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Illegal Pension Scheme Allowed MPs to Earn 20 Percent More Than Maximum – Flemish Parliament’s Legal Service Concludes

The scheme that allowed MPs to earn up to 20 percent more than the maximum pension for years was ‘illegal’. That is the conclusion of the Flemish Parliament’s own legal service, in a note that De Morgen was able to view. According to that legal service, exemptions from that maximum rate are only possible for ‘extra-legal pensions to supplement the pensions of employees and self-employed persons’. Parliamentarians are neither employees nor self-employed, and their pensions are not ‘extra-legal’.

But that’s not the only thing. According to the legal service, the exceptional regime of the parliamentarians was never approved by the plenary meeting, the only one authorized to approve the pension regulations. “For that reason alone, the exemption is unlawful.”

The legal service made this analysis after a scandal broke out last year about the pensions of Flemish Members of Parliament. The controversy surrounding the unlawful pension bonuses for former House Speakers Herman De Croo (Open Vld) and Siegfried Bracke (N-VA) had barely subsided when the opposition party PVDA discovered that Flemish Members of Parliament had also developed a regime to enjoy a bonus on top of the famous Wijninckx ceiling. Since the late 1970s, this law has imposed a maximum pension amount.

Like the MPs, the MPs appeared to have made an arrangement that allowed them to earn up to a fifth more: a monthly bonus of 1,500 euros on top of the legal maximum of 7,813 euros gross. Opposition party PVDA revealed that this arrangement had also existed in the Flemish Parliament since 2004, ten years earlier than in the House. “’What we grab ourselves, we grab better’ is what they must have thought in the Flemish Parliament,” party leader Jos D’Haese said at the time.

Shortly afterwards, the political board of the Flemish Parliament decided to abolish the scheme. Today, no member of parliament earns more than the maximum standard of 7,800 euros. But the opposition party PVDA was blunt in its demand to reclaim the money from the MPs who received too much for years.

Unlike the pension bonuses of the Speakers of the House, the reasoning was that there was a legal basis for the exceptional regime of the parliamentarians – the 2004 scheme. It is therefore striking that its own legal service questions that legal basis. “Then today you can only conclude that recovery is the only correct option,” says D’Haese.

Former ABVV CEO Jef Maes, who discusses the pension file in his new book Our Social Security, also wonders why this did not happen. “In the last five years, 130,000 refunds have been made to ordinary people who received too much pension. I don’t know why that wouldn’t apply to parliamentarians.”

Parliament chairman Liesbeth Homans (N-VA) says that she has taken her responsibility by immediately canceling the pension scheme. “The Flemish Parliament was the first to do so.” Yet, according to her, there was no reason to impose chargebacks. “We have requested various advice from the various speakers of parliament, including from external services. But we found no conclusive legal basis for doing so. All parliaments have therefore decided not to request recoveries.”

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2024-02-23 18:03:56
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