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18th Sep 2021

EU to achieve promised 5% staff cut – at least in theory

  • The number of contract staff has gone up, partly to offset the reduction in budgeted staff posts (Photo: European Parliament)

The EU is on track to meet its promise to reduce staff posts by five percent - even though the number of people actually working for EU institutions and agencies has slightly increased, as has staff expenditure.

On 1 January 2017, the main EU institutions employed 36,774 people, down from 37,262 five years earlier, the Court of Auditors said in a report published on Thursday (21 December).

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  • EU migration commissioner Avramopoulos visiting the staff of migration agency Frontex in Poland. The agency saw an increase in workload (Photo: European Commission)

Staff at 32 decentralised agencies however went up from 5,379 to 5,896, while staff at six executive agencies increased from 398 to 532.

Hence, the total number of EU posts that were occupied by staff increased from 43,039 to 43,202 - or by 0.4 percent.

Nevertheless, the auditors noted that the EU largely fulfilled a December 2013 promise by the European Commission, the Council of the EU, and the European Parliament to reduce staff by five percent, because that promise was related to staff posts in establishment plans, not actually employed people.

Last February, economy and finance ministers asked the Court of Auditors – which despite its name is not an actual court, but the EU's audit body – to come with an evaluation of that promise.

"The review found that the EU institutions, bodies and agencies implemented the five percent reduction of the staff as in the establishment plan, albeit with some delays," the Court of Auditors said.

"This was achieved by eliminating posts that were vacant and by not replacing staff that left."

The European commission cut 1,254 posts over the five-year period, meeting its target exactly. The European Council and the Council of the EU – where respectively leaders and ministers meet – also met its reduction target of 157 posts exactly.

The European Parliament only cut 162 of the required 281 posts, but had agreed in 2015 with the council that its target would be met in 2019.

The Court of Auditors itself cut 45 posts, one more than agreed in 2013.

The EU agencies and the EU's foreign service, the European External Action Service, have until 2018 to comply.

But the five percent reduction cuts have mostly been done on paper only.

More new posts

While the number of budgeted posts that were in place on 1 January 2013 have been reduced, the EU has also added posts after that date.

Croatia joined the EU since then, which led to the creation of 495 new posts, 357 of them in the commission.

The Court of Justice of the European Union received 137 more posts in the past five-year period, because it was dealing with an enormous backlog of cases.

Meanwhile, the EU's agencies were given more tasks, and staff posts increased by 1,724 to carry out that work.

For example, the EU's border agency Frontex, which had 143 budgeted posts in 2013, grew by 222, as the EU tried to come to grips with the migration crisis.

More real jobs

Moreover, the number of actually filled posts has increased.

According to Thursday's report, the number of vacancies in EU institutions, bodies and agencies has "dropped significantly", from 3,194 in 2013, to 2,036 in 2017.

The average vacancy rate dropped from 6.9 percent to 4.5 percent.

Staff costs have also increased, due to the higher number of occupied staff posts, salary increases, and promotions.

The EU has budgeted €4.9 billion in staff expenditure for 2017, up from €4.5 billion in 2013.

More contract staff

Additionally, EU bodies have also budgeted 33.4 percent more contract staff this year compared to 2013.

The Court of Auditors said the EU agencies increased its use of contract staff by 718 full-time equivalent posts, because they had been given more tasks, had to cope with increased activity, or plainly to compensate for the five percent staff cut.

Contract staff were particularly increased in Frontex, Europol, and the agencies that deal with asylum, aviation safety, cybersecurity, global navigation satellite systems, and intellectual property.

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