Future statute motivates assistants in search of MEPs
By Célia Sampol | Thursday 07 May 2009
Nearly half of the EP’s members could be re-elected in June. While some are sure to win another term, others would like to stay on but are poorly placed on the electoral lists. This uncertain fate also hangs over their assistants, who are keen to continue working at the European Parliament, especially now that they will benefit from a brand new, tailor-made statute from June.
An assistant to a French Socialist MEP since October 2008 wants to keep his job after discovering the workings of the Parliament over the past eight months. The problem is that the MEP had expected to be third on the list for his region, but ended up in seventh place. As a result, he will not be re-elected. The disappointed young man nevertheless notes: “That’s part of the internal negotiations. Those are the rules of the game”. He adds that “members tend to want their former assistants to do well, they feel responsible”. This particular assistant is lucky because the MEP he works for is negotiating to have him hired by his likely successor.
That is not the case for everyone and some know that they may end up high and dry in June. Consequently, the search for MEPs is on, especially in the national delegations that risk losing seats. A climate of competition among assistants has taken hold, particularly as during the next legislative period their work will finally be recognised in the institution. The new statute for MEPs’ assistants will enter into force together with the revised members’ statute, bringing them out of the grey area of their former situation, which in some cases was close to illegal.
The main reform is that employment contracts will be concluded directly between the assistant and the European Parliament. The system is currently based on private law provisions, which leads to application of 27 different taxation and social security schemes. As from June, the EP will cover social security contributions, pension scheme payments and sickness benefits. The costs will not have an impact on the Union’s budget because they will be deducted from the monthly allowance of around €16,000 paid to each member for ‘parliamentary assistance expenses’. Members may spend no more than 25% of this amount commissioning studies from service providers.
The assistants will also be classified by grade – and their salary will vary accordingly – but there will not be any crossover mechanism allowing them to secure EU official status. MEPs will remain free to choose their assistants. The proposal to ban the hiring of family members or spouses will come under internal provisions. This regulation concerns assistants based in Brussels, Strasbourg and Luxembourg, but also provides for management by recognised accounting bodies of the contracts of assistants working in member states.
All these new advantages should motivate more and more young people to go out in search of MEPs as the elections approach.
An old issue
The sensitive matter of a statute for MEPs’ assistants had been on the table for 15 years or so, but was twice rejected by the Council. It was only when a secret report was leaked to the press, in early 2008, singling out serious shortcomings in the pay and hiring system used for assistants, that the subject was addressed with any urgency. The EP Bureau adopted a package of measures, in July 2008. On that basis, the Commission presented a draft regulation aimed at modifying the rules for “other servants of the European Communities” and creating a new staff category. The regulation was adopted by the EP plenary, on 16 December 2008, and by the Council, on 23 February 2009.