Exclusive: MPs across Europe are riding an “unaccountable” system of perks that entitles them to claim tens of thousands of euros a year, Euronews can reveal.
For the first time our investigation uncovers the extent of the practice of handing politicians lump sums, intended to cover the costs of their jobs.
But in some countries there is no obligation to account for what the expenses fund, prompting critics to accuse the system of ‘opening the door to cheating’.
Italy hands its parliamentarians a lump sum each month – working out to 44,000 euros annually – to cover their general costs, without asking for supporting evidence.
Belgian MPs get around 24,000 euros a year and the authorities do not control what they spend the cash on.
Around a third of EU countries also pay lump sum expenses to their MPs, including Bulgaria, Croatia, France, Germany, Lithuania, Netherlands, Slovenia and Spain, according to Euronews research.
Lithuanian MPs have to justify their expenses on a quarterly basis, but it’s unclear how many other countries insist on this.
Most other EU states either insist on receipts or give MPs a maximum sum they can claim up to, before they hand over any expenses cash.
Even when they are accounted for, MPs expenses can cover a much broader range of perks than most companies.
How MPs’ general expenses compare across EU
Click on a country to find out the maximum an MP can receives or can claim for general expenses. In some EU states, general expenses cover travel and accommodation costs, in others they don’t.An entry of €0 either means a general expenses budget has not been declared or the country has told us MPs do not receive any money for general expenses.
Davide Del Monte, executive director of Transparency International Italy, told Euronews: “A big part of their [Italian MPs’] income is related to expenses incurred by the MPs, but they do not have any obligation of transparency or reporting of these expenses.
“The people are not angry about the salary of MPs but for the privileges because an MP can live without any expense, trains, planes and restaurants are paid. Even their haircuts are paid for by the state.”
Italian MPs already earn 167,000 euros a year as a basic salary – the highest in the EU – and get another 15,980 euros to cover the costs of travelling to Rome.
Del Monte added: “So they can claim for the reimbursement without providing sound evidence. Of course this is something that cannot be acceptable by Transparency International or any organisation that believes in principles of transparency, accountability and integrity.
“There is a part which is fixed, the salary, which is under control. It’s high, but under control. Then there is the other one, the flexible part, which is the expenses. This part is not under control, because it’s too easy to cheat the reporting system.”
Some MPs do except their salaries are an issue. Parliamentarians from Beppe Grillo’s populist Five Star Movement hand a share of their salaries to help finance small entrepreneurial start-up projects.
There have also been attempts to reform public sector expenditure, especially since the economic crisis hit Europe in 2008.
But Italian MPs’ expenses have survived the chop, according to Del Monte, with savings instead promised from Italy’s upper house.
Del Monte added: “The truth is sad. But the truth is it’s difficult for members of parliament to decide for a reduction of their salaries. There is no other explanation.”
Euronews asked the Italian parliament for comment on this story, but we are yet to receive a response.
What are expenses like elsewhere in Europe?
French, German, Italian, Belgian and Cypriot MPs are the league leaders when it comes to the maximum sums they can claim for expenses (see table, bottom).
French MPs get nearly their full salary again in general expenses (see chart below). Slovakian parliamentarians, however, have the largest expenses-to-salary ratio, at 82.4 percent
Spain hands out a below average salary to its MPs, but this is perhaps compensated by a generous general expenses allowance. If you are a Spanish MP that lives outside Madrid, you can claim up to 21,866 euros, or 64.8 percent of the salary.
Several countries don’t give their MPs any cash to cover general costs of being a parliamentarian.
They include Britain, which reformed its benefits system after The Daily Telegraph uncovered a massive expenses scandal in 2009. Parliamentary authorities in the UK now insist MPs charge expenses to specific accommodation, travel or office budgets.
What percentage of their salaries can MPs get paid in expenses?
In Cyprus MPs get paid expenses regardless of whether they turn up to parliament, according to Odysseas Michaelides, the country’s auditor general, including a 12,000-euro lump sum for ‘secretarial expenses’, even during the summer recess.
MPs from Croatia already earn double that of a mean salary of their compatriots and get a lump sum for expenses. But, oddly, in addition, they are also paid a ‘family separation allowance’, of around 1,442 euros, a benefit that is rare in other EU countries.
Some MPs in Denmark get free housing. Those that do also get nearly 4,000 euros a year to cover what’s called ‘double housekeeping costs’ – the idea of covering living expenses in two locations.
Oddly, Danish MPs are also entitled to free theatre, sports and cinema tickets. There is no maximum number on the number they can claim.
MPs in France are given a generous array of travel-related benefits, including first-class train travel and a chauffeur for business in Paris. But if they do get stuck at the office they can sleep there, using a fold out bed in some cases.
Examine the data
Below are the figures behind this story. Click on a column to re-sort the data and examine it further.
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