European Commission to trim EU staff costs

Berlaymont - EU Commission HQ in Brussels
Image caption The EU Commission says it has kept the size of the bureaucracy stable

The European Commission - the EU's civil service - says it plans to cut its administration costs by 6bn euros (£5.4bn) in the period to 2020.

The Commission will cut its staff of about 55,000 by 5% through natural wastage and by not creating new jobs.

The cuts will also affect the EU's new foreign diplomatic arm - the External Action Service.

In 2008-2009 Commission staff got a 3.7% pay rise - not the 1.85% that the member states' governments wanted.

The Commission argued that the 3.7% - supported by the European Court of Justice - was necessary because of inflation and a loss of purchasing power in Brussels.

But the latest pay rise for EU officials was only 0.1%, while inflation in Brussels stood at 2.4%, the Commission says.

The UK government and some of its EU partners have urged Brussels to rein in staff costs to reflect the austerity and civil service cuts now taking effect across Europe.

The Commission says its move to get "more value for money" from its staff is partly a response to concerns expressed by EU governments and the European Parliament.

It says the Council - the grouping of EU governments - has voiced concerns about Commission pay, pensions and career-related issues.

The new proposals - not yet approved by the Council and MEPs - came as the Commission outlined plans to increase the EU's long-term budget by 5%.

Trimming pensions

Among the planned staff savings, the normal retirement age at the Commission will rise from 63 to 65, reducing pension and hiring costs.

The minimum working week for EU staff will increase from 37.5 hours to 40 hours, without any extra pay - though the Commission says many staff already do 40 hours a week.

Clerical staff will be recruited on a contract basis - they will no longer be officials with lifetime appointments.

Basic gross monthly salaries for Commission staff currently range from about 2,600 euros (£2,211) for a secretary to about 18,000 euros (£15,300) for a head of department, and about 20,000 euros for a commissioner.

The special Community tax paid by EU staff is generally lower than national rates of income tax for civil servants.

EU staff in Brussels and Luxembourg also get a wide range of allowances, including a residence allowance equivalent to 15% of their basic salary.

The Commission says administration costs account for less than 6% of the EU's budget, which itself is equivalent to 1% of total EU economic output (GDP).

It says that, compared with some 55,000 EU civil servants serving 500 million Europeans, Birmingham City Council has 60,000 employees and the Paris administration has 50,000 staff.

A statement later by Birmingham City Council called the comparison "inaccurate". It gave its staff total as 48,049, saying that figure included school staff and other people providing essential public services.

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