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Germany

How much is enough for a parliamentarian?

Just days after launching a campaign to take over the German chancellery, Peer Steinbrück has been accused of earning too much money. Experts renewed calls for changes to Germany's financial disclosure rules.

One week after Peer Steinbrück was officially chosen as the Social Democratic Party's challenger to Angela Merkel in parliamentary elections next year, politicians and journalists remembered that Steinbrück is among the most sought after political speakers in Germany. No one has reportedly given so many paid speeches outside of parliament than the former finance minister. Left Party politician Katja Kipping crowned him the German Parliament's "king of remuneration." The fees Steinbrück charged for speaking engagements have reignited a debate over what income parliamentarians should be allowed in addition to their officials salaries.

Steinbrück gestures during a speech with the SPD logo in the background Photo: Sascha Schuermann/dapd.

Only Steinbrück knows exactly how much he earned last year

While some members of the Bundestag, Germany's lower hosue of parliament, have said elected representatives should not be allowed any income in addition to their pay from the state, many others have made a case for allowing parlimentarians to earn extra income.

Former Economics Minister Wolfgang Brüderle, said he would not want to be a member of a parliament made up exclusively of "union representatives, civil servants and people on leave," but would rather see people with active professional careers who understand voters concerns also engaging in politics. Stefan Kaufmann said his continued but limited work as a lawyer gives him "a certain independence from politics."

Calls for more transparency

The anti-corruption organization Transparency International (TI) said in many cases these and other sources of income do not pose a problem, but TI boardmember Jochen Bäumel said the way parlimentarians disclose additional income needs to be improved.

A blue piggy bank on top of 50 euro notes all on top of a German flag Photo: dpa

German members of parliament receive about 140,000 euros in recompense and tax breaks

"We find the current rules to be completely inadequate," he said, adding that the need to change the rules is independent of the current debate concerning Steinbrück.

The public has a right to know which politicians receive additional money and to know who pays it. It needs to be clear whether parlimentarians are responsible to the people who elected them or the institutions that pay them.

Financial disclosure rules call for parliamentarians to publish incomes over 1000 euros a month or 10,000 euros a year regardless of how the money is earned. A German parlimentarian receives about 11,600 euros a month in pay and tax breaks. 

Parlimentarians have to declare income they are paid in one of three categories with category one comprising income between 1000 euros and 3500 euros, category two for income up to 7000 euros and category three for any source of income higher than 7000.

Especially at the highest level, this model, however, makes it impossible to know what a parlimentarian's actual income as payments in category three could be 15,000 euros or 25,000 euros.

Several ways of improving the system have been suggested, including adding more categories to the current system. Transparency International has called on parlimentarians to disclose the exact amount of all their sources of income.

Who pays?

A German tax return Photo: Joachim B. Albers

Releasing tax returns would disclose all forms of income down to the cent

Another demand would require representatives precisely list who is paying them. Under the current system when a parliamentarian is booked by an agency to give a speech, the speaking fees are paid by the agency - not the group that hired the agency to engage the politician, which leaves the public in the dark about who is actually responsible for paying the parliamentarian.

Voters need to be able to see who is paying their representative, according to Bäumel. "Our position is that voters decide how much they trust they give each politician."

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