Interview with Maros Sefcovic, commissioner for interinstitutional relations and administration
“EU public administration will lose 5% of staff”
By Olivier Mirguet in Strasbourg | Thursday 31 May 2012
The ‘Rendez-vous européens de Strasbourg’ seminar, held in late May, reviewed reforms of staff rules for EU public servants and the announced cuts in permanent staff. European Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic, responsible for interinstitutional relations and administration, talked toEuropolitics.
Eight years on from the major reform of the EU public service statute, which reduced entry-level salaries and created the category of contractual staff in the EU institutions, you are proposing a 5% reduction of all staff between 2013 and 2017. Why is this new reform necessary?
The proposal aims to reduce staff gradually, by 1% per year. One official in three, or even two in three, would not be replaced upon retiring. The institutions are going to lose 5% of their staff. A second strong measure consists of increasing working time, which will rise from 37 to 40 hours a week, without any increase in salary. The normal retirement age will rise from 63 to 65. Parliament has expressed the idea of pushing careers to age 70. I don’t know whether we will go that far... This new organisation will in any case make it easier to work until age 67.
Where do things stand in the legislative process that will result in the reform?
The reform was launched in 2011 in the context of austerity measures requested by the member states. Our regular legislative proposal was discussed with the trade unions, between June and November 2011, and then approved by the College of Commissioners towards the end of the year. The Committee on Legal Affairs tabled several amendments and adopted its opinion in April. We are now awaiting the Council’s position, under the upcoming Cypriot EU Presidency, and the battles that can be expected. I trust that Parliament will vote positively in plenary at the end of the year.
How much money will be saved?
The reform, introduced in 2004, is expected to lead to savings of €8 billion by 2020. The new proposal will result in savings of another €1 billion, then €1 billion per year after 2020, over the longer term. The 2013 draft budget for the European Commission already factors in lower staff costs.
Are there too many EU public servants?
There are a lot of clichés attached to the Union’s public administration. The EU employs around 55,000 officials, or around as many as municipalities like Birmingham or Paris. The working conditions are specific, with sites across the European territory and 23 working languages. Our directorates-general are not overstaffed and automatic promotions do not exist. In addition to retiring officials who will not be replaced, the DGs are going to pool 5% of their staff with a view to new assignments decided in terms of the Commission’s priorities.
Certain Nordic countries are asking the EU administration to reduce its operating costs by 25%. Is that a realistic target?
Certain member states are pushing for up to €15 billion in savings. Such demands, dictated by today’s political and economic climate, are simply unrealistic. The EU’s administrative spending accounts for less than 6% of its budget, ie €8.3 billion. The Commission’s expenditure is the equivalent of two eurocents per citizen per day. Our proposal is already very ambitious. Economic governance is targeted on a realistic evaluation of budgets.
Will salary levels be called into question? What level of social security contributions will be paid?
To keep a quality public administration, salaries have to be adapted to the environment and the competition that law offices exert on these talented people. People think that EU public servants pay no income tax. That isn’t true. The progressive income tax rate reaches 45% for the higher salaries. In 2012, total tax and social security contributions paid will amount to €1.291 billion. The special levy, introduced in 2004, has already risen from 2.5% to 5.5% over the years. The agreement that governs this temporary system will expire on 31 December 2012. It will be renewed in the form of a solidarity levy of 6%, paid directly into the EU budget. The 11.6% contribution on pensions is the highest of all public administrations in Europe. In Germany and Belgium, public officials pay nothing.
Have unions reacted well to this initiative?
They were fairly surprised - and displeased at first. We came close to a strike in late 2011. I hope we will have a positive outcome.
What other benefits are concerned by the reform?
We will reduce from six to three days per year the paid leave granted to officials to return to their home country. Travel time has been reduced in Europe thanks to air transport.
New staff will have to be recruited to cope with the work resulting from Croatia’s membership of the EU at the start of 2013. Have you already quantified these needs?
We are still assessing them. The Commission will need another 220 to 260 people in Brussels to serve Croatia’s population. We will first go in search of language experts. We don’t know yet how many agents Parliament and the Council will need.
Have there been recruitment problems for outermost agencies, like Frontex in Poland?
The problem for applicants is the salary level. Each agency adjusts its salaries, based on a corrective coefficient compared with Brussels. This coefficient is quite high for Poland, around 85%. It’s true that it’s hard to convince officials to move in these conditions.