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Page last updated at 13:34 GMT, Tuesday, 15 April 2008 14:34 UK

Are Europe's MPs paid too much?

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MPs' pay continues to provoke controversy across Europe.

From moonlighting or employing a student son to buying nappies on a ministerial credit card, MPs are under constant scrutiny for what they earn and the perks they enjoy.

Here, BBC reporters give the view from five European countries.

FRANCE - HUGH SCHOFIELD

The 577 members of France's National Assembly get a monthly salary of 5,180 euros (£4,138) after social security deductions but before income tax.

On top of this, they receive an expenses allowance of 5,790 euros a month for lodging, travel and entertainment, as well as 8,950 euros for staff.

Deputies qualify for free first-class rail travel around the country, as well as 40 return flights a year between Paris and their constituencies.

The French National Assembly
Deputies continue to receive a salary even after they lose their seats

Deputies from overseas departments such as Martinique or Reunion get 26 return flights a year free.

Phone-calls and letters sent from the National Assembly are also free of charge.

None of this has been the cause of controversy in France. On the other hand, certain additional privileges have come under attack.

For example, it is a little-known fact that deputies qualify for housing loans at extremely low interest on amounts up to 76,000 euros (£60,000).

This was originally devised to help poor MPs from the provinces to find affordable lodging in Paris, but is now a generally-used perk.

In addition, deputies have their own social security system which works heavily in their favour.

MPS' PERKS AROUND EUROPE
Ultra-low interest housing loans: France
New kitchen allowance for second homes: UK
Annual rail card: Germany
Free flights to Rome: Italy
Rent-free second homes: Sweden

If an MP fails to find employment after losing their seat, he/she receives a full salary for the first six months, then a gradually declining proportion of the salary for a further two-and-a-half years.

The pension system is also rather special. During a deputy's first three mandates, each year's contribution counts twice. So, after 15 years, it is as if they have worked 30.

Certain minor perks are also much-prized. Deputies continue to be called Monsieur le député or Madame la députée for the rest of their lives, even after losing their seats.

They also have the right to continue frequenting the Assembly building, the Palais Bourbon, opening up a lucrative new profession for some ex-parliamentarians as lobbyists.

SWEDEN - JULIAN ISHERWOOD

In Sweden, members of parliament are as open to scrutiny as one would expect from a country that prides itself on being one of the world's most transparent democracies.

Under transparency laws, any Swedish citizen can acquire any information from any state agency without censure, unless the information regards secret documents involving other states.

The Swedish Riksdag (courtesy Melker Dahlstrand, Riksdag)
Second homes and travel expenses are provided by the parliament

It was under these laws that the then crown princess of the Social Democratic Party, Deputy Prime Minister Mona Sahlin, was forced in 1995 to relinquish her cabinet post following the discovery that she had used her ministerial credit card to buy nappies for her baby.

She has since been elected leader of the Social Democrats.

The already strict rules governing MP transparency were further strengthened as of March this year when it became mandatory for MPs to publish their ownership of domestic or foreign shares, including the names of the companies, on holdings of more than 82,000 Swedish Krona (8,700 euro, £7,000)

In order to avoid potential conflicts of interest, MPs must also publish their membership of company boards or any other official involvement in companies such as accounting services.

The Swedish Parliament or Riksdag does not provide staff for members, although it does provide some funding for staff at central offices of parties that are represented in parliament.

Election campaign costs for existing members of parliament are, however, tax deductible.

Monthly salaries for Swedish MPs are at a flat rate of 52,900 Krona (5,618 euro, £4,521) apart from the speaker of the House and the prime minister - both of whom receive a flat 126,000 Krona.

External income over and above members' salaries must be made public.

At the same time, travel and home office expenses are covered by parliament, although travel must be undertaken in the cheapest possible way, and must be booked through the parliamentary travel office.

Second homes in Stockholm for members who live outside the capital are provided rent-free by parliament, which owns some 250 apartments.

Those MPs who choose to live in apartments they have found themselves receive a flat 7,000 Krona (743 euro, £600) compensation, but cannot claim for improvements to that accommodation, whereas the state pays for repairs and improvements to state-owned apartments.

All members are provided with a parliamentary credit card, but cards are personal and paid by members themselves.

Official expenses paid using the card must be invoiced separately to Parliament.

ITALY - CHRISTIAN FRASER

Italy has the highest number of elected parliamentarians in Europe.

Without counting life senators, there is one parliamentarian for every 60,371 inhabitants, compared with one for 91,824 people in the UK, 112,502 in Germany and 560,747 in the United States.

Italy's Chamber of Deputies
A TV programme claimed fewer than 10% of staff were paid by the rules

Political journalists Gian Antonio Stella and Sergio Rizzo have exposed the excesses of the political class in a new book, The Caste: How Italian Politicians Have Become Untouchable.

Their figures are taken from the balance sheets of both houses of parliament.

Their book is an extraordinary insight into the corruption, inefficiency and greed that they argue permeates every level of Italian government.

The basic salary for senators is 5,235 euros (£4,214) a month, but on top of that they claim daily expenses, which on average amount to an extra 4,000 euros (£3,220) a month.

