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'Golden handshake' vote divides Swedish MPs

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'Golden handshake' vote divides Swedish MPs
12:04 CEST+02:00
An unusual cross-bloc alliance emerged in Sweden's Riksdag on Wednesday in a vote on controversial changes to the generous severance pay packages offered to MPs when they leave parliament.

The vote, which took place Wednesday afternoon, reforms a system that limits payouts to parliamentarians who lose or quit their jobs and which everyone agrees is too generous.

Under the current system, an MP who has been in parliament for 12 years and has turned 50 can receive up to 40,000 kronor ($6,300) per month until he or she turns 65.

But MPs who enter parliament after next year's general election will have to make due with less: income support for no more than two years, and only if they server for at least eight years in the Riksdag. Former MPs who are still out of work after two years will be able to apply to have the payments extended each year, but at a lower level. And they will also have to prove they are actively seeking a new job.

At issue on Wednesday's vote, however, was whether the changes should also apply to incumbent MPs who are re-elected in 2014.

Ahead of the vote, the two bigger of the government's four coalition parties - the Moderates and the Liberals (Folkpartiet) - crossed enemy lines and to vote with the leftist Social Democrats in favour of allowing current MPs to receive payments calculated according to the current system.

However, the measure prompted opposition from an array of smaller political parties from across the political spectrum who said the unholy trinity is putting Swedes' faith in politicians at risk.

"This question concerns people's faith in parliament. We set our own salaries which are paid for by other people's money, so we have to be careful," Centre Party MP Anders W. Jonsson told the TT news agency as parliamentarians assembled on Wednesday to put the proposal to the vote.

His party was joined by the Green and Left Parties, as well as the far-right Sweden Democrats. The Christian Democrats are similarly critical, but want to propose a system where MPs pay a certain sum of money to contribute to the severance package pay outs - derogatorily referred to as parliamentary "parachutes" in Sweden.

"Today's system of an income guarantee costs 60 million kronor ($9.4 million) a year - that is far too much," said Christian Democrat MP Tuve Skånberg, whose party also wants a new deal to cover incumbent as well as incoming parliamentarians.

The Moderates, Liberals, and Social Democrats disagreed.

Moderate MP Lars Elindersson said it was not reasonable to expect sitting parliamentarians to accept a worse deal than the one they were given when they accepted elected office.

The new proposal states that an MP should have access to a two-year "parachute" but in order to quality for the "golden handshake" the parliamentarians must have remained in service for at least eight years.

The guarantee gives outgoing MPs an income of about 85 percent of their salary - or 50,000 kronor a month.

The size of the income guarantee then decreases on a sliding scale in correlation to how long an MP held elected office. Its size increases depending on how old the MP is.

According to the system, former MPs lose their right to the severance pay when they find a new job.

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TT/The Local/at

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