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Monday, February 21, 2011

Mean journalists ganging up on Brussels

An internal commission newsletter reveals what European Commission President José Manuel Barroso thinks about criticism of the pay and perks enjoyed by EU staff.

In what is seen as a direct response to revelations that 2,000 EU officials, earning between €124,000 and €185,000 a year, were also entitled to three months off work on full pay last year, Presidente Barroso said:
"The European civil service is often attacked for its apparent 'privileges' when this is not the case and I am always defending this."
Adding that he "cannot accept populism against the European civil service", while paying tribute to EU officials, describing them as a "great asset to Europe".

Sure, EU officials can do a good job but please! Not a week goes by without media across Europe lamenting the various excessive ways in which EU officials are compensated for their work. In Barroso's world, one is led to believe, this is just a case of mean journalists ganging up on Brussels (despite the Commission spending around €8 million a year on entertaining, training and 'informing' journalists. What has the world come to when you can't even buy some decent coverage?)

Only today, Danish newspaper Politiken reported that on average, salaries across Europe have fallen by 5% since 2008, while for EU officials they have increased by 4% during the same time period. One in five EU officials has an annual salary of around €135,000, or more - which seems high even to us. Between 1,100 and 1,600 make more than the Danish PM.

It would be strange if media did not report on this.

Barroso should take a stroll down the hallway in the Berlaymont building and have a chat with his colleague, Budget Commissioner Janusz Lewandowski, who understands the need to cut at least some of the EU institutions' expenditure.


Gawain Towler said...


And here are some of the non 'privileges'.

vladas said...

Oh come on, this is so boring to read. I am not defending EU officials, but would you consider yourself leaving your country, family, friends and go to such an unpleasant city as Brussels for a pay which is how much bigger then yours? 20%-30%? I hope that this higher pay in EU institutions will attract bright persons who will really work for Europe…

Open Europe blog team said...

Thanks Gawain.

Vladas - thanks for the comment. If it was only 20%-30%! And if only Brussels actually was an unpleasant place (we actually think it's quite nice). And if, for example, DG Culture would not employ more people than DG Internal Market (on similar salaries, begging the question, why?) we might agree with you.

It's good to attract bright people who understand that more regulation doesn't mean more Europe, but the out-of-touch mentality that Barroso displays only puts people off.

vladas said...

Well that's a management problem but not in salaries.
Also many EU officials came with their families, husbands, wifes, kids and its usually one person who is feeding all the family. There are more then 35.000 people working in EU institutions, am I right? So 2000 persons who are earning between €124,000 and €185,000 a year makes only more then 5% of them. What about those 33.000 people?

Anonymous said...

Firstly, funny how the journalists report always on the salaries of Barroso, Ashton and the like – very individual cases- as well as the minority of top EU officials. At the same time they never FAIL to mention the temporary and contractual agents, who earn significantly less than the permanent functionaries and constitute already c. 50% of total EU workforce. Never mind the worse-off half, let's concentrate on the top 1%!

Secondly, funny how these allegedly super-salaries and perks are NOT enough to attract people from certain professions and/or countries? It is enough to look e.g. at the competition for secretaries –not specialists, mind you!- with certain language skills. The number of potential candidates from Denmark, Sweden and even Portugal was not impressive, to say the least. Already over 30% of assistants are Belgian; this will only increase in future.

And I have a question to the OE-blogger: could you please provide a RELIABLE link proving this alleged 5% raise? I must have been cheated by the HR, since I did not see it on my payslip. Are you sure it is not confused with the over 5% extra crisis tax which we pay now? Or with the delayed indexation which everybody else receives ONE YEAR EARLIER than us, which in itself is punitive?

Open Europe blog team said...

Thanks anonymous. Your first point is sort of fair in that media tends to focus on the upper percentile, though this is true for any public body (or bank for that matter) which media scrutinises.

We're not quite getting your second point to be honest. The salaries enjoyed by Commission officials, but also MEPs' assistants and others are cleary more generous than in coutnries such as Sweden or Denmark, for example.(try to recruit someone out of the EU institutions and you would see what we mean). That most secretaries in the EU institutions are Belgian isn't surprising at all given that back-office personnel tends to be more local - again this is nothing unique to the EU institutions.

We haven't looked into Politiken's figures or how they were calculated, but we'll certainly do that. Their estimate is actually a 4% increase for EU officials and 5% decrease to wages across Europe since 2008. Out of curiosity, what's your estimate for the aggregate pay increase in % since 2008 for Commission officials if we may ask?

Anonymous said...

Dear EU –blogger,

As regards the first point, I am not talking merely about ‘focusing’ on the top posts (by the way: unattainable for ‘simple’ EU officials, as they are decided 100% by national politicians – yes, also your UK ones) but virtually ignoring everybody else.
Therefore, the information provided is simply misleading. For example, many times I have read about ‘jobs for life’ knowing that half of the EU staff works on short-term contracts. (By the way: also an established official may, in fact, be dismissed). Yes, it is common practice but not less unfair because of it. Why does nobody EVER mention the Kinnock Reform?

My second point is that in fact the salaries (and the whole employment package) is hardly SO generous if there are few candidates for some posts - or from certain countries. For example, only 63 Danish-speaking persons applied recently for the 35 secretarial posts offered by the Commission. [How many will actually participate in and pass the selection is yet unclear – 63 is the number of persons that expressed interest]. Why is it the case? Surely, if Commission officials were so well paid there would have been many more applicants. Would it be possible that – gasp! – some even permanent EU posts are actually not that attractive and not worth moving here for? (By the way, “assistants” are not only secretaries - they may work as financial personnel, in HR, as assistant case handlers etc.).

(Nb: by talking about “EU officials” here I mean people who passed competitions – the high political posts or the MEPs/their assistants fall into different category. Disclaimer: I do not express negative opinion about them ;), just no opinion).

As to the estimate, I would need to make the calculation. Surely do not want to make any incorrect guesses here... Indexation is directly linked [with one-year delay] to the indexation in Member States, therefore adjustment of salaries in EU is mere reflection of changes in national administrations. There were no real pay increases, which would require modification of the whole Staff Regulations by the Member States.

Anonymous said...

As regards the indexation: I found data on Denmark according to which by the end of 2010 nominal salaries increased by 23,6% [http://www.dst.dk/HomeUK/Statistics/Key_indicators/Earnings/publicSector.aspx]
[At least for 2010, I see no decrease].
From 2005 total indexation of salary in the EU – according to my best info – amounted to c. 11%. And that takes into account only the base salary, not considering the every year larger reductions which influence the amount actually entering the bank account (such as e.g. the special tax: 2.93% in 2005, to 5.50% in 2010). Possibly, if one carefully selects specific period one may come to a conclusion that EU personnel is better off – e.g. if inflation increased in year N, the Member Stated official would be indexed in year N and EU officials in year N+1. Then, N+1 would be a convenient cut-off point…

OK, to conclude: I am not complaining and know that many would trade places with me. Trust me, I would like to trade places with many persons.
I guess that to call on this forum for more fair approach and less cherry-picked arguments would be futile. However, one can always hope.

Best regards,