They receive free flight and train tickets to and from Rome and they are also allowed to claim further expenses for travelling by car.

When you factor in the average phone bill - 340 euros (£270) a month - the real monthly income, say the authors, is nearer to 12000 euros (£9,650) a month.

The politicians are expected to pay their researchers out of this monthly income but research shows that on average secretaries and researchers are paid between 500 and 1500 euros a month - a fraction of the money that is claimed.

The satirical television programme "Le Iene", broadcast on Italia 1, reported that, in the lower house of parliament, out of 629 researchers and secretaries employed by deputies, only 54 were employed according to the rules.

All the others, said the programme, were paid in cash under the table.

The basic salary of an Italian MEP is 149,215 euros annually (£120,130), double the salaries of the Germans and the British, three times the salary of the Portuguese, and four times that of the Spanish.

Their travel expenses are calculated automatically on the most expensive air ticket to Brussels - without the need for any documentation.

Year on year, the expenses of the Italian parliament have grown.

La Caste estimates the running costs of Italy's presidential palace is now four times that of Buckingham Palace - and while German citizens pay a maximum of 89m euros per year for public funding of political parties, Italians pay 270m.

GERMANY - TRISTANA MOORE

There is currently a row going on over politicians' part-time work involving Germany's former Interior Minister, Otto Schily.

Otto Schily, former German interior minister
German MPs have to declare extra earnings over 1,000 euros

The Social Democrat MP faces a hefty fine of up to 44,000 euros (£35,420) because the Bundestag claims he failed to declare money that he had earned from legal work, in breach of parliamentary rules.

A German MP receives a monthly salary of 7,339 euros gross (£5,900).

On top of that, an MP gets extra expenses amounting to 3,782 euros (£3,040), which cover living or entertainment costs and an annual rail card.

The MP also receives 13,660 euros (£10,990) to run the office in the parliament and in the constituency, which includes salaries for staff.

The parliamentary rules governing what German MPs have to declare are pretty strict. An MP is obliged to declare to the president of the German parliament:

  • The job he/she had before entering parliament
  • How much money he/she earns from any extra paid job carried out while being an MP which exceeds 1,000 euros

German MPs have to register any shareholdings and company directorships, as well as membership of any associations or organisations.

They also have to register any plans for the future, regarding activities they intend to pursue after their parliamentary career.

The MPs' interests are published on the Bundestag's website, so the public can access the information.

But there is less detailed information about the extra money earned by MPs. The extra cash earned is presented in three categories, ranging from level 1 (meaning extra income from 1,000 - 3,500 euros) to level 3 (more than 7,000 euros each month).

There are no official rules for second homes which MPs may have.

If they have a second residence, they are still liable to pay tax like everyone else.

As for extra allowances, like other members of the public, German MPs have to fill out an annual tax return, which would include any allowance.

UNITED KINGDOM - EMMA GRIFFITHS

MPs' expenses are published annually under nine main headings - including a second homes allowance, travel costs, staff pay and stationery.

Last year's claims ranged from the lowest of £44,551 (55,330 euros) to the highest of £185,421 (230,300 euros). On average, each MP claimed £135,600 each (168,400 euros).

Conservative MP Derek Conway
Mr Conway announced he would stand down from parliament

The House of Commons is now reviewing the expenses system, after Conservative MP Derek Conway was reprimanded for paying his son more than £40,000 for work as a parliamentary researcher, while he was a student in Newcastle.

An MPs' committee said he had been overpaid and there was "no record" of work done.

MPs are given up to £90,505 a year to employ staff and there is no rule against employing family members.

Since the Conway affair, a new register of employed relatives is being set up - to be completed by August - although MPs do not have to give details of exactly what work is done.

MPs who do not already live in London need somewhere to stay during the week near Westminster and are entitled to claim up to about £23,000 a year towards the cost of running their second home, known as the Additional Costs Allowance.

Currently they declare the total claimed, but no details. Commons authorities are fighting a Freedom of Information ruling to publish a full breakdown of claims by 14 MPs, with supporting receipts where possible.

Under this second homes allowance, MPs can claim for items like televisions, furniture and washing machines, as well as refurbishment of their second homes.

It emerged they could claim up to £10,000 for a new kitchen and £6,335 for a new bathroom.

They were also able to claim up to £250 without providing a receipt and up to £400 a month on food. The £250 limit has since been reduced to £25, as part of the continuing expenses review.

Travel expenses are broken down into different headings, such as car, rail and European travel, when the claims are published.

There is no limit on travel expenses. MPs can claim business-class air fares and first-class rail travel for parliamentary business within the UK and up to three visits a year to European institutions, as well as up to 15 return journeys a year for spouses or children.

Other expenses claimed by MPs include a £2,812 London supplement for MPs representing inner London seats, a stationery allowance, an IT allowance of up to £3,000, a £10,000-a-year communications allowance and an "incidental expenses" allowance.

MPs who lose their seat or stand down at a general election are also entitled to a "resettlement allowance" worth between 50% and 100% of their annual salary - this is also being reviewed.




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