One of this morning’s reports from the EU summit is headlined – “David Cameron fails to cut EU bureaucrats pay and perks“. With the EU budget talks collapsing on Friday afternoon, it appears to be true, at least for now. And it’s a great shame. I know that sentiment will deeply irritate my friends in the EU bureaucracy – some of whom have been emailing me to point out that spending on administration is a mere €6bn a year, which is less than 6% of total EU spending. Even so, there is plenty of waste in the EU budget that could be easily sliced away.
What is true is that one element of Cameron’s approach – which is to suggest a 10% cut in the budget for pay – is potentially too crude. Not all EU operatives are overpaid. Some of the lawyers, for example, have relatively modest salaries by private-sector standards. Rather than an across-the-board cut in pay it would be much more productive to start eliminating entire agencies, functions and perks. This would cut the payroll and the budget, while preserving the bits of the EU that actually do something useful. Here are some candidates for the chop.
The following agencies could easily be shut down, with no net loss to humankind:
1) Cedefop – The European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training. 2) The European Economic and Social committee, whose mission is apparently to serve as a “bridge between Europe and organised civil society”. 3) The Committee of the Regions. 4) The Court of Auditors. (And yes, I know the EU needs to be audited – but why not out-source the job and close the 800 strong court.)
Closing these four agencies alone would mean the EU could bring its head-count down by about 2,500.
There are also plenty of job cuts that could be made elsewhere. The European Commission currently has over 100 officials at “director-general” level – but only 33 director-general jobs. One reason for this is that jobs are often handed out (or created) as part of a political deal, based on nationality. Another is that it is almost impossible to sack people on grounds of laziness or incompetence. The regulations to do this do not seem to exist – and the staff unions are strong.
As a result, one of the main mechanisms for getting rid of useless EU officials is to pension them off on grounds of “disability”. I well remember when I used to live in Brussels, an extremely spritely parent, who was often to be found at the school gates. He had stopped working in his fifties, on the grounds that he was “disabled”. He was a nice chap and lived comfortably on his EU pay-off, and had taken up painting execrable water colours. Part of the problem is that, in settling disability claims, the EU does not make proper distinctions between serious illness and other “disabilities”.
Chauffeurs and cars are another area to look at. Every judge at the European Court of Justice has one. Why?
Then, there is pensions. Cameron is arguing for an increase in the retirement age to 68. That is arguably a bit high – although Italy and Greece have just done it. What is harder to argue with is that the expectation that people should be able to retire on 70% of their salary is now outdated. There is almost nowhere in the private sector where that applies any longer. Another common complaint I remember from my time in Brussels was from Commission officials who said that they were bored out of their skulls, but they couldn’t risk changing jobs because they could never replicate the Commission’s pension arrangements anywhere else. Perhaps it is time to change that?
Finally, there is the notorious Strasbourg run. To humour the French, the European Parliament maintains two huge parliament buildings – one in Brussels and one in Strasbourg. Moving the entire parliament to Strasbourg for one week a month costs hundreds of millions of euros a year. Even many people in Brussels are outraged by the expense and the inconvenience. Yet, so far, it has proved impossible to end the practice because Strasbourg’s role is written into the European treaties. The French have a veto over change, as they do over cuts in the single biggest budget item (which has nothing to do with admin) – the Common Agricultural Policy.
So next time you hear that all this clamour about EU waste is just terrible Eurosceptic nonsense, please be a bit – sceptical.