At a time when European citizens are being asked to tighten their purse strings and accept pay freezes and cuts, their representatives in the European Parliament seem less obliged to lead by example.
The parliament’s budget plan for 2012 was adopted on Wednesday despite howls of opposition from some MEPs who wanted to cut their own allowances. The budget plan was led by Portuguese centre-right MEP José Manuel Fernandes and of the amendments to that plan, one in particular stuck in the throats of some of his colleagues.
Germany’s Helga Trüpel (Greens) proposed that MEPs should travel economy class on journeys shorter than four hours. They currently fly business class and ride first class on trains and the potential savings were estimated at between 15 and 20 million euros per year. But the idea was rejected by 402 votes to 216, with 56 abstentions.
One source, who asked to remain anonymous, defended the rejection of the proposal, saying that “most MEPs agree that economy-flex tickets are OK, but they think the budget procedure is not the way to do this.” Fernandes, author of the initial report argued that changes would need to be made to the MEPs’ rulebook before the economy class versus business class argument could be addressed.
Low budget travel plans were not the only contentious issue.
MEPs voted to increase the parliament’s budget by 2.3 percent next year to a total of 1.725 billion euros. Some pointed out that this was lower than EU-wide inflation of 2.8 percent. It is also much less than the original proposal to increase the budget by 5.2 percent.
But still some deputies remain convinced that 2.3 percent is far too much when some European citizens won’t see their pay packets rise at all because of austerity measures. Portugal’s Miguel Portas (United Left) called the situation “indecent and deeply depressing”.
Hungarian Conservative Lajos Bokros said that there were plenty of ways to cut costs. For example he said MEPs do not need a “shiny, glitzy fleet of Mercedes” in Strasbourg when instead they could “use the tramway.”
Derek Clark of the UK Independence Party was also damning of the budget report, saying: “I am appalled that while ordinary people at taking cuts in services and paying more tax, MEPs have voted to fly in the lap of luxury at taxpayers’ expense.”
Other contentious issues included a vote to give more than 700 MEPs 1,500 euros more every month to pay their assistants. That figure will rise by a further 1,500 euros next year.
And there are those in the parliament who are fiercely opposed to the building of a House of European History, a museum that will cost almost 60 million euros to set up and then 13.45 million euros per year to run. Bokros was among those critics, saying that “as Europe is losing competitiveness and geopolitical weight, it is becoming a museum anyway.”
To read in french: elcruasanambulante.com