6th May 2021

Unloved 'eurocrats' look on at Brussels protest

As workers from across Europe marched through the EU quarter in Brussels on Wednesday (29 September), some EU officials felt equally gloomy about proposed cuts in the EU budget and what they see as "scapegoating" of the Union's institutions by national politicians.

With the top tier of EU civil servants earning as much as €14,000 to €16,000 a month, paying much less income tax than private-sector workers and holding jobs for life, it is hard for EU fonctionnaires to plead for sympathy at a time of crisis.

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  • View from the EU commission headquarters in Brussels. Carpenito: 'Do you want us all to be in the shit together, or do you want us to get out of it?' (Photo: Wikipedia)

But the popular image of the Brussels gravy-train ignores the fact that thousands of EU secretaries, porters and other junior staff take home just €1,400-or-so each month and work on temporary contracts with no job security.

Simon Coates, from the EU Council's FFPE union, said that when officials move to Brussels their spouses often have to give up work and they lose the support of their extended families in terms of child-care.

"EU salaries [for low- and mid-ranking officials] are no longer competitive. There are no good career prospects here, so we are finding it hard to recruit people from countries such as the UK, Sweden or Germany," he added.

"At the same time as we are preparing for Croatian accession, we are being told that we cannot hire Croatian translators and lawyer-linguists for a long time."

Member states last year refused to honour a contractually-stipulated pay increase for EU officials, prompting an ongoing court battle in Luxembourg.

EU countries' recent proposals for the 2011 budget for EU institutions also call for a €165 million cut vis-a-vis the European Commission's request. There is to be €13 million less for the international schools which teach EU civil servants' children, €22 million less for pensions and a moratorium on creating new posts.

The communique proposing the budget cutbacks said they are "in line with the approach followed by the member states for their national civil service."

Fellow FFPE official Renzo Carpenito described as "populism ... hypocrisy ... scapegoating ... caricaturing" some national administrations' approach to EU expenditure, singling out France and the UK for special criticism.

"They come here to Brussels and they agree to the Lisbon Treaty, to more Europe but they are not willing to pay for it," he said. "If there are no EU institutions, there is no Europe."

Mr Carpenito recalled a recent conversation with an unemployed Danish man who complained about national money being used to pay for EU staff: "I told him: 'Yes, you are in the shit. But do you want us all to be in the shit together, or do you want us to get out of it?' The best response to the crisis is collective action at the European level. It is the EU that can help us to create a new economic and industrial policy."

The FFPE union has called a conference in Brussels on 4 October to "provoke" a debate about the EU cutbacks and to suggest, as one money-saving idea, to end the European Parliament's monthly commute from Brussels to Strasbourg.

Its statement noted that the 50,000 or so staff in the EU institutions cost just 0.075 percent of the member states' GNI.

"The openly anti-European club of 'net contributors' no longer even try to disguise their contempt for European officials," the statement says. "It is our duty to bring to light this attempt to use the reaction to the 'crisis' to promote a far darker agenda: the re-nationalisation of EU policies and their implementation by national officials along the lines that their governments dictate."

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