Now that Nigel Farage is in the news again this week over his row with The Times about their claims he abused his European parliament expenses account, I decided to look up what an MEP can and cannot claim in expenses. But frustratingly there doesn’t seem to be many clear and simple journalistic breakdowns on the internet, beyond a few MEP websites and the BBC. Therefore I decided to do it myself:
Last year, the Daily Mail reported the average MEP took home an annual income of £182,00 per year once expenses, perks and salaries had been accounted for. The report, by German price comparison website preisvergelich.de, estimated that over one five year parliamentary term, an MEP could bring home over £1 million.
I took a look at the individual figures of the maximums MEPs could claim as well as their basic salary and found it was as clear as mud. Here is how they breakdown:
Basic salary: €95,484 per annum (roughly £79,000)
Prior to the start of the 2009 parliamentary term, members were paid the same rate as the MPs of their home countries (e.g. UK MEPs would be paid the equivalent of £66,396 per year today).
This was reformed as there was a wide discrepancy in the pay of different members. For instance, in 2002 Italian MEPs earned €130,000, while Spanish MEPs only earnt €32,000.
General Expenditure Allowance: €4,299 (roughly £3500) per month.
This is the allowance that all the fuss is about. Working out at €51,588 (£42,588) per year, this is an allowance paid directly to MEP to manage office costs. It is typically used for rent, electricity, telephone, post costs and IT costs.
However, it can be halved if the MEP fails to attend at least half of the sessions of the European parliament.
Parliament Assistance Allowance: €21,209 (£17,500) per month
This is a fund for to pay for staffing and admin costs; it covers pensions, national insurance, intern and volunteer expenses, and the basic salaries of staff. It is €254,508 (roughly £210,000) per year.
None of this money is allowed to go to the MEP directly; Brussels staff costs are administered by the European Parliament and UK costs are administered by a paying agent.
However, this allowance has been the source of near constant controversy as several MEPs (including Nigel Farage) have been accused of exploiting the budget by employing family members as office assistants and secretaries. In January, the Sunday Mirror reported Kirsten Farage earnt up to £30,000 per year from the European parliament.
MEPs can claim for travel between Brussels and their home constituency. They can claim for up to 24 return journeys but not exact figure is given as a maximum amount they can claim.
However, they have a separate allowance for travel on official trips to other destinations, €4,243 (£3,505). This is to be used for events and talks they attend/give as a representative of the European parliament. For example, there are parliamentary delegations to countries outside the EU such as Palestine or Afghanistan for which MEPs taking part can claim expenses. All MEPs have to provide receipts.
There are two basic types:
A €304 (roughly £250) daily subsistence allowance. This is supposed to cover cost of renting a hotel or a flat and pay for meal while in Brussels. It can only be claimed by signing in the official register at the parliament or the attendance list at an official meeting.
There is a second subsistence allowance of €152 (roughly £125) a day plus accommodation and breakfast costs for attending meetings outside the European Community. However it is only available, provided the MEP signs an official register for the meeting.
This means it is impossible to know for sure just how much the maximum amount of money an individual MEP can wring out in expenses. It depends on how often the MEP turns up, how often they travel, where they travel and if they hire any family as staff.
Overall, I’d say it is pretty hard to work out one exact figure for how much an MEP can take home once the variability of travel and subsistence costs are taken into account. Currently as there is no legislation forcing MEPs to declare their spending (though many do it voluntarily) it is hard to know if the snouts are in the trough or not.