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Important points 1994-1999

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pf2101.jpg (24146 bytes)A new statute for MEPs

 

The 626 MEPs elected by the voters of the fifteen EU Member States do not all enjoy the same rights. This is because the status of MEPs from Britain, Ireland, Belgium and the other States is still governed by the law of their home country.

For example, in some countries (but not all) MEPs are allowed to hold a "dual mandate" (i.e. a seat in their national parliament and the European Parliament at the same time). Moreover, MEPs' salaries, far from being equal, vary considerably - from the .2800 per month received by Spanish Members through the .3100 paid to Finland's representatives and the .8500 received by Austrian MEPs to the .9500 plus received by Members from Italy.

On 3 December 1998 Parliament voted overwhelmingly for a resolution containing a new Statute for MEPs drawn up by its Committee on Legal Affairs and Citizens' Rights. The vote was 327 for, 110 against and 45 abstentions. In the resolution Parliament called on the Council of Ministers to approve the new Statute without delay so that it could enter into force following the European elections of June 1999.

Why such a long wait?

Having failed to reach agreement on a uniform electoral procedure and a common Statute for MEPs before the first direct European elections in June 1979, the nine Member States of that time decided that Members should draw the same salaries and allowances as their domestic counterparts. This situation contravenes Article 6 of the Treaty on European Union, which outlaws discrimination based on nationality.

In its many attempts since June 1979 to introduce a single Statute for all MEPs, Parliament always ran into two obstacles: the lack of a legal basis for change and resistance on the part of the Council. Several governments made it clear they were unwilling to introduce a special Statute for MEPs, arguing that their salaries should stay in line with those of their national counterparts.

However, following efforts by Parliament's representatives at the 1996 Intergovernmental Conference, the Amsterdam Treaty has abolished this legal vacuum. Article 190(5) of the Treaty, signed on 2 October 1997, says "The European Parliament shall, after seeking an opinion from the Commission and with the approval of the Council acting unanimously, lay down the regulations and general conditions governing the performance of the duties of its Members." The entry into force of the treaty on 1 May finally paves the way for this issue to be settled.

A four-stage procedure

Under the Amsterdam Treaty, it is up to Parliament to draw up and adopt a draft Statute for its Members; the Commission must then give its opinion and, after it has been unanimously approved by the Council of Ministers, Parliament must adopt it by a simple majority. Since 3 December 1998 the ball has been in the court of the Commission and Council, with the latter maintaining that, pending the entry into force of the Amsterdam Treaty, it can only consider the draft Statute informally.

To speed up proceedings between the institutions, Parliament appointed an ad hoc working party made up of the President and three Vice-Presidents of Parliament, the Chair of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Citizens' Rights and the rapporteur. Its remit was to find a quick solution in talks with the Commission and Council to a problem which had been dragging on for 20 years.

The outgoing Parliament hopes that the Council will face up to its responsibilities and give Parliament the go-ahead to adopt the new Statute, which can then enter into force in July this year.

A single, transparent, responsible Statute

By adopting uniform rules on the rights and obligations of its Members, Parliament has shown a responsible, reasonable and independent attitude which can only enhance its credibility.

The adopted text emphasises the importance of:

*    ensuring that discussions and decisions of competent bodies concerning the Statute are transparent (e.g. decisions on salaries, allowances and other benefits must be made in public);

*    preserving the independence of MEPs, who cannot be bound by instructions, be given a binding mandate or be held to an agreement to resign their seat;

*    equal payment for work carried out by MEPs in the exercise of their duties (thus, no parliament can impose its system on others).

The draft Statute also settles matters relating to the term of office of Members, the verification of their credentials and the validity of their mandate, the procedure to be followed when a seat falls vacant and a Member has to be replaced, the transitional allowance, social security and pensions, refunds of expenses (which must be based on costs actually incurred) and MEPs' right to assistance from their own personal staff and EP officials in order to do their work. The new Statute would rule out dual mandates.

As regards remuneration levels, Parliament opted for an initial monthly salary based on a weighted average of national salaries paid by Member States to their national MPs. This produces a figure of .5677, which will be paid out of the EU budget and be liable to Community tax. Under a transitional arrangement, current MEPs who are re-elected will be allowed to continue under the existing salary system, although only until the end of the next term of office.

Further information: Werner de CROMBRUGGHE - tel. 284 46 52; e-mail: wdecrombrugghe@europarl.eu.int

 

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