Italy recently set up a special commission, headed by statistics bureau chief Enrico Giovannini, to see if the country’s lawmakers and government workers were overpaid by European standards. The commission’s initial report is now out, and, while exact comparisons are difficult, it does seem like Italian politicians make a whole lot more than their counterparts elsewhere — as much as 60 percent more than the European average. They don’t, however, make much more than U.S. politicians.
For instance, the reports says that a lawmaker in Italy’s lower Chamber of Deputies gets a monthly base salary of about $14,735 (€11,283), compared with $11,105 (€8,503) a month in the Netherlands and a mere $3,675 (€2,814) a month in Spain.
Just for thrills, I put together a bar chart below comparing annual base salaries for parliamentarians in the lower houses of different European countries — adding in members of the U.S. House of Representatives (who make $174,000 a year).
As always, these comparisons need some context.The United States, for example, has a higher GDP per capita than any of these European nations, so you’d expect its lawmakers to be paid more, all else being equal. But the intra-European comparisons are striking. Italy’s GDP per capita is roughly the same as Spain’s, yet Italian parliamentarians appear to be make four times as much as the Spanish do. (And Italy’s lower house already has far more deputies per person than Spain’s does.)
Note, too, that this is just base salary. The Giovannini report notes that it’s difficult to compare all of the perks lawmakers get. Italy, for example, spends more on secretaries and aides for its deputies — about €3,690 a month — than any other country save for France. Meanwhile, some lawmakers (like those in Germany) get a chunky cost-of-living allowance, while others (such as Belgium’s) get none. It becomes even more complicated when pensions and other benefits are factored in.
Still, there’s plenty of fodder here for anyone who wants to argue that Italy’s public sector is overbloated and should take deep cuts in the country’s drive for austerity. (The Associated Press reports that defenders of Italy’s public salary structure are likely to argue that such comparisons are imperfect, given that Italy’s government agencies carry out different tasks.) Then again, maybe Spanish legislators should turn this around and start complaining that they’re drastically underpaid.