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EU staff next to feel economic pinch?

June 22, 2011

With economic malaise spreading across Europe as a result of the ongoing Euro crisis, many workers have faced unemployment and harsh budget cuts. In some cases, such as Greece, Ireland, and Portugal, the EU and the IMF have enforced austerity measures in exchange for financial bailouts meant to stem the bleeding. In other countries, budget cuts have simply been a necessary measure to control rising deficits. According to EU Observer, the next group of workers to feel the economic pinch could be European Union staff. The article cites a high ranking official as saying that the European Commission will at the end of June propose cutting 5% of all EU staff positions. The official cites this step as necessary to meet the EU’s goal of zero growth in administrative costs.

The European Union employs about 50,000 staff members, 38,000 of them who work in the various Directorates-General (DGs) of the European Commission. The DG responsible for translating documents alone employs about 2,400 staff. (See here for detailed figures). EU employees are perennial targets of disdain in many European circles, and the term “Eurocrat” has long been a pejorative term, conjuring up images of secure, well-paying, plush employment. However, as Simon Coates, from the FFPE union that represents many EU staff, points out, the majority of clerical and administrative employees have fairly modest salaries and often have spouses who must give up employment when they move to Brussels. A statement released by the FFPE pointed out that EU staff salaries comprise only 0.075% of the GNI of member states. Administration costs comprised 5.7% of the EU budget in 2011.

Due to the economic uncertainty facing many European families, not to the mention the pervasive negative associations with “Eurocrats,” EU employees are unlikely to garner a great deal of sympathy. However, a couple of recent expense scandals that have rocked EU institutions might give the FFPE some ammunition with which to fire back at allegations that staff salaries are the main culprit in the institution’s budgetary problems. A recent investigation unearthed lavish spending by European Commission officials, including outlandish parties, private jet travel, and the priciest hotels. Not to be outdone, the European Parliament has had its own scandal, over outrage at widespread abuses of their expense accounts by MEPs. EU staff representatives could try to use these scandals to generate some populist rage at the notion that ordinary workers are being let go to make room for budget cuts while top-ranking officials are living it up.

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