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Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Why the red face?

Fresh from having given the Commission credit for a sensible proposal, it's a bit surprising (well, not really) to see that some Commission Communication-types continue to do their best to completely wreck the image of the EU institutions.

So yet again, here we go! Following last week's Commission proposal for the EU budget, things are truly starting to hot up when it comes to the Brussels purse strings. The proposed increase has prompted some strong reactions from national capitals and therefore left the Commission rather isolated.

It is perhaps no surprise then to see the hugely defensive statement it has put out today in response to one of the fairly basic findings in our briefing on the EU budget, published last week. We stated that,

"Of the 23,928 permanent and temporary EU officials employed by the European Commission, approximately 10,240 earn over €80,000 (£71,500) gross. In comparison, of the UK’s 527,490 civil servants, only 5,490 earn over (£70,000) gross."

The Commission's opening response is simply, "We regard Open Europe's report as dishonest, manipulative and riddled with basic errors." This is pretty strong and colourful language - and we're used to being on the sharp end of Commission press briefings (and funnily enough, we always seem to end up with the last word).

The spokesperson then goes on to say:

"First, they compare all civil servants at all levels in the UK with just officials and temporary agents in the Commission. No mention of Contract Agents, who are generally the lowest paid category of staff. There are literally thousands of these (around 6,000 in the Commission, 10,000 across all EU institutions). One can only speculate why Open Europe chose to exclude them from their 'comparison'."

We're very clear that we have only included permanent and temporary officials in the numbers we cite. We have compared the actual numbers: the point being that in the entire UK civil service there are only 5,490 people earning over £70,000, while of the permanent and temporary officials in the Commission more than 10,000 people are earning over £71,000.

The question is, is this justified? We would guess that most taxpayers would think not.

If we had compared the percentages of high-earners in the Commission and UK civil service then we could see the Commission's cause for grievance - but the figures show that, while the UK civil service org chart looks like a pyramid (as most organisations' do), the Commission is a rolling treadmill where officials seem to simply progress on to the next level, with the extra pay and perks this entails.

The Commission's other major bone of contention is that "the share of administration costs in the EU's budget is not rising from 5.7 per cent to 6.1 per cent."

We have simply used the figures provided by the Commission for this: for the 2007-13 budget the current admin costs are €55.9bn from a total €975.8bn (in current prices) = 5.7% , whereas under the proposed 2014-2020 EU budget admin costs would be €62.6bn from a total of €1,025bn (in 2011 prices) = 6.1%. What else is there to say? Why the red face and the slander? (clue: over-reactions like this are usually a sign of somebody losing the argument).

The Commission keeps desperately trying to claim it is "not out of touch" with the people of Europe but its inability to even accept the basic terms of argument make it impossible to have a rational debate about the serious issues.

No wonder people are turning off and tuning out to the "European Project" in droves.


Rollo said...

The pay levels for these apparatchiks is grotesque. It should be, say, halved. This would hopefully lead to a long, long strike; during which it would become clear that they serve no useful function whatever.

Anonymous said...

On the contractual agents: of course you do not think that average person after having read "Of the 23,928 permanent and temporary EU officials (...)" will think taht there is in fact another 50% of staff not covered, right?

BTW I am a low-level official and looking recently at the sites of other IOs I realized I would be better off there. EC indeed has recruitment problems (including of UK citizens) and not without a reason. Most of us is in fact WELL BELOW the level of Director/Commissioner etc. and sure to stay there. Of course it is the majority nobody writes about...

Open Europe blog team said...

Thanks Anonymous. Appreciate your comment. We're trying to get in touch with the Commission to get figures for staff on temporary contracts as well (which doesn't seem to be available anywhere). Regrettebly, the Commission hasn't responded yet, but we're happy to flag this up as soon as we get the actual info. Any help is much appreciated - it's not the most transparent area regrettably...

Anonymous said...

I know we seem to be one unified EU mass to most people from outside, but truly - there is a precipice between a 'simple' (esp. post-Kinnock) employee and a Director, Commissioner - and especially an MEP.

Alas, you are not my friend, OP, so no help from me ;).

Open Europe blog team said...

Well, to counter such an image, the Commission could help itself and you by actually provide information and become more transparent.

If you don't want to help civil society in accessing basic information, you have no right to complain. Sorry :)

Anonymous said...

Nice try, but it is not the transparency that is the problem.

Prime example: you have not omitted in your "report" the contractual agents because you were not aware of their existence.

Open Europe blog team said...

Anonymous - what do you mean? Including the contractual agents really doesn't change that much re the absolute number of Commission officals on high salary.

A fairer point is that the Commission should be compared to other international organisations (though that criticism isn't entirely without flaws either).

Anonymous said...

I mean that if Barroso and Cameron raced and Barroso won, your headline would be „Cameron was second, Barroso last-but-one” :).
“Forgetting” contractuals allowed you to send a ‘message’ about c. 50% of EC earning high salaries, did it not? BTW I am not in the HR, but your numbers do seem strange to me.

Actually, I am now interested now in the very same question: how do we compare vs other IOs. So far I researched sites of OECD and NATO and the results give food for thought ;). Basic data: a/ NATO: salary for my qualifications 5870 EUR (more than EC); NO tax (either income or special :O - much better! ); 8% pension contribution (much better than EC); 30 days of annual leave + 4 per year of home travel leave (nice!) ; expatration allowance 18% for the first 10 years + 15% afterwards (better if one works not longer than 30 years) ; b/ OECD: salary for my qualifications 5254 EUR (similar to EC); NO tax (either income or special :O - much better! ); 9,3% pension contribution (worse than NATO but still better than EC – BTW it seems we pay the highest pension contribution in the EU); 30 days of annual leave + 4 per year of home travel leave (nice!) ; expatration allowance 18% (better).

As I said – it really makes one think ;). Looking at the qualifications required - I qualify!
Plus, of course, the added benefit of NOT being insulted by tabloids.

BTW: One of my colleagues (AST 3) calculated that working for an UN in Vienna (equivalent is G3 or 4 – do not remember) would earn double than what he makes here. I still have to get thorough UN regulations; they are complex.

Bye and have a nice weekend.

Anonymous said...

In my mind the category for temporary staff must include CAs, as their contracts are temporary by definition, whereas in practice they can end up working decades for the institutions (not in Brussels, as not more than 6 years is allowed but as CAs in EU delegations). It would be helpful to look into the costs of CAs in delegations, as this category usually makes up at least half of delegation staff, if not two thirds (they are typically the ones administering development projects). There has been a reform of the system, but it still possible for CAs to continue in delegations for ages. They may not be able to advance, but on the other hand, their salary and benefits are the same as those of an official with the corresponding tasks and grade (including a generous housing benefit, expat allowance, hardship allowance, family allowances, a comprehensive health insurance scheme, private schools for their children etc).
As for the data released to you by the commission, I would assume that CAs would be included in the category for temp. staff. Other temporary staff could be seconded national officials (but then again, they would typically be paid by their national administration) and so-called 'interimaires', i.e. staff hired through staffing agencies (in Brussels that is trough the company called Start People)that are formally hired on a weekly basis, but the contract is renewed time and again to cover gaps in staffing.