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12th Jul 2020

EU officials must slash expenses, Brussels warns

The European Commission has said EU institutions should show solidarity with crisis-hit EU citizens by, for example, sending fewer staff on foreign trips. But drastic cuts, such as scrapping EU agencies, are not foreseen.

EU budget commissioner Janusz Lewandowski in a letter sent last week to all 16 EU institutions and 30-plus agencies said offices should limit growth in internal expenses in 2012 to less than 1 percent, amounting to a cut in real terms.

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  • The world as seen through the window of the EU commission's main building in Brussels (Photo: Wikipedia)

"Some EU institutions organise conference events in Europe, usually 50 staff travel for them. Maybe they don't need 50. Maybe 30 would be enough. If someone wants to do a large study covering 10 years, maybe eight would be enough," the commissioner's spokesman, Patrizio Fiorilli, told EUobserver on Tuesday (8 February).

"The letter ... dropped a heavy hint that outside the institutional world, there are member states and 500 million Europeans and many of them are feeling the pinch of severe austerity measures, so it would not be the smartest move for those institutions or agencies, when they send in their estimates for next year's budget, to follow the business as usual line."

"We have to show some solidarity," he added. "The EU institutions must send out a message that they do not live in a bubble."

Asked if Mr Lewandowski would back more far-reaching measures, such as scrapping a minor EU institution like the Committee of Regions, as recently suggested by the Liberal group in the European Parliament, he said: "I wouldn't imagine there would be anything revolutionary or drastic coming up."

A source at the European Council, the member states' secretariat in Brussels, said there is little to be cut where he works.

The contact explained that the biggest waste of money is decamping for all minister-level meetings to Luxembourg for three months of the year and paying the upkeep of the "rather ridiculous" empty building in the Grand Duchy for the other nine months.

As with the parliament's multi-million-euro monthly trip to Strasbourg, the set-up is enshrined in the EU treaty and could only be changed by an extraordinary act of self-sacrifice by Luxembourg or France, however.

The Council source added that EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy's new "Residence Palace" building, a "sort of egg with a hole in the middle", will cost over €300 million by the time it is finished but will save some money by providing own security for EU summits instead of hiring Belgian police.

EUobserver understands that MEPs aim to write back to Mr Lewandowski saying they cannot make the one-percent target because they need to hire extra staff in line with new duties under the Lisbon Treaty.

A quick glance at the parliament's 2009 budget discharge shows some items that could be trimmed, however.

If the parliament closed down duplicate "information offices" in EU countries where it already has a principal outpost - Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK - it would save €3.1 million a year. If it stopped serving beverages at its various meetings, it would save another €1.5 million.

In terms of gestures of "solidarity," MEPs might want to look at their €3.6-million-a-year limousine service. In 2009, one euro-deputy took a limousine trip from Brussels to Berlin while three others went from Brussels to Paris.

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