Saturday

17th Nov 2018

'Mushrooming' EU institutions cause unease amid era of national austerity

  • The EU does not need any new institutions, the commission official said (Photo: photogirl7)

There is a growing nervousness at the top of the European Commission at a threat to the very legitimacy of the European Union if the bloc's institutions continue their "mushrooming" while beyond Brussels, public spending is being slashed to the bone.

Speaking to a group of reporters, one very senior commission official let rip about his frustration at the forward march of institutional expansion and how so many European actors appear to be blithely oblivious to the incongruence of their situation amid austerity everywhere else in Europe.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

"Austerity measures at the moment have yet to really set in, but in the autumn, this is going to be tangible, with salary and social benefit reductions, pension cuts. People will begin to feel it," the official said on condition he would not be named. "And people will look at us and say: 'How is it that they are immune, they keep growing when we are having to cut back?'"

"The number one issue should be to stop the mushrooming of the institutions. We don't need new institutions."

"There is a tendency to think every time there is a new problem, the EU can solve it with a new institution."

"We have to launch the new external action service, which involves additional costs; and the parliament wants more money. I was worried that the Van Rompuy taskforce would create a new institution," he continued, referring to the EU Council president's investigation into possibilities for greater "economic governance" of the bloc in the wake of the sovereign debt crisis.

"What was stopped, fortunately, was the creation of a eurozone secretariat, pushed by the French. The idea is still flying about though. Economic governance should be about finance ministers working more closely together, not creating yet another institution."

As it is, the administrative costs of setting up the new European Systemic Risk Board and three new economic supervisory bodies overseeing the banking, insurance and securities sectors amount to €15 million, which was less than some had feared.

The EU's new foreign office and diplomatic corps, the External Action Service, was originally envisaged as being budget neutral.

"But next year, the service would like to have more - new building security, VIP access. This is not wise in the present climate. This is precisely the kind of institution that will keep demanding more money," the official continued.

In 2011, the administrative costs for all EU institutions will climb 4.4 percent, with the total amounting to €8.3 billion out of the bloc's budget.

The admin costs of the commission itself will rise slightly less, on 2.9 percent, with the total costs amounting to €3.7 billion.

The cost rises from other institutions including the European Parliament, the Committee of the Regions, the Economic and Social Committee, the European Court of Justice, the Court of Auditors and the various agencies will come to 4.8 percent, with the total costs amounting to just over €3 billion.

Particularly incongruous at a time when, for example, earlier this year, Romania had attempted to slash pensions across the board by 15 percent before the country's top court struck down the measure as unconstitutional, the cost of EU pensions will rise 6.9 percent next year, with the total cost amounting to €1.275 billion, coming mainly from the cost of people heading into retirement.

Most embarrassing of all, the cost of the European Schools, the nursery, primary and secondary schools providing high-quality free education to the children of EU civil servants, will grow a full 12.5 percent, with the total amounting to €174 million.

In proportion to the administrative costs of member states, he stressed, these figures are actually not that high, but the divergent fiscal paths of the EU institutions and the member states has not gone without notice in some national capitals.

In early July, the European Central Bank, the ne plus ultra of fiscal austerity taskmasters, warned Bucharest in a letter against the government's plans to slash the pay of employees of the country's central bank by 25 percent, making the bankers appear to be looking after their own while leaving it for everyone else to tighten their belts.

"The political class of Europe is getting really frustrated with the EU institutions. They should show some restraint, they say. They are growing at a time of national austerity. And they are right."

Inside the commission, people are slowly coming around to this view as well, "because there is a growing recognition that the credibility, the legitimacy of the institutions is at stake."

"We should liquidate some institutions, otherwise we could in late 2011 be forced to do so," he said, predicting then as the date by which austerity will truly be biting.

"We need to show some measure of restraint at least, a gesture, such as doing away with the parliament's Strasbourg seat," he said.

The French city of Strasbourg is the official seat of the European Parliament and its secretariat is in Luxembourg, but most work is done in the parliament's buildings in Brussels and the cost of the "travelling circus" shuttling between the three cities in 2011 will come to an estimated €240 million over what would be spent for a single location. France however has consistently called the move to a single seat "non-negotiable."

"We should also shut down the Economic and Social Committee and Committee of the Regions," he added, referring to the two institutions that represent the interests of EU subnational regions and employers and workers. Both have only consultative rights in the EU legislative process.

In German, such institutions are referred to as 'Tintenburgen', or 'Ink Castles', producing a mountain of reports that few people pay any attention to.

"These institutions were born when the parliament had no power, was not a factor. Now this is a duplication. There is no real need for these bodies."

"Europe needs a bit of masochism," he joked.

Exclusive

EU commission redacted too much in 'WiFi4EU' papers

Secretariat-general of the European Commission decides that information redacted by directorate-general Communications Networks, Content and Technology should have been made public.

Mogherini's tech experts talk more freely in secret

The EU's foreign service says there are no "records" of the Global Tech Panel meetings, but acknowledged foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini writes summary letters. Five MEPs worried about killer robots suggest the panel's composition is skewed.

News in Brief

  1. US warns EU banks and firms against trading with Iran
  2. Merkel urged Romania not to move embassy to Jerusalem
  3. Protesters call for Czech leader to step down
  4. Former German chancellor labelled 'enemy' of Ukraine
  5. French lead opposition to Brexit deal on fisheries
  6. Private accounts of Danske Bank employees investigated
  7. UK's May defends Brexit deal to MPs, after ministers resign
  8. Brexit MP calls for 'no confidence' vote on May

Opinion

Dodgy regime lobbying is below the EU's radar

In Brussels, PR professionals and lobbying consultants are working for some of the world's most autocratic regimes. And we have no way of knowing for sure who they are, how much they are paid, or what they are up to.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  4. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  5. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  6. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  7. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  8. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  9. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  10. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  12. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs

Latest News

  1. Brexit dominates EU affairs This WEEK
  2. How the EU commission got tunnel vision on self-driving cars
  3. No-confidence calls against May put Brexit deal in doubt
  4. Key points of the Brexit deal (if it ever comes into effect)
  5. Romania heaps scorn on 'revolting' EU criticism
  6. US steps in to clean up Cyprus
  7. 'Decisive progress' on Brexit as British cabinet backs deal
  8. Asylum for Macedonia's ex-PM puts Orban on spot

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  3. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  5. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  9. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  10. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us