Democracy and Declarations: The Cost of an MEP

Note: This article was originally published at OneEurope.

The commonly known fact is that there are 754 Members of the European Parliament. What is less commonly known is how many of them show up, how often they appear and what they vote for.

Given that the European Parliament Budget for 2012 was €1718 billion, with 24% of that dedicated to MEP expenses, the importance of arriving and voting consistently cannot be undermined. One of the most commonly voiced complaints about the European Parliament is its inherent democratic deficit. So the question is: are MEPs worth the cash?

For the almost indescribably large sum of money spent on the Parliament, which is still just 1% of the general European Union budget, European citizens may not be getting value for money.

VoteWatch Europe indicates that participation is strongest by Austrian MEPs, who participate in roll call votes over 91% of the time in Parliament. On the lower end of the scale, Malta has the dubious honour of being the least participative state, present 71% of the time.

On an individual level, many MEPs are highly participative and demonstrate strong records for appearing, voting and contributing in all areas of parliamentary discourse. Iosif Matula of Romania has participated in 99.56% of votes and was elected to the Parliament for the first time in 2009.

Brian Crowley of Ireland has the poorest attendance score at 27.42%. Crowley was first elected to the European Parliament in 1994 and gained the largest number of first preference votes in the 2009 European elections in Ireland South, where he secured over 132,000 votes, pushing him into first place with ease. If Brian Crowley neglects to attend, should he then receive the €7,056.87 salary per month of an MEP?

Post tax, that salary emerges as €6,200 and MEPs may also be subject to national taxation. Further, the expenses system at the European Parliament is extensive. In 2011, each MEP was allowed expenses of €4,299 per month. MEPs are further refunded the cost of travel to and from their meetings up to a maximum of a business class air fare. There are also fixed expenses to cover the cost of additional baggage and motorway tolls. Further, there are fixed allowances for travel outside an MEP’s home country for a purpose other than official meetings- in 2010, that expense was capped at over €4000 per annum.

Finally, Parliament pays €304 per day of attendance at official meetings, which is halved if MEPs don’t fulfill more than 50% attendance. Parliament also pays a further €152 per day plus accommodation and breakfast expenses, for meetings attended by MEPs outside of the European Community.

It is quite clear that to be an MEP is to have a significant income with very little oversight from your member state. Some MEP’s elect to demonstrate their expenses and the actual oversight within the European institutions is quite good. But speaking as someone from Ireland who works in politics, the oversight system here isn’t strong and the details of these payments and expenses are not known or advertised.

Austerity is rife across Europe, and more and more people in the middle and working classes are suffering daily under the weight of new taxes, new charges, heightened contributions and pay cuts. Members of the European Parliament need to sit at the same table as the rest of us. If you’re only showing up 27% of the time, you should only get 27% of that pay. Democracy begins right here, but the deficit seems wider than ever.