPs provoked anger yesterday when they voted to increase personal staffing expenses by €17,876, despite have previously agreed to a freeze in the light of austerity measures in national budgets.
The latest rise means that the office staffing allowance for each of the European Parliament's 736 members will be almost €256,456 a year, a total annual bill to taxpayers of more than €186.5m.
Martin Callanan, the leader of the European Conservatives in the parliament, argued that, at a time of belt-tightening everywhere else, his colleagues should manage with existing resources.
"This is really unnecessary," Mr Callanan said.
"This news is just going to make people even more disenchanted with the EU. It seems that for some MEPs the only way is up."
Mats Persson, of the Open Europe pressure group, said: "Asking for even more cash now, at a time of continued austerity in member states, isn't exactly going to increase the popularity of MEPs, which is already at an all-time low."
MEPs have demanded the extra €13.2m a year in payments, which follows an identical rise last year, because they claim the Lisbon Treaty has given the EU so many powers to make legislation that its parliament is overworked.
Last December, under pressure from EU governments, the parliament shelved increases to the staffing allowances.
But following an internal "evaluation", by MEPs themselves, the parliament's budget committee overturned the expenses freeze.
Inge Grassle, a senior German Christian Democrat MEP, said the increase would help pay for qualified staff to aid her on complicated technical legislative work. "I try to be very active and I need staff. Money in my office is very tight. We are elected to do a decent job. The budget is there to help do that," she said.
At least 17 British MEPs use a loophole to pay close relations including wives and children, from the allowances.
Research last year found that MEPs' assistants were the best paid legislators' aides in the world, with 52 earning €77,318 to €90,905 a year.
As well as staff allowances, MEPs will be able to earn up to €105,919 in expenses for "daily subsistence" and "general expenditure" without having to provide receipts or other proof.
A British government spokesman said: "Getting a grip of EU spending is our top priority. At a time when many national governments are taking tough steps to clamp down on dangerous deficits, MEPs should be thinking very carefully before agreeing large increases in their allowances." (© Daily Telegraph, London)