New figures shine a light on the MEPs who consistently fail to turn up for key votes in the European Parliament – despite taking home bumper salaries.
Analysis of statistics from VoteWatch reveal 20 politicians have taken part in half or less of recorded votes in Brussels and Strasbourg.
MEPs are, in general, paid a monthly salary of €8,000 – the equivalent of €96,000 annually – plus other benefits.
The figures cover July-December 2014, the first six months of the new parliament.
Many of the politicians with a poor vote attendance record were ill.
Others appeared to justify their absence because of domestic politics, including UKIP leader Nigel Farage, who turned up to just 36.88 per cent of recorded votes.
Hermann Kelly, a spokesman for Farage’s European Parliament group EFDD (Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy), asked to explain his absence, said: “Farage is a leader of a national party and he spends a lot of time communicating about the EU in Britain.”
Farage, Aldo Patriciello and Brian Cowley, who has been suffering ill-health, were also among the worst-attending MEPs in the 2009-2014 parliament.
Other EFDD MEPs appeared to be in open contempt of the European Parliament, including British politicians Raymond Finch and Louise Bours.
Kelly, explaining their low percentages, said: “Ms Bours and Mr Finch have both had short bouts of sickness which prevented their attendance at the European Parliament.
”They are also sick of the job-destroying poverty-inducing legislation that is rubber-stamped by the European Parliament each month as well, and so they travel the country, getting out their message in the UK.”
Also using domestic politics as an excuse were three Romanian MEPs. Cătălin Ivan, Cristian Bușoi and Daciana Sârbu said they were involved in the presidential elections in November 2014. Sârbu is the wife of Romanian prime minister Victor Ponta, who failed in his presidential bid.
One of the most unusual excuses for absence came from Swedish MEP Christopher Fjellner, whose spokesman said: “Mr Fjellner is trying, as a modern Swedish father, to spend as much time as possible this autumn with his newly-born daughter. He has made a priority of being present in committees and negotiations when his presence makes the most impact on the results rather than just the votes where outcome in most cases are evident.”
The statistics only cover roll call votes, or recorded votes, which represent around 15% of all votes in the European Parliament. They are required on important issues, or where there is not a clear majority.
Votes in the European Parliament are also not the only thing an MEP does. As Solange Helin, press officer for the S&D political group, points out: “Presence in plenary is one thing but you also need to take into account work in committees. Drafting reports and opinions, and tabling amendments, is not taken into account in an analysis of plenary attendance yet remains one of the most important and time-consuming elements of parliamentary work.”
Former MEP Andrew Duff said: “Generally the European Parliament is extremely effective. I was in there for 15 years and studied the thing very closely and I’m astounded that despite the complexity and size of the thing, it functions.”
Referring to those without a valid excuse for absence, he added: “Clearly in practice it’s [bad attendance records] deplorable because they are not contributing to the extremely important work of the parliament but it’s also deceiving their own public that they are at work and I hope that, as this parliament goes on and the seriousness of the work that has to be done becomes clear, it begins to impinge on these fly-by-nights like UKIP and that they’ll start to take things more seriously.”
MEPS’ VOTING RECORD BY COUNTRY
This infographic (hover over to view the figures) shows EU countries’ average for MEPs’ voting attendance at the European Parliament.
Ireland has the worst record in the EU, its MEPs turned up to 70.6 percent of votes, while Croatia was the best, with a 95.8 percent score.
MEPS’ SALARY AND BENEFITS
On top of their €96,000 annual salary, MEPs receive a 3.5 percent contributory pension; a general costs budget of €51,588 per year and an annual travel allowance of up to €4,243.
In addition MEPs have their expenses paid for commuting to and from Brussels.
There is also a subsistence allowance of €304 for general costs for each day MEPs are on official business, providing they sign an attendance register.
The politicians also have a maximum annual budget of €254,508 for staffing costs, but that money is not paid directly to members.
The general expenditure and daily subsistence allowances are halved if the MEP does not take part in more than half of roll-call votes.
MEPs’ expenses have been reformed after a series of controversies – a leaked internal report in 2009 revealed ‘systematic abuses’. It included payments made to assistants not accredited with the parliament and one MEP who paid a €223,000 staff allowance to one person, understood to be a relative.
BREAKDOWN OF MEPS’ BENEFITS
This pie chart shows the annual salary and benefits of a MEP.
For travel expenses and staff costs we have used the maximum available figure – the amount claimed may be less than this.
On the flip side, the pie chart does not include: MEPs’ pension; business class air fare or first class rail ticket for travel to and from the European Parliament; and a daily subsistence allowance of 304 euros.