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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."

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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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The Unsustainable Future Of Fish Farming — On Vivid Display In Turkish Waters

Currently, 60% of Turkey's fish currently comes from cultivation, also known as fish farming, compared to just 10% two decades ago. The short-sightedness of this shift risks eliminating fishing output from both the farms and the open seas along Turkey's 5,200 miles of coastline.

Photograph of two fishermen throwing a net into the Tigris river in Turkey.

Traditional fishermen on the Tigris river, Turkey.

Dûrzan Cîrano/Wikimeidia
İrfan Donat

ISTANBUL — Turkey's annual fish production includes 515,000 tons from cultivation and 335,000 tons came from fishing in open waters. In other words, 60% of Turkey's fish currently comes from cultivation, also known as fish farming.

It's a radical shift from just 20 years ago when some 600,000 tons, or 90% of the total output, came from fishing. Now, researchers are warning the current system dominated by fish farming is ultimately unsustainable in the country with 8,333 kilometers (5,177 miles) long.

Professor Mustafa Sarı from the Maritime Studies Faculty of Bandırma 17 Eylül University believes urgent action is needed: “Why were we getting 600,000 tons of fish from the seas in the 2000’s and only 300,000 now? Where did the other 300,000 tons of fish go?”

Professor Sarı is challenging the argument from certain sectors of the industry that cultivation is the more sustainable approach. “Now we are feeding the fish that we cultivate at the farms with the fish that we catch from nature," he explained. "The fish types that we cultivate at the farms are sea bass, sea bram, trout and salmon, which are fed with artificial feed produced at fish-feed factories. All of these fish-feeds must have a significant amount of fish flour and fish oil in them.”

That fish flour and fish oil inevitably must come from the sea. "We have to get them from natural sources. We need to catch 5.7 kilogram of fish from the seas in order to cultivate a sea bream of 1 kg," Sarı said. "Therefore, we are feeding the fish to the fish. We cannot cultivate fish at the farms if the fish in nature becomes extinct. The natural fish need to be protected. The consequences would be severe if the current policy is continued.”

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