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16/01/2013

The 'cost' of MEPs

This story surfaced in early January 2013 following the publication of a reply to an official question by  Lord Stoddart of Swindon to the UK Government about the annual total cost and cost per member of The House of Lords, the House of Commons and The European Parliament (see the full text of the reply below)

The Daily Telegraph had the first bite at this cherry with an online article entitled:"European MEPs cost £1.79m a year each - three times as much as MPs".

The Daily Telegraph article

We promptly wrote to the editor of the newspaper and the reporter,  pointing out that, given the international nature of the European Parliament, comparing its costs to those of running the Houses of Parliament is like comparing apples and oranges.

We pointed out that European Parliament  operates  in 23 official languages, leading to translation and interpretation costs not applicable to the Houses of Parliament. Unlike the Palace of Westminster, most of the European Parliament's office space is rented or leased. And because of a decision made by Member States, including the UK, and enshrined in the Treaties, the EP has two working seats, resulting in extra costs linked to travel, staffing, the upkeep of the buildings, and so on.

We also took issue with the accusation that the European Parliament does not hold 'proper debates'; the EP is constantly grilling Commissioners, and Ministers from the Member State holding the rotating Presidency of the Council of Ministers. In fact, government leaders now routinely seek to discuss their policies in the European chamber. Next week we will welcome the Austrian Chancellor and the Irish Taoiseach, followed in February by the French President.

As each bill is steered through several readings by a specific MEP (known as the 'rapporteur'), many very hard working British MEPs (among others) have significantly greater legislative powers than the average British backbench MP - on matters ranging from banking union to airline passengers' rights - and do not find their hands bound by Government whips as occurs in most national Parliaments

We finally pointed out that, far from "rubber-stamping" Commission proposals, the European Parliament is a robust and often critical co-legislator, modifying and sometimes killing bills which it feels are not in EU citizens' interests.

We received no reply and no offers of correction from the newspaper.

But predictably the 'story' went on to spread to other publications, such as:

The Daily ExpressThe Daily MailThe Daily Star

Even when reporters made the effort to ring this office, and were extensively briefed on the points above, they chose to report the figures without context or explanation.

In the case of the Daily Mail, they actually managed to add a zero to the overall amount (so we are talking over £1 trillion, which did not seem to have raised any alarm bells with either author or subeditor) and which was duly cut and pasted in a piece by the Daily Star in the following days.

Two assumptions are left fundamentally unchallenged; that MPs are 'better value for money' than MEPs (apples, oranges) and that MEPs perversely choose an arrangement (with two seats and offices in yet a third country) which substantially contributes to the higher costs of running this institutions

Everybody with a genuine interest in this topic knows very well or can easily find out that the arrangement is imposed upon the EP by agreements Member States have made and enshrined in the EU Treaties. The vast majority of MEPs have repeatedly expressed their desire to move to a one seat arrangement.

Incidentally, the recently published Fresh Start manifesto, compiled by Tory MPs, recognises this and calls for the UK to build consensus among Member States for a Treaty change to address this issue.

Fresh Start

Democracy is an expensive business. But getting the basic figures right, putting them in some context, explaining what they actually pay for and what routes could realistically be pursued to bring those costs down should not be beyond the ken of a professional and honest media.

 

Parliaments: Costs

Question asked by Lord Stoddart of Swindon:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what are the latest figures for the annual total costs, and cost per member, of (1) the House of Lords, (2) the House of Commons, and (c) the European Parliament. [HL4062]

The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury (Lord Sassoon):The table below sets out the annual cost, number of Members and average cost per Member for the House of Commons, House of Lords and European Parliament.

 

The figures for the House of Commons are taken from the House of Commons annual accounts 2011-12 (2) (for both administrative and Members' budgets) and the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority annual accounts 2011-12 (3).

The House of Lords figures are for taken from the House of Lords annual accounts 2011-12 (4).

For the EP, figures are taken from the European Union Budget of 2011 financial report (5). The EP increased from 736 Members to 754 from 1 December 2011.