Page last updated at 14:10 GMT, Monday, 1 February 2010

Euro MPs call for allowance boost

Euro notes
In the past some MEPs have been involved in expenses scandals

Euro MPs are pushing for an extra 1,500 euros (£1,300) a month in allowances to cover what they argue is an increased workload under the Lisbon Treaty.

The extra money would be in addition to the current 17,540 euros a month that MEPs get to pay their personal staff.

A European Parliament official told the BBC that the allowance increase would not be new money - it would come from another part of the parliament budget.

A final decision on the extra staff funding has not yet been taken.

But the parliament's bureau, responsible for managing the assembly's business, proposed the increase and it has already received provisional backing from the budget committee.

Edward McMillan-Scott MEP, one of the parliament's vice-presidents, said the increase could go through without a vote by the full parliament.

He called the proposal "untimely and unhelpful". "I don't regard it as necessary at this stage. I think the allowance is fairly generous," he told the BBC.

Mr McMillan-Scott has been an independent MEP since his expulsion from the Conservative Party last year, after opposing its withdrawal from the main centre-right group in the parliament.

MEPs' new powers

The Lisbon Treaty, which took effect in December, extends MEPs' powers of "co-decision" to new areas of EU legislation, including agriculture, fisheries and immigration.

"Co-decision" - that is, putting MEPs on an equal footing with member states' governments - now becomes the norm for most policy areas.

The parliament also wants to increase the number of civil servants responsible for organising the work of parliament committees. An extra 150 staff would be hired, reports say.

Seventy-five extra staff have already been hired to help the parliament's party groups, Mr McMillan-Scott said.

The extra allowance for MEPs' assistants would not be paid to the MEPs directly, the parliament official said. These allowances are handled by third-party paying agents, like employment agencies.

"If not all of the allowance is spent then parliament keeps the rest," the official explained.

Some MEPs say their current allowances are already more than enough to cover their expenses.

New payment system

The 736-member parliament elected in June 2009 is operating under new rules for salaries and allowances.

The new system was brought in after several scandals involving MEPs' abuse of expenses.

MEPs now get a uniform monthly salary of 7,665 euros before tax, which is 38.5% of the basic salary of a judge at the European Court of Justice.

In addition, MEPs get a monthly allowance of 4,202 euros to cover general expenses in their home country, including office costs and travel.

There is now a ban on MEPs employing close relatives, though existing staff who were hired under the old rules can stay in their jobs.

MEPs are reimbursed for travel to official EU meetings, such as parliament sessions, and they can claim up to 4,148 euros annually for other working trips abroad.

A flat-rate attendance allowance of 298 euros daily is paid whenever an MEP participates in an EU meeting.

The governments of the 27 member states are currently in dispute with the European Commission over a 3.7% pay rise that the commission wants EU civil servants to have.

Most of the governments say such a pay rise cannot be justified in the tough economic climate, which is forcing them to cut staff and salary costs in national bureaucracies.

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