Following the revelation last week that 38,000 civil servants working for the European Commission are in line for an inflation-busting 3.7% pay rise for salaries, pensions and allowances this year, 15 EU member states have recognised that this is a step too far in this time of belt-tightening and have blocked the Commission proposal. Those countries blocking the pay rise include the UK, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and six member states that joined in 2004.
Absurdly, the pay rise is based on a calculation of civil service salaries in 8 of the richest member states, and a cost of living allowance for Brussels. The legal service of the Council has warned member states that departing from the formula could be vulnerable to a legal challenge - and the unions have not missed their chance to urge the Commission to take the issue to the ECJ (although it would have to be the Commission, and not the unions which filed the legal challenge.)
A representative of the Union Syndicale revealed just how hopelessly out of date the formula is when he described it as an "honest bargain which has given us social peace for 20 years."
A pay rise formula which is 20 years old? How many institutional and EU Treaty changes have we seen in the last 20 years - and yet there has been no change in the way that Commission staff's pay is calculated?
Interesting, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung had a bit of an expose yesterday, breaking down all the perks and allowances that EU civil servants get. It quoted one senior EU official saying that living abroad, the rationale behind such generous compensation, is "really not such a pain anymore" adding that "actually it's hard to get most bureaucrats to leave Brussels these days". No sh*t Sherlock - with working conditions so obviously insulated from the real labour market why on earth would you give up a cushy number in Brussels?
Just to put this pay rise in a bit of context, public sector pay in Latvia has been cut by up to 25% during the recession, and Ireland has planned to cut 1.3 billion euros from the public sector wage bill, not to mention the pay freeze announced by Alistair Darling for many UK senior civil servants and NHS staff, and more.
So the question here really is, should Brussels and those working in the EU institutions be protected from the economic recession, which is affecting public sector workers across member states? If so, why?