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27th Jan 2022

Experts question legality of EU officials' pay cuts

  • EU officials attacked the popular notion of the Brussels gravy train (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

Experts in the EU Council, the member states' secretariat in Brussels, have questioned the legality of new cuts to EU officials' benefits.

EU countries formally proposed the austerity measures at a meeting in Brussels on 7 May.

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They include: a two-year freeze on pay increases followed by a cascading pay reduction of 1.67 percent per year; further cuts of 6 percent to lowest-level pay grades; and a 6 percent drop in childcare allowance.

They also include raising the retirement age from 63 to 67 and cutting pensions by up to 20 percent.

Meanwhile, weekly working time is to go up from 37.5 to 40 hours and the rate of promotions is to slow by 33 percent.

The ideas come on top of earlier demands in February to slash €1.5 billion off the EU institutions' payroll in 2014 to 2020.

Negotiations between EU states' diplomats, MEPs and EU civil servants began on Monday (13 May).

But an opinion drafted by the Council's legal services - dated 6 May and seen by EUobserver - casts doubt on whether the cutbacks would stand up to a challenge in the EU court in Luxembourg.

The memo says: "The envisaged measures would mean unprecedented changes to the conditions of employment of Union officials … This makes it difficult to predict to what extent a particular combination of measures would be found in breach of general principles and fundamental rights by Union courts."

It adds that all workers in Europe are protected from a "retroactive withdrawal" of "acquired rights" in a principle which is "closely related to the fundamental right of property."

It says that "abrupt changes" without "adequate transitional measures" go against the legal principle of "legitimate expectations."

It also notes that the original terms of employment were "fundamental to [people's] decision to become officials of the Union, which implies ... leaving, in most cases, their country of origin as well as their social security system."

Judges in Luxembourg are already handling EU trade unions' challenges to prior salary and pensions changes.

Meanwhile, all but essential EU Council staff are staging a walk-out on Thursday and Friday.

The strike comes on top of earlier protest action in November last year and in February and early May this year.

A press release by the Union Syndicale Service Public Europeen accused member states of a political campaign to "weaken the European institutions."

It said the measures would make it harder to "recruit competent staff," forcing Brussels to rely on seconded personnel from EU countries instead.

It also attacked the popular idea of the Brussels gravy train.

"The officials and other agents of the European institutions are frequently accused of wanting at all costs to preserve their exorbitant privileges and conditions and of refusing any 'modernisation.' They categorically reject those accusations," it said.

High ranking officials pocket more than €10,000 a month in basic pay. But lowest grades get around €2,600.

The Council lawyers who drafted the legal opinion, as well as EU judges in Luxembourg, stand to be affected by the pay cuts along with colleagues in other posts.

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