This weekend, as it does every three years, France is to hold elections for half the seats in the 348-member Senate, but don’t feel shocked if you haven’t heard a thing about it.
Elected leaders from France’s 36,000 towns, and not the general public, are the primary voters in the ballot, which naturally takes some of the excitement out of the process.
But on the eve of the election the French media was abuzz over the pay and perks the Senators get, especially because the Senate in France is notoriously well taken care of and the 'luxury lifestyle' of its occupants has been the target of repeated calls for belt tightening.
From their posh chambers overlooking the Jardin de Luxembourg in Paris to access to choice state housing in some of the capital’s plushest neighborhoods, membership in the Senate does have certain privileges.
Here are five incredible facts about senators’ pay and perks:
Healthy paycheck: Senators’ base pay and benefits are €85,200 a year, which comes up to about $108,450 and already isn’t too bad. But the senators also get paid another €74,880 ($95,300) per year to cover their job-related expenses, which gives them a total of €160,000 (€203,000).
It’s quite a bit more than the €136,600 ($174,000) their colleagues in the US Senate make, though their American cousins have a separate fund at their disposal for work expenses. And it must seem stunningly generous compared to the House of Lords, whose members get about €380 for each sitting they attend.
Lords can also seek reimbursement for travel expenses, postage, office equipment and secretarial costs, but recent disclosure documents show most don't.
Planes and trains: Senators are issued a personal ID card that entitles them to unlimited first class trips on any of the trains run by France’s state-owned rail company SNCF. They also get 40 free Air France flights to anywhere in the country per year.
Like family: Senators also get a €90,576 per year stipend to pay their staffers, who the law says can be anyone that holds a baccalaureate (French high school diploma) including the lawmakers’ families, friends or constituents.
Cutting edge: Keeping up with the latest technology is apparently a priority for senators, who get €5,000 every three years to buy phones and computer equipment. The stipend was €7,000 just a few years ago so the lawmakers are having to make do with a bit less.
Free, free, free: Under French law the Senators are entitled to reimbursement for a global calling plan, taxi trips and hotels while the Senate is in session as well as France’s famously pricey road tolls.
Lawmaker's point of view
Socialist Senator Richard Yung told The Local on Friday the pay and benefits he and other lawmakers receive is “all in all fair.”
For him the pay is good, but high-level decision makers in the private sector make much more.
“Of course this is good pay and I am happy to have it. But on the other hand you can consider that people in business or with responsibilities may earn much more. Before I was elected I made three times that amount,” Yung said, adding that he was an intellectual property lawyer. “It’s good pay, but given what we are supposed to be doing I don’t think it is beyond common sense.”
As for the travel and hotel benefits, he sees those as essential to the job.
“I come twice a week to Paris from my place, it’s one hour by train. But if I had to pay each time, four times a week, I think I would quit. I wouldn’t run for Senate,” he said. “For hotels they reimburse €120 per night. Is that ridiculous? Is that a scandal? Look for something at that price and you’ll find something, but it’s no five star, you know.”
He agrees that he could do his work with less, but doesn’t think his pay and benefits beyond the pale.
“Of course you could say this costs too much, let’s have 10 percent less. I think everybody could live with that,” he said. “I don’t think the conditions are scandalous, do you see the difference?”