An old EU joke: "How many people work in Brussels?" "About half of them."
For years groups like Britain in Europe have been saying that 'only' around 20,000 people work for the EU. We decided to check that up, and there is a piece in the Sunday Telegraph about it.
The European Commission's website says that it employs 25,000 people. The French Government says all the EU institutions put together employ about 35,000. In a recent parliamentary answer in the UK, the Government plumped for 37,000 for the EU as a whole.
However, if you can find them, the official figures from the EU's "establishment plans" for 2007 (on page 6 of the DG Admin 'statistical bulletin') show that there are 42,548 temporary and permanent EU officials. In addition, it lists 8,123 "external" Commission staff, which are staff paid on appropriations - contract agents, seconded national experts, technical and administrative assistance etc, giving a total of over 50,000.
However the Commission's table does not list any external staff employed by the other institutions and the agencies. Since the summer we've been trying to find out these numbers, which has proved a bit of a nightmare. Some agencies, such as the European Police College have refused to supply the numbers, and others have sent pretty prickly emails. One said that we had to send them a "motivated letter" (Our motive: we want to know and it's our money). However, despite all that, the information we've managed to uncover shows a significant number of 'hidden' employees.
We've found, for example, that the European Parliament has at least an extra 2,254 staff working for it not listed on the statistical bulletin (this figure is likely to have increased since it was supplied back in June, given that the official numbers of staff have gone up).
And there are lots of "off balance sheet" staff in the balooning number of EU agencies too. We're still waiting for some further figures and clarification, but based on the Commission's statistical bulletin, plus what additional figures we have for external staff, for the other institutions and agencies, the EU has around 54,000 staff.
And there may well be more on top of this. The Commission's confusing table doesn't list second and third 'pillar' agencies such as Europol (which has a staff of 600), or the European Defence Agency (which has a staff of at least 94), or the EU Satellite Centre.
Trying to make a comparison with the size of the UK civil service isn't easy, because so many of the EU numbers are just not published. However, we found that while there are 4,640 Senior Civil Servants in the Government (earning £54K upwards), there are almost 10,000 officials in the Commission alone earning a comparable salary. We only have the salary grades for the Commission, but if one assumes that the same proportion (34%) of all EU staff (54,000 or so) were on roughly this salary scale, then there will be around 18,000 members of EU staff on Senior Civil Service pay (so it's nearly four times as big).
What's going on? Why so many new agencies?
One factor is the EU agencies' role in the development of US-style 'pork-barrel' spending in the EU: "You get the food standards agency, we get the gender institute" etc. This motive for expansion is made incredibly overt during talks on the budget.
For example, during the negotiations on the new financial perspective the EU's budget for administration (and setting up lots of lovely new agencies) was increased from 49.3 billion euros to 50.3 billion euros, between the publication of the United Kingdom Presidency Proposal on 14 December and the publication of the UK's final proposals on 19 December.
Amazingly the UK Government actually admitted in a parliamentary answer that it had agreed to the extra €1bn as a kind of sweetener:
"A number of changes, including the change to the budget for administration costs,were necessary to the UK presidency proposal of14 December in order to generate a political consensus for an agreement on the 2007-13 Financial Perspective at the European Council on 15-17 December"
The growth of EU agencies is also an example of the EU's turn towards populism: price controls on text messages, putative 'bans' on violent computer games etc. The agencies allow the EU to be seen to be "doing something" in a whole range of new areas, from food safety to human rights.
Bizarrely, the EU is now also investing in advertising its agencies - a glossy new 'EU agencies campaign' tells people "Whatever you do - we work for you", and has placed adverts in in-flight magazines on some of Europe's biggest airlines, boasting of agency staff of "more than 2,500" (actually it's more like 4,500) and "significant budgetary resources." (why doesn't the civil service just start plugging itself too?)
Of course, the real point about the EU is not the number of people who work for it. Every day literally thousands of national civil servants descend on Brussels to take part in its hundreds of expert committees, and the drawing up of regulations, directives and decisions which affect nearly half a billion people. The power of the EU doesn't just depend on employing a lot of pen pushers, but on imposing a whole supranational legal system.