Most of the political perks scandals have erupted in the UK, where MPs and ministers enjoy bounteous benefits – which, however, does not keep a goodly number of them from indulging in egregious abuses. This year’s cause célèbre starred ex-home secretary Jacqui Smith, who went as far as to deduct a bath plug (which cost her 88p!) and two adult movie rentals on her expense account.

Scandal at Westminster

The scandal broke when it emerged that a number of British MPs and cabinet members who owned flats in London were pocketing thousands of pounds every year in housing allowances intended to help them find accommodation in the capital. What is more, some MPs who sold their property in London declared them as their main homes so as to avoid paying any taxes on the proceeds. The British press started publishing MPs’ expense claims last spring, with disastrous repercussions for the political establishment. In the wake of this political crisis, the UK has been mulling a general overhaul of the political perks system.

Lords of the manor – Italian MPs

Italian MPs are among the highest paid in the world, with gross monthly salaries of over €10k – plus a €50k annual allowance for second homes and another €50k to pay assistants, secretaries and the like. They also get free insurance and transport, along with other fringe benefits. Italian MPs are so discredited that a proposal was recently made to put a digital fingerprint detector on each bench in parliament to keep MPs and senators from voting on behalf of their absent colleagues as well.

MEPs all equal

Over in the European Parliament, a €7,665 ceiling has been imposed on the gross monthly salaries of MEPs starting with this year’s new legislature. There has been something of a clampdown on the decades-old practice among MEPs of claiming back the cost of first-class airfare, for instance, every time they went home – without having to furnish vouchers for the same. Furthermore, in addition to their salaries and daily allowances, MEPs receive a monthly €17k for office supplies and their assistants’ salaries: so in the past, many an MEP would hire their spouse or children and simply keep all the money. It has been calculated that an MEP could amass up to €1 million in a five-year term by employing family members! Only recently have new rules been laid down to root out this widespread ruse.

German MPs, out of pocket

At the opposite extreme, members of the German Bundestag receive, in addition to their basic salary (€8k), only €3,700 a month to cover housing and expenses – even if they already live in Berlin – plus an annual rail pass and a little over €1k for monthly office expenses. The German system puts all its MPs on a par, and Germany has yet to face any MP expense scandals...