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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » December 1, 2014
Politics & Society
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Taking Taxpayers for a Ride
December 1, 2014   
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Before the last elections to the European Parliament, Marek Migalski, a Polish Eurodeputy elected on a Law and Justice (PiS) ticket and just about to end his term, published a controversial book entitled Parlament Antyeuropejski (The Anti-European Parliament). In the book, which was published in Polish, Migalski (who subsequently parted ways with PiS) described in detail the life of an Eurodeputy, giving a long list of dubious methods by which he or she can make some extra money to supplement their already handsome paycheck.

According to Migalski, the paradox is that European Parliament officials want Eurodeputies to be as disengaged from the work of the parliament as possible. That’s why, Migalski says, a whole system of “legal corruption” has been created to encourage MEPs to take advantage of a number of privileges and questionable ways of earning extra money to keep them from “interfering in the political process.” Migalski argues that a “logistically efficient” MEP can make an extra 350,000 euros or so during their term just by using their own car while traveling and collecting allowances based on the distance covered. No one checks these expenses carefully, according to Migalski.

Moreover, Eurodeputies are eligible for daily allowances for taking part in parliamentary sessions. All they have to do is sign the list of attendance, and then they are free to go home—and spend time with their families back in Poland, for example. There is also easy money available for Eurodeputies hiring their friends as assistants, for example, as well as many other ways in which Eurodeputies can take taxpayers for a ride, Migalski says.

What is especially surprising, at least for the more naive, is that Migalski’s claims in the book went virtually unnoticed. Nobody started to analyze MEPs’ expenses or the amounts they spend on their activities.

Nor was there any checking done on members of Poland’s own parliament. Meanwhile, reports show that similar scheming and finagling seems to be at work here as well. Several PiS deputies, accompanied by their wives, recently got into an argument with a flight attendant on a low-cost flight bound for Madrid. The argument was over the loud behavior of the deputies’ better halves drinking their own alcohol on board the plane. In this age of ubiquitous mobile phones and tablets, it was no surprise that other travelers took pictures—and the next day the tabloids got hold of the story. It soon turned out that the MPs, including Adam Hofman, a spokesman for PiS known for his sharp tongue, shouldn’t have been on that plane at all because they had officially filed for an allowance from the Polish parliament for a trip to Madrid by car—the kind of tactic described by Migalski. Moreover, after reaching Madrid, the Polish MPs stopped by the meeting for which they were officially headed for only a moment. Then they headed off to sample the delights of the Spanish capital.

This time the case was not swept under the carpet. PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński kicked the deputies out of the party, and parliamentary Speaker Radosław Sikorski ordered a quick audit of all trips made by Polish lawmakers. Even though this was done in a hurry and in a cursory manner, numerous irregularities came to light involving trips made for taxpayers’ money.

Poland’s “parliamentary travel agency,” as commentators gleefully described it, has existed for years and has been used by deputies of all persuasion. Some lawmakers were even apparently capable of being in two places at the same time—judging by the bills for flights and trips for which they were reimbursed. Sometimes MPs received expenses for travel by car even though they did not have a car.

Will the Madrid affair teach politicians a lesson? And what about those who should be keeping tabs on expenses footed by the taxpayer? Most commentators have no illusions—once the election period is over, voters will forget all about the scandal, and everything will return to normal, if there is anything about this long-established, dysfunctional system that can be called normal.
Witold Żygulski
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