European Parliament clings to its golden pensions

An amendment tabled this week by the European Greens urged MEPs who already receive a standard pension to give up their membership in a second, voluntary EU pension scheme. The Luxembourg-based fund, used by hundreds of current and former parliamentarians, is on the verge of bankruptcy and has an estimated deficit of more than €300 million. It is now feared that taxpayers could be made to pay for a bailout.

The top-up fund, which closed to new members in 2009, has an estimated 900 beneficiaries including 21 current MEPs. Foreign chief Josep Borrell, agriculture commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski and cohesion commissioner Elisa Ferreira among them. Other high-profile members include the UK’s Brexit architect Nigel Farage and French far-right leader Marine Le Pen. Le Pen is among 81 current and former French MEPs listed as beneficiaries.

But the amendment, tabled by German Green Party politician Daniel Freund, did not win a majority, with 272 votes against, 203 in favour, and 148 abstentions. The text did not propose any radical repeal, but only “suggested” that MEPs who already benefit from a “sufficient pension” voluntarily renounce their future payments.

This is out of the question for Le Pen’s Rassemblement National party, which voted en masse against the amendment. In the front row for the vote was Jordan Bardella, president of the far-right party, visibly determined to defend the pension privileges of his predecessors.

Freund, who has become the standard-bearer of this new anti-fund ire, had denounced Le Pen the previous day for her involvement in the scheme. “Mrs Le Pen, your self-proclamation as an advocate of the little people is a joke,” he said. “The European Union should now pay its enemies… a special luxury pension on top of their regular pension!”

But the Rassemblement National was not alone in voting against. The right-wing EPP political group also voted almost unanimously against. Among them, EPP group leader, German Manfred Weber, as well as France’s Brice Hortefeux and Austrian Othmar Karas. The latter two are both beneficiaries of the fund, according to the Luxembourg corporate register. The liberal Renew Europe group voted in a fragmented way. The majority of social democrats abstained. The Greens and the Left voted in favour.

It was hoped the amendment would be included in a resolution accompanying the European Parliament’s spending review for 2021. In the resolution text, however, the parliament is openly critical of the private pension fund but stopped short of calling out its members. It asked the parliament’s internal decision-making body, the Bureau, to clarify the issue of the accumulation of pensions within the EU institutions. In particular that of former MEPs who have also been European Commissioners, such as Spain’s Josep Borrell, the current High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs.

In this political but non-binding text, MEPs ask “the administration and the Bureau to guarantee that no taxpayer money is used for any future bail-out”. It remains to be seen whether the Bureau will follow the plenary’s message, given that of the 20 Bureau members, three are beneficiaries of the fund. The decision on whether to bailout the fund with public money should be taken in the coming months.