The European parliament is proposing to halve payouts from a gold-plated pension scheme used by almost 1,000 former and current members, including Brexiter Nigel Farage and Marine Le Pen, the French far-right leader.
Senior MEPs on Monday opted to reduce a €310mn deficit by increasing the retirement age from 65 to 67 and ending the automatic uprating of benefits with inflation, which would cut nominal pensions by half, said parliamentary authorities.
The measures — which still have to be adopted formally — should shrink the deficit to €86mn.
The special voluntary scheme for European parliamentarians provides beneficiaries with a pension pot worth about €375,000 per person on average. Members such as Farage, UK Northern Ireland secretary Chris Heaton-Harris and Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief, are set to have their benefits slashed.
They will also be offered the chance to voluntarily withdraw from the pension scheme in return for a one-off payment.
The fund pays out about €20mn a year, with the average pension totalling more than €2,000 a month, up to a maximum of €7,000 a month. For many members, these payments come on top of a pension provided by national governments.
As of December 31, the fund’s assets were between €50mn and €55mn. Future pension payment obligations totalled €363mn until at least 2074 and the fund was forecast to run out of money in late 2024 or 2025. The scheme had 964 current and future pensioners in 2021.
In total, the parliament paid €142mn and the MEPs €71mn into the scheme, which was closed to new members in July 2009 when a new regime for pay and pensions began. But the parliament at the time said it would be liable for the future benefits of the voluntary scheme members.
Heidi Hautala, a Green member of the parliament’s rulemaking bureau, which took the decision, said it should go further. Her Green group did not want to see the parliament “commit itself to keeping alive an unviable fund with taxpayer money”, she said. “It’s a dead end to sustain an additional voluntary pension fund for MEPs that should’ve been wound up years ago.”
Recent court rulings by the European Court of Justice could allow the parliament to walk away from the scheme, she said.
“Letting the fund go bust should not be off the table,” Hautala said. But she acknowledged that legal opinions on the parliament’s liability differed and said that the matter could ultimately be adjudicated in court.
Hautala said she would ask MEPs to delete a commitment to be liable for the fund from their statutes.
The parliament said the measures would put the legacy pension scheme “on a more sustainable path”, while safeguarding taxpayers’ interests and securing a “minimum level of subsistence of beneficiaries”.
The situation will be reviewed next year.