Pay MPs too little and you attract the under-qualified, says expert

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By Chris Harris
Pay MPs too little and you attract the under-qualified, says expert

Paying Europe’s MPs too little could see only the independently wealthy get involved in politics, an expert has claimed, just like Donald Trump in the US.

Valentino Larcinese, who co-authored a report on MPs expenses in the UK, says cutting back on salaries for politicians may attract the under-qualified.

His comments come as Euronews published an EU comparison of parliamentarians’ income, which revealed huge differences in pay across the bloc.

Salaries range from 167,000 euros a year in Italy, to just 16,000 in Bulgaria.

Dr Larcinese, an associate professor in public policy at the London School of Economics, told Euronews: “It’s a known fact in Italy that members of parliament are being paid too much. But I don’t think it’s a problem in places like the UK and France.”

His report argued that focusing on only MPs’ earnings was misleading – a better measure of their value would be to look at their cost per vote in parliament.

He added: “Adverse selection is a principle whereby if you pay too little you get the wrong candidate.

“That’s not to say MPs should be paid vast sums of money – it should be comparable with the City of London.

“You don’t want people there just for the money. But if you pay too little you may discourage highly-qualified people from undertaking a political career. Paying an adequate salary to politicians is a democratic principle, because otherwise only the independently wealthy could afford to be in politics.”

This idea was further explored in The Voter’s Blunt Tool, a working paper by Renee Brown, an assistant professor of economics at Stanford Graduate School of Business.

The report found a positive link between the pay and benefits awarded to US politicians and the existence of MPs likely to serve the voter well.

Pablo Oñate, a professor of political science and administration at Charles III University of Madrid, said in a web post for London School of Economics: “MPs are supposed to defend the public interest, and to prevent private interests from coming to dominate.

“Several academic contributions show that MPs now have long working days, and are obliged to spend time away from their homes and families to undertake certain responsibilities related to their job.

“These tasks demand high levels of specialisation and devotion on the part of MPs. Usually, they spend three or four days a week in parliament. When they return to their constituency, they are involved again in a wide range of activities that prevent them from enjoying rest and a private life, even during weekends and on a permanent basis.

“Nevertheless citizens tend to ignore this intense and professional activity. Therefore whatever salary and allowances MPs get will always be perceived as being too high.”

Who are the best-paid MPs in the EU?

Click on a country for more details.

Salaries are gross of tax and annual. Croatia’s figure is net.

How do MPs’ salaries compare to average wages?

The gap in salaries is not explained simply by different costs of living across Europe.

One common theme is that parliamentarians always earn more than the bulk of the people they represent. But discrepancies vary widely.

Italian MPs have a basic salary of around 167,257 euros, which works out as 5.3 times the country’s mean earnings, which stand at 31,680 euros, according to latest Eurostat data (2010).

Bulgaria and the three Baltic states – Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania – also have high ratios when you compare MPs’ salaries with mean earnings.

Malta and Spain have one of the smallest ratios, with MPs’ salaries just above that of mean wages within their borders.

Spanish MPs living outside of Madrid, however, earn two-thirds of their basic salary (33,768 euros) again in a tax-free lump sum for expenses (21,886).

Slovakia, which has a mid-range ratio of 2.2, links its MP earnings to average salaries.

Euronews asked the Italian parliament for comment on this story, but we are yet to receive a response.

Examine the data

Below are the figures behind this story. Click on a column to re-sort the data and examine it further.

Salaries are gross of tax and annual. Croatia’s figure is net.