What do MEPs do and how much do they earn?

Three years after Brexit referendum, UK’s Members of the European Parliament to take up their seats this summer

Nigel Farage watching the World Cup in Brussels
Nigel Farage has been MEP for the Southeast England constituency since 1999
(Image credit: Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

The Government has signalled that British MEPs elected in the upcoming European elections must be ready to take up their seats, three years after the UK voted to leave the EU.

Addressing the Lords EU Committee last week, Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay issued the warning, in the first admission that the “Government has given up hope of trying to pass the Brexit legislation before 2 July, when the new European Parliament meets for the first time”, says The Guardian’s Andrew Sparrow.

Few, if any, expect Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement Bill to be voted through the Commons next month and, with Britain not due to crash out of the EU until Halloween, it is now all but certain UK MEPs will enter the new European Parliament when it convenes for the first time on the 2 July.

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With polls suggesting candidates on the extremes of the Brexit divide will be the big winners in the 23 May elections, the make-up of the British contingent could be wildly different from the current intake.

Even if they end up serving no more than three months, new MEPs could still be entitled to a generous payout as well as other perks. So what does being an MEP involve, how many are there and how much do they earn?

How many MEPs are there?

On Thursday all UK adult citizens, as well as more than two million EU nationals living here, have the chance to elect 73 members of the European Parliament for a five-year term.

The UK makes up 9.7% of the 751-member parliament, which represents at present 28 member states. That is the same share as Italy, one MEP less than France and 23 less than Germany, which has the largest population. Outside the so-called “big four”, the other 24 member states all have less representation.

Turnout for European elections has traditionally been far lower than for national elections. Across the continent turnout is now well below 50%, although - ironically for the UK - these elections are expected to see the highest percentage of people turn out to vote in decades.

What do MEPs do?

Members of the European Parliament represent regional constituencies across Europe and are elected by a form of proportional representation, with each party putting forward a team of candidates.

An MEP’s main task is to vote on European legislation, just as MPs in the House of Commons vote on national legislation. European legislation is binding across the whole of the European Union.

Legislation is proposed to the European Parliament by the European Commission, made up of representatives from each of the 28 member states. The president of the European Commission – currently Jean-Claude Juncker – is nominated by the European Council and formally elected by the European Parliament, and then serves a five-year term.

While its powers may be limited, “the parliament is the key to any claims to democratic legitimacy that the EU has”, writes Sky News’s Adam Boulton. “It requires the pooling of national sovereignty since no one member state can command a majority on their own. Instead MEPs from each member state form into blocs based on ideology.”

The legislation on which MEPs vote “are a big part of the inner wiring of society: rules to speed up the extradition of criminal suspects, to promote the welfare of chickens, to set passenger compensation for cancelled flights, or protect depositors from collapsing banks”, says The Guardian.

The reality “is often more mundane than the tabloid myth of ‘Brussels bureaucrats’ intent on banning mushy peas, prawn cocktail crisps or barmaids’ cleavage”, the newspaper notes.

“We still have this Dad’s Army image of Europe,” agrees Labour MEP Linda McAvan. “But most of the time we wanted the laws - we agreed with them.”

Although most of the MEPs’ work is done in Brussels, in various committees on differing policy areas, every month the Parliament moves to Strasbourg for four days to take part in a plenary session, where votes are held on new legislation and decisions are made. Most MEPs want to scrap the Strasbourg seat, “but every attempt to do so meets the French president’s veto”, says The Guardian.

What are the perks of being an MEP?

Each MEP takes home the same gross salary, regardless of how many years they’ve been in office - €8,757.70 (£7,650) per month, as of July 2018. That’s more than is earned by British MPs, who currently get £6,622 a month before tax.

MEPs also get a monthly general expenditure allowance of €4,513 (£3,945), to cover the cost of running an office in their constituency, including rent and supplies. This money pot “is highly controversial because the sum can be deposited directly into MEPs’ personal bank accounts - and they are not required to disclose how the money was spent”, says Euronews.

In addition, each MEP is given a daily allowance to cover the costs of accommodation in Brussels or Strasbourg, as well as a travel allowance of more than €4,000 (£3,495) per year on the condition that they provide receipts.

The Guardian reports that “all MEPs are entitled to a transition allowance linked to their length of service in the parliament to bridge their move into a new job”.

Members are also entitled to an old-age pension from the age of 63, equal to 3.5% of the salary for each full year served but not more than 70% in total. This means MEPs who have served one term could get a maximum pre-tax payment of €50,900 (£44,930), while an MEP in office since 1999 could receive €169,680 before tax.

However, there is some confusion as to what UK MEPs elected this year would be entitled to if the UK leaves the EU before a year is up.

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