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26th Jan 2020

EU officials increasingly unhappy, audit finds

  • Average EU official is 48 years old and works 43 hours a week (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

The EU's 60,000 or so officials are less happy and new recruits are harder to attract after a €4.2bn cost-cutting plan, the bloc's auditor has said.

"There has been a marked decrease in staff satisfaction and an increase in sick leave," while "interest among potential new recruits has also declined", the EU's Court of Auditors said in a new report out on Tuesday (24 September).

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About a third of staff felt they had too much work and fewer than 50 percent said the European Commission, the largest EU employer, was "an attractive workplace".

The ill-will comes after the EU cut five percent of posts, increased the retirement age from 63 to 66, and capped pension increases and promotion rates in reforms put in place five years ago.

The measures saved €4.2bn over 2014 to 2020 and will save €19.2bn by 2064, the auditors noted.

But they reduced EU officials' purchasing power compared to careers at national level and increased the average working week from 42.6 hours to 42.9 hours, rising to as much as 51 hours in some departments.

The increase in sick leave, a marker of unhappy workers, was marginal overall, but shot up from 10.3 days per person per year to 18.9 days in the justice and consumer rights department and from 9.4 to 15.1 in the home affairs one.

Meanwhile, Dutch, French, Polish, and Spanish nationals were already under-represented in EU institutions before the changes.

And EU careers were only the 15th most popular option for graduates in Europe overall, dropping to 31st place in Germany and 48th place in Poland, according to a separate survey, by the Trendence Institute, a German consultancy, cited by the EU auditors.

At the same time, the average age of EU staff in 2018 was 48, while just 4.2 percent were under-35 (compared to 6.8 percent in 2016), painting a picture of an ageing as well as an unhappy workforce.

The changes also had other negative side-effects, for instance by "disconnecting pay and grade from level of responsibility" and by boosting the number of people on temporary contracts.

This meant some clerical staff now earned more than their bosses, while the coming and going of contract workers reduced the number of experienced personnel.

The reforms did help improve gender balance.

The share of women in senior posts increased from 30 percent in 2014 to 34 percent in 2017 on the way to a target of 40 percent by 2020.

"Men still occupy most posts in the highest grades. However, since women now make up the majority of junior staff, the share of women in higher grades and senior management positions should be expected to increase over time," the auditors said.

The audit noted that EU workers, on average, get promoted every three years.

The 2014 reform also made it easier to downgrade or dismiss people who performed badly.

"However, so far only few such cases have been reported at the [EU] commission", despite the changes in staff rules, the audit said.

A staff member needed five consecutive negative annual reports to warrant dismissal.

But "estimates for the commission as a whole are around 20 unsatisfactory reports per year" in total, covering fewer than 0.1 percent of staff, the auditors said.

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