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Friday, April 17, 2009

New information

Following our previous post, new information reaches us that the total number of MEPs, former MEPs, spouses and dependents subscribed to the dodgy second pension fund is a staggering 1,114. However, we don't have names.

The names we published earlier come from Luxembourg, where the fund is based, and represent the names of those who have decided to register their names, meaning there are others, among those 1114, who haven't.

It's scandalous that taxpayers aren't allowed to find out who they all are.

If this pension fund were abolished, that would not leave MEPs without a pension - in most countries they alreay get one paid for at national level. This arrangement is a supplementary gift from the taxpayer to the members of European Parliament.

Back in 1997, twelve years ago, the Dutch Parliament said the fund was "morally objectionable" and said it allowed MEPs to "get rich by milking the taxpayer", according to NRC Handelsblad. It notes that initial plans to levy more taxes on the pension benefits were never executed, as there was a code of conduct stipulating that Dutch MEPs don’t participate in the fund. The newspaper notes that nobody controls this code of conduct, and indeed we can see that Dutch MEP Jules Maaten is a subscriber to the fund.

Worth mentioning in all this is the position of former British MEP Richard Balfe, chairman of the board of the pension fund, once the longest serving Labour MEP, and now David Cameron’s "envoy to the trade unions". Reportedly, he prides himself on having established this voluntary pension fund (as well as a fitness center for legislators and a former members association that receives annual subsidies from Parliament of more than 100,000 euro), while he was yesterday quoted in the Times article, pleading for "the ‘vested rights’ and the ‘general principles of proportionality and the protection of legitimate expectations’ of the members of the scheme" as an argument for a bailout of MEPs suffering from speculative losses.

It should be remembered that 5 years ago, in a letter to the then-EP President Pat Cox, Dutch MEP Michiel van Hulten accused Richard Balfe, who at the time was a member of parliament’s ruling Quaestors body, of trying to blackmail the European Court of Auditor’s president into toning down the Court’s criticism of the fund." According to other reports, he even awarded his wife 12.052 Euros monthly. All that for an MEP who should be one of the icons of the institution, having served so long.

This is not just about the money and the cost to the taxpayer. This is about trust in an institution which has a decisive say over key issues in our everyday lives - such as how many hours a week we're allowed to work. It seems little wonder that the most recent Eurobarometer polls predict the lowest ever voter turn out rates for the EP elections.

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