Sunday

31st Jul 2016

MEPs back cost-cutting on EU staff

MEPs have backed changes to working conditions for EU officials designed to save over €1 billion a year and to improve ethical standards.

The legal affairs committee in Brussels on Tuesday (25 April) voted through the new staff regulation by 19 against three with two abstentions. The Green group was the main malcontent, after its amendment on a higher tax for salaries of top officials failed to make the final cut.

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The text, based on a European Commission proposal from December, is still at an early stage of adoption in the EU process. "It will give us a stronger negotiating position with the Council [EU member states]. But it is too early to speculate when it might enter into force," a parliament official said.

The main provisions on cost-cutting include: a five percent reduction of the 55,000-or-so staff employed in the 50 EU institutions and agencies around Europe; an increase in the retirement age from 63 to 65; a hike in the mini-income-tax or "solidarity levy" on salaries from 4.23 percent to 6 percent; a new way of calculating pensions that will see lower pay-outs for staff who joined more recently; and smaller grants for people who move from their home countries to Brussels or Luxembourg.

The committee also backed a new "exception" clause for the mechanism which governs salary increases. Currently, EU officials get an automatic wage increase if national civil servants in a basket of select member states get one. But under the new rule, EU salaries can be frozen if there is a "negative macroeconomic" climate.

On the ethics front, senior officials are to be banned from lobbying their former colleagues for 12 months after leaving their post. They will also be blocked from lobbying while taking temporary personal leave.

On top of this, each institution will have to create a new "procedure" for protecting whistleblowers to make sure their complaints are handled more confidentially and more quickly.

The German centre-left MEP in charge of the dossier, Dagmar Roth-Behrendt, said her tweaks of the commission proposal will ensure there is no "lawn-mower cut" of 5 percent of staff imposed from above, but instead it will be "left to the institutions themselves to decide how they make the savings." Parliament sources previously told EUobserver the cuts will mostly affect staff on long-term sick leave or near retirement age rather than active personnel.

Austrian Green MEP Eva Lichtenberger noted: "These proposals [on lobbying and whistleblowers] would be a major step forward for the transparency and integrity of the EU administration."

Discussions leading up to Tuesday's vote saw some colourful interventions by other deputies.

Centre-right Italian MEP Raffaele Baldassare said the new rules should try breathe fresh air into a stagnant culture "of automatic promotions due to seniority."

In remarks on how to set up a new so-called "SC" staff grade for secretaries, German liberal Alexandra Thein said rules on language skills should be relaxed because it is not necessary to speak several languages to make photocopies. She noted that mostly Belgians should be hired for the relatively low-paid work, adding that if this means mainly women with few qualifications, it is not so important because most of them will have husbands who bring in a second wage.

A commission study attached to the December proposal says the savings would be modest in the early phase of adoption (some €65 million a year in 2013). But they would climb to almost €1.3 billion a year by 2060.

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