Greek Members of Parliament – who already get bonuses to attend committee meetings on top of their salaries of almost 6,000 euros a month – now will have to pay for their own coffee, cookies and water during board meetings after running up a bill of 10,000 euros in 44 sessions.
Parliament Speaker Evangelos Meimarakis, peppered with questions and criticism after invoices were published on the Parliament website showing the freebies and the cost, issued the order that the lawmakers will have to dig into their pockets from now on if they want cookies and refreshments.
In a statement, Meimarakis said “complementary items from the canteen” would no longer be served during committee sessions. He was said to be peeved at the MPs after finding out that they spent almost 17,000 euros on coffee and biscuits between the end of October and the beginning of January.
The House has been the focus of frequent complaints during the crisis as large amounts of taxpayers’ money are spent on its employees and expenses, including four months bonuses annually even though they are rarely in session and as they voted to eliminate the two months bonuses previously given to Greek workers.
The coffee and cookies were for meetings that included Meimarakis as well as the Deputy Speakers and for people who took part in committee hearings. But during the same time, Parliament also held a number of events that were part of Greece’s European Union Presidency plan, a six-month tenure that began Jan. 1.
At the same time the cookies and coffee were being passed out free to MPs and selected others – at a big cost to the taxpayer – Meimarakis rejected calls from several lawmakers that the salary for all of them be cut, apart from a previous small reduction.
Meimarakis said the structure for paying MPs is enshrined in the Constitution and there’s nothing he can do about it, nor will be. “People’s anger is understandable, but the reactions from certain deputies are not. We cannot cut MP salaries,” Meimarakis told Mega TV.
He said that MPs who didn’t want all their pay could donate some to charities on their own initiative although he didn’t say if he would. With MPs living large while 20 percent of the country has been pushed into poverty, Meimarakis nonetheless said they would continue to enjoy salaries far above workers even though the body is often out of session.
He added, however, that there is room for discussion to reduce or remove the big tax breaks they get above and beyond their monthly salaries of 5,760 euros, not including many other perks they get, including office expenses and another 909.31 euros per month ($1,232) for mailing.
During some sessions, the MPs also get free food and drink outside the hall while Parliament workers have been exempted from continuing austerity measures after threatening they would strike and not allow the sessions to go on. Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, who said he would change that, has given in to them.
While many Greek pensioners now get by on as little as 400 euros ($546) a month and some doctors in state facilities are paid around 800 euros ($1,092), a cleaning lady in the Parliament receives 1,900 euros ($2,594). There are 300 MPs, and more than 1,340 workers to service them.
From 2007-2012, including the first two years of the country’s fiscal crisis, the number of workers in the Parliament was doubled with hires from the ruling New Democracy Conservatives and PASOK Socialists who, despite public anger that they created the problem, are still in power in a coalition.