Open Europe Blog

Downright scandalous

We had been forced led to believe by the powers that be that the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty (by hook and by crook) was meant to signal the end of the EU’s internal wrangling and launch the EU into a new decade more outward looking and firmly focussed on the needs of its citizens.

However, the 40,000 – 50,000 or so EU bureaucrats in Brussels (and Luxembourg) plainly have other ideas. They have decided to start 2010 by taking all 27 member states of the EU to the European Court of Justice over their refusal to agree an inflation busting 3.7% pay rise. EU officials have been unwilling to accept a compromise offer from member states of a 1.85% rise.

Now this is so outrageous on so many levels that you would be forgiven for thinking this was a joke or something concocted by the most vehement eurosceptic. But if you’re struggling to believe it, take a look here.

First, the pay rise itself. EU officials are paid well, very well. The basic monthly salary of the lowest pay grade is €2,550 per month, while a department head can expect to earn around €17,700 per month, and are paying special “community taxes” ranging from 8% to 45% (with the highest tax bracket applying only on wages above €6,700 per month). They receive all manner of benefits, including generous allowances for their children’s education and very favourable pension arrangements.

Despite these benefits, EU officials are insistent that, in the worst recession for generations, they are entitled to more because “that’s what the ‘compulsory method’ for calculating the figure says” and that it is a matter of “rule of law” as a Commission spokesperson delicately put it. Evidently, recessions can’t penetrate the Brussels bubble and, even if they did, they would of course be superseded by EU law.

The scale of the brazen disregard for what is happening to Europeans elsewhere and the sheer bloody-midedness is quite frankly awesome.

Second, is the process by which this issue of the pay rise will inevitably happen be decided. You could cut the lack of democratic accountability with a knife. Today’s decision to take the matter to the ECJ was taken by the ‘College of Commissioners’, which includes all 27 EU Commissioners and the UK’s very own Catherine Ashton. The decision was taken by unanimity, so it therefore follows that the Baroness thought this a good idea too.

Because all the salaries of those directly employed by the EU institutions are based upon the same pay scale, the 27 EU Commissioners are also set to benefit from the additional 3.7%. Now Ashton’s decision is not looking so silly (well, for her anyway). As Bruno Waterfield over at the Telegraph notes, Ashton will pocket an extra £9,000 on top of her basic annual salary of £241,000 if the commission’s legal action is successful. But it does not stop there.

Not content with an assault on EU taxpayers’ wallets, the Commissioners have made sure to insult their intellect for good measure. Commission spokeswoman Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen told journalists that due to the stalemate between member states and the Commission “Now it’s for the court” to decide. Reading this at first glance one would think this reasonable – an impartial judiciary is just the job for such institutional difficulties.

But, hang on a minute, aren’t the ECJ judges’ salaries also based on the very same pay scale as all other EU officials? Why yes they are. Thank the EU for those checks and balances. The festive season may be over but the expression ‘Turkeys don’t often vote for Christmas’ still very much applies.

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