Geopolitics

As Europe Votes, EU Parliament Members Defend Lavish Perks

The shiny life in Strasbourg
The shiny life in Strasbourg
Günther Lachmann

BERLIN — When the European parliament meets, each delegate gets a 304-euro daily stipend for participating. In Germany, this is unheard of in both federal and state parliaments. And Green delegate Sven Giegold believes that the European Parliament should dispense with the payments.

"A per diem of 304 euros is absurd," the German delegate says. For his part, he accepts the money, donates part of it and uses the remainder for his political work.

The European Union pays its delegates for each time "that the member is present on official Parliament working days," according to the statutes. Delegates must sign attendance lists so that the money is automatically transferred to their accounts. For meetings outside the EU, delegates receive 152 euros per day plus accommodation expenses.

Giegold’s criticism is consistent with the debate about the privileges of EU delegates, which started with discussions about their travel expenses. So is the per diem really a superfluous privilege, as Giegold believes?

Party colleague and top European Green candidate Ska Keller says she accepts per diems for meetings attended. Markus Ferber, the top Christian Social Union (CSU) candidate who has been an EU Parliament member since 1994, offers a more detailed answer in an e-mail sent between campaign appearances.

"All members of the European parliament get a per diem on the days they attend sessions," he writes. "The per diems are paid out automatically. They are not something that must be applied for. The money is meant to cover the cost of overnight accommodation and food. Depending on the cost of accommodation and food in Brussels and Strasbourg, which can be considerably more expensive than Berlin, there may be some left over, which I put towards my parliamentary work."

European Parliament in Strasbourg — Photo: Matthias Ripp

When asked if he accepts the payment, Udo Bullmann, chairman of Germany's Social Democratic Party (SPD), relies a bit on semantics. "In the European Parliament, there are no per diems for attending meetings," he says. "Attending meetings is part and parcel of what delegates do, so there are obviously no special compensation for that."

But because European delegates travel constantly between where they live and meetings in Brussels and Strasbourg, Bullman continues, there are "considerable expenses and several different budgets. Unlike other taxpayers, delegates can't take work-related tax deductions in their tax declarations."

Many more perks

In the end, though, the per diem represents a relatively small part of what EU parliamentarians receive. Since 2009, delegates have been receiving a uniform taxable amount along with their salary — presently 8,021 euros per month. After EU taxes, members take home 6250.37 euros.

So that they can rent an office and pay their phone bills, they receive additional monthly payments of 4,299 euros. "For personal assistants, every delegate can get up to 21,209 euros a month, provided it can be verified that the persons are indeed in his or her employ," Professor Hans Herbert von Arnim, a critical analyst of the party system, recently wrote. "For example, Romanian EU delegate George Sabin Cutas kept 19 staff members busy in Romania along with two accredited assistants in Brussels. German members of the European Parliament can as a general rule afford three assistants at home, and that's enough."

When they are sick, delegates have a right to be paid two-thirds of their medical expenses. And in the event they are not re-elected, they are entitled to a maximum of two years in transitional remuneration, earning a month's salary for every year they served. Even if they have only held one period in office, they have a right to pension payments of 1,405 euros a month — a sum that the average German retiree wouldn't get even after 45 years of work; he or she would be entitled to 1,175 euros a month.

EU parliamentarians are also allowed to travel first class, which has been justified based on their frequency of travel and the fact that many of them work during train and plane rides. These trips costs taxpayers 14 million euros annually, according to the newspaper Bild. A total of 6.34 million euros accounts for flights between their homes and Brussels, while travel outside the EU costs another 5 million euros per year.

"This is a completely superfluous waste of tax money," says Alternative for Germany (AfD) party head Bernd Lucke. He believes that the EU should pay the delegates only for "necessary travel expenses — second class." Anybody wishing to travel more comfortably could pay the difference "from his or her not exactly paltry income" as a European parliamentarian. "And everybody should bear in mind that it's not a bad idea for a representative of the people to travel the way normal people do," Lucke adds.

AfD candidates for the European Parliament apparently count themselves among "normal people," which is why they pledge not to accept any reimbursements for first-class travel during their terms if elected. "We call on all colleagues in the EU Parliament, in the federal parliament and in state parliament, to follow our example," Lucke says, urging that second-class travel become standard even for high-ranking functionaries. "High-ranking officials are also in a position to pay the difference for a first-class ticket out of their own pocket," Lucke says.

But Lucke draws the line at the 304-euro per diem, arguing that if cuts are made in compensation, they should come from salary components unconnected to fulfilling the duties of the job.

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Society

What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel

-Essay-

BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.


Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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