Monday, January 19, 2009

Global Gravy Train

While the gravy train for politicians spreads across Europe and even as far as the US, Irish politicians are still coming out among the top earners in European.
Let’s have a look at the pay, perks and allowances of some of our European and American politicians.


It is not just the Irish politicians who have a season ticket on the gravy train of political perks – their European counterparts are also up to the same trick.

It seems that there is no end to the public money that politicians around Europe can claim. From grants to second homes to first-class travel and lush entertainment expenses, the public ATM is literally spitting out money.


Across the water in the UK, MPs are paid less than Irish TDs getting the equivalent of €68,500 a year or €5,708 a month but they make up for the difference thanks to a very generous expenses regime.

MPs’ expenses in the UK are published annually under nine main headings – including a second homes allowance, travel costs, staff pay and stationery.

In 2007, the claims ranged from €55,330 (the lowest) to €230,300 (the highest. On average, each MP claimed €168,400 each.

MPs are given up to £90,505 (€99,698) a year to employ staff and there is no rule against employing family members.

MPs who do not already live in London and need somewhere to stay during the week near Westminster and are entitled to claim up to about £23,000 (€25,343) a year towards the cost of running their second home, known as the Additional Costs Allowance.

Under this second homes allowance, MPs can claim for items like televisions, furniture and washing machines, as well as refurbishment of their second homes.

It emerged they could claim up to £10,000 (€11,016) for a new kitchen and £6,335 (€6,979) for a new bathroom.

They were also able to claim up to £250 (€275) without providing a receipt and up to £400 (€440) a month on food. The £250 limit has since been reduced to £25, as part of the continuing expenses review.

There is no limit on travel expenses. MPs can claim business-class air fares and first-class rail travel for parliamentary business within the UK and up to three visits a year to European institutions, as well as up to 15 return journeys a year for spouses or children.

Other expenses claimed by MPs include a £2,812 (€3,097) London supplement for MPs representing inner London seats, a stationery allowance, an IT allowance of up to £3,000 (€3,302), a £10,000-a-year (€11,016) communications allowance and an ‘incidental expenses’ allowance.

MPs who lose their seat or stand down at a general election are also entitled to a ‘resettlement allowance’ worth between 50% and 100% of their annual salary.


The members of France's National Assembly get a monthly salary of €5,180 after social security deductions but before income tax.

On top of this, they receive an expenses allowance of €5,790 a month for lodging, travel and entertainment, as well as €8,950 for staff.

Deputies qualify for free first-class rail travel around the country, as well as 40 return flights a year between Paris and their constituencies.

Deputies from overseas departments such as Martinique or Reunion get 26 return flights a year free.

Phone-calls and letters sent from the National Assembly are also free of charge.

French deputies qualify for housing loans at extremely low interest on amounts up to €76,000. This was originally devised to help poor MPs from the provinces to find affordable lodging in Paris, but is now a generally-used perk.

In addition, deputies have their own social security system which works heavily in their favour.

If an MP fails to find employment after losing their seat, he/she receives a full salary for the first six months, then a gradually declining proportion of the salary for a further two-and-a-half years.


Sweden has some of the world’s most transparent democracies.

It was in Sweden that the then Deputy Prime Minister Mona Sahlin, was forced in 1995 to relinquish her cabinet post following the discovery that she had used her ministerial credit card to buy nappies for her baby.

The Swedish Parliament or Riksdag does not provide staff for members, although it does provide some funding for staff at central offices of parties that are represented in parliament.

Election campaign costs for existing members of parliament are, however, tax deductible.

Monthly salaries for Swedish MPs are at a flat rate of 52,900 Krona (€4,845) apart from the speaker of the House and the prime minister - both of whom receive a flat 126,000 Krona (€11,549).

Travel and home office expenses are covered by parliament, although travel must be undertaken in the cheapest possible way, and must be booked through the parliamentary travel office.

Second homes in Stockholm for members who live outside the capital are provided rent-free by parliament, which owns some 250 apartments.

Those MPs who choose to live in apartments they have found themselves receive a flat 7,000 Krona (€641) compensation, but cannot claim for improvements to that accommodation, whereas the state pays for repairs and improvements to state-owned apartments.

All members are provided with a parliamentary credit card, but cards are personal and paid by members themselves.

Official expenses paid using the card must be invoiced separately to Parliament.


The basic salary for senators is €5,235 a month, but on top of that they claim daily expenses, which on average amount to an extra €4,000 a month.

They receive free flight and train tickets to and from Rome and they are also allowed to claim further expenses for travelling by car.

The politicians are expected to pay their researchers out of this monthly income but research shows that on average secretaries and researchers are paid between €500 and €1,500 a month - a fraction of the money that is claimed.

Year on year, the expenses of the Italian parliament have grown. The running costs of Italy's presidential palace is now four times that of Buckingham Palace - and while German citizens pay a maximum of €89m per year for public funding of political parties, Italians pay €270m.


A German MP receives a monthly salary of €7,339.

On top of that, an MP gets extra expenses amounting to €3,782 a month, which cover living or entertainment costs and an annual rail card.

The MP also receives €13,660 a year to run the office in the parliament and in the constituency, which includes salaries for staff.

There are no official rules for second homes which MPs may have.

If they have a second residence, they are still liable to pay tax like everyone else.


Just in case we think our Irish politicians have a licence to print money with all their perks and allowances, they still don't have the brass necks of their American counterparts.

Free haircuts, free fresh flowers and an exemption from any parking tickets are among the perks that US House and Senate politicians enjoy.

The current base salary for members of the House and Senate is $169,300 (€128,031). However, salaries for the leadership of both houses is higher.

In the Senate, both the Majority Leader and the Minority Leader get $188,100 (€142,248).

In the House, the Speaker of the House gets $217,400 (€164,442), and the Majority and Minority Leaders get $188,100 (€142,248).

Among the perks and allowances given to US Congressmen and women include free life insurance, subsidized meals in Congressional dining rooms, 10 haircuts in the Congressional barbershop, free parking at Reagan National Airport in Washington DC and free gym membership.

There is an annual staff allowance of $752,400 (€568,418) for each House member and a staff allowance of $400,000 to $2.4m (€302,000 to €1.8m) for each Senator.

House and Senate politicians get free travel to other countries, as well as a travel allowance for so-called 'Congressional Inquiries'.

They get free access to a broadcast studio, free fresh flowers from the National Botanic Garden, free income tax preparation, Congressional pensions, free outpatient hospital care from military hospitals, a $10,000 (€7,552) yearly car allowance and driver.

House members are also allowed to keep all of the frequent flier miles they rack up on lobby-funded trips, for their personal use.

But perhaps the most ludicrous perk that they enjoy is exemption from all parking tickets within Washington DC.


Table on how they all compare – a league table on what international politicians earn:

1. Italy - €132,000 a year/ Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi earns €228,000 a year.
2. USA - €127,836 as year/ President George W Bush earns €304,375 a year.
3. Ireland - €100,191 a year/ Taoiseach Brian Cowen earns €285,583 a year.
4. Germany - €88,068 a year/ German Chancellor Angela Merkel earns €261,500 a year.
5. UK - €68,000 a year/ Prime Minister Gordon Brown earns €207,000 a year.
6. France - €62,160 a year/ President Nicolas Sarkozy earns €240,000 a year.
7. Sweden - €58,140 a year/ Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt earns €138,588 a year.

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