Austerity? Not in Brussels

Posted on February 24, 2012 by

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This is not another Eurosceptic demolition piece that would feel at home on the UKIP website. This is the plea of a concerned citizen, who believes that good governance necessitates an accountable elite, in-touch with the people they represent. Leaving aside for now the European Commission’s lack of democratic accountability, which is undoubtedly a significant weakness of the European Union’s basic architecture, the galling issue at present is the Commission’s drive for austerity across Member States while its own staff are entirely shielded from any sense of crisis. As the European Union suffers its worst economic crisis since the Second World War, the European Commission’s recipe for recovery is largely to punish Member States for their ‘reckless spending’ by calling for and, in the case of Greece and Italy, colluding with the imposition of ever punitive austerity measures. The dramatic reduction in public spending is being shouldered by Europe’s most vulnerable, while the pockets of those at the top, in Brussels, are not getting any lighter.

Civil servants in national administrations are easy scapegoats in times of crisis. Seen as a cosseted, overpaid elite, governments have no qualms freezing their pay packets and sometimes reducing their take-home salaries from one month to the next. Last month, Greek civil servants even suffered retrospective salary cuts, with some workers losing up to €1400 a month from their original salary. EU officials, however, are not accountable to national electorates and a lack of interest in Europe means that their salaries face much less scrutiny than their national counterparts. Institutional employees are sitting on a goldmine and while they continue to call for more drastic cuts, their is no sense of humility about their own embarrassment of riches.

Below is a table foam 2004 taken from the European Commission’s website, detailing the salaries of its officials. Yes, the information is in the public domain, but is relatively unknown and the figures are shocking. The Commission’s top civil servants, unelected, unaccountable and unknown, can earn €16,094 a month, which is a whopping €192,588 a year.

What’s more, officials even earn extra in the form of family and expatriation allowances and “salary increases automatically every two years until retirement”. That’s right! The European Commission even engages in some highly discriminatory social engineering that favours marriage so that “for single officials net salaries are around 15 – 20% lower”.

The European Commission justifies the hugely generous benefits package on the grounds that it must function as ‘substitute state’ for its poor employees forced to move country for employment. This is the same Commission that boasts about how the Single Market has created a seamless zone of enterprise, in which employees can move at the drop of a hat to take up employment in another Member State. No benefits package, no expatriation allowance and no ‘substitute state’ for them. For the million of vulnerable Europeans forced to travel abroad due to worsening economic circumstances in their country, I am sure it will come as a relief to know that the European Commission doesn’t really have faith in its own Single Market. Indeed, they write on their own website ” The EU institutions have a special responsibility as employers, because their staff do not have a right to the social benefits in the host country that they would have in their own”. Very reassuring.

The Commission is not embarrassed by the salaries it dishes out to its staff, money that is collected as tax revenue in Europe’s semi-bankrupt, debt-ridden Member States. In fact, it attempts to justify them, as ever, on the grounds of talent. “An attractive salary is a major factor in helping to secure the highly qualified staff needed to put the European ideal into practice.” Given that the EU recruits through universal competitions, which in fact deter many of the most able candidates form applying, salary is hardly the issue. Contrary to their lame protestations, every year there are thousands of qualified, multilingual, motivated and talented young Europeans beating a path to the door of the Commission, desperate to work there even for half the price. The high salaries and rarefied recruitment procedure actually function as a way to keep fresh talent out and protect the privileged within.

On a final note, let us not forget that the “highly qualified staff” are the same bureaucrats that are partially responsible for Europe’s current crisis. They helped to plan, launch and oversee the Euro and failed to grasp its fatal weaknesses. They failed to respond promptly to the crippling sovereign debt crises that threatened, and ultimately delivered, risky contagion. If this is the European ideal they have been putting into practice, they should be paying us extortionate sums, not the other way round.

All quotations and pay chart taken from a European Commission 2004 archive. http://ec.europa.eu/reform/2002/summary_chapter6_en.htm

 

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Posted in: Politics