Free iPads for European Union MPs?

Apple's iPad goes on sale in Europe Friday, at higher prices than in the US. But members of the European Parliament may get their iPad tablets at taxpayer expense.

By , Correspondent

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    Apple's iPad goes on sale in Europe Friday, European Union MPs may get theirs for free.
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The iPad is coming to the Old World!

The buzz is high, the orders are in, and early Friday morning, at that sleek Apple store at a European capital near you, the must-have gadget of the moment will finally be available. In fact, some have already been delivered in Britain today to customers who pre-ordered.

IPad prices are steep – between £429-700 pounds ($622 - $1,000). This is about 25 percent more than the prices of the same iPads available in the US, of which over 1.5 million have already been sold since they went on sale in early April.

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But price tag notwithstanding, international demand has been tremendous, and Apple is opening it’s stores two hours early Friday in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and the UK to accommodate what is expected to be a mad crush of buyers for the uber popular tablet computer.

Japan, Australia and Canada are also getting the iPad this week.

736 iPads for European Parliament?

But not everyone will have to pay for their new iPad. According to a report in the Sunday Times, a certain number of special Europeans – the 736 elected Members of the European Parliament (MEP) to be exact – are going to be able to avoid the crush and the expense. They're getting a spanking new taxpayer-funded iPad - as a perk.

The report set off a storm of protest here that only served to raise the already extraordinary high hype around the product.

According to the Sunday Times, the European parliament’s administrative office has earmarked £4.3 million for an “IT mobility project” which involves getting a personal iPad for each of its MEPs – even though they were recently all equipped with new Hewlett-Packard laptops and are not all are even enthusiasts.

Marta Andreasen, an accountant and a MEP from the libertarian UK Independence Party was not impressed by the news.

“Most MEPs do not handle their own emails but leave it to assistants. Computer literacy is pretty low among most so frankly iPads are pretty unnecessary,” she said in an email. “I deal with my own email would say am above average on computer literacy… and even I do not need an iPad,” she stressed, saying a Blackberry was good enough for her, Thank you.

“This is a time when European taxpayers are facing very difficult times,” she added. “This iPad scheme does not seem right.”

An iPad by any other name

Jaume Duch, the spokesman for the European Parliament in Brussels, admits that there is a plan to modernize all the communications technology of the Parliament and that PC tablets (“…in parliament we cannot speak about brands,” he says) are under discussion -- but clarifies that there is no definite plan to purchase the devices yet.

But he further counters that actually, MEPs are getting to be very technologically savvy these days so it’s a mistake to say they don’t even know what a software app is or how to zoom in and out of a page. More than half of the MEPs, he says, are on Facebook -- and a growing number have their own Twitter accounts and blogs.

Moreover, he argues, for politicians constantly on the move between their constituencies, Brussels and Strasbourg, new technologies such as a tablet – with its 10-hour battery life and light weight – are key to keeping in touch with voters, each other, and their committees, not to mention for accessing internal documents from different locations without having to lug around suitcases of paper.

“Technologies are old here. We don’t even have Wi-Fi in all of the parliament spaces,” he says. “We need to keep up and adapt to the technologies of the future.”

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