Reform of staff regulations
Council seeks to return to haggling over salary adjustment
By Gaspard Sebag | Thursday 21 June 2012
Member states want to scrap the ‘Method’ used for adjusting salaries and pensions of EU staff every year and return to annual or biennial haggling with Parliament. Beyond this and the need to find further savings through the recast of the staff regulations, there is little consensus at this stage in Council. National delegations have not yet come to an agreement on reforming EU staff’s career structure and pensions. The way to address geographical balance concerns is particularly divisive. Some of the outstanding issues require guidance that can only be shed through progress in the 2014-2020 multiannual financial framework (MFF) talks before Council can move forward.
According to a Danish Presidency progress report – seen by
Europolitics– on the state of negotiations in Council on the reform of the staff regulations, the general line taken by delegations concerning the Commission’s proposal - COM(2011)890 final - was that it does not produce sufficient savings nor lead to a sufficient modernisation of the terms and conditions of employment. The report was due to be discussed at working group level, on 20 June. The issue will not move up to Coreper (Committee of Permanent Representatives) or General Affairs Council level for discussion yet. “We are simply not ready yet,” a Presidency spokesperson told
Europolitics. Copenhagen is said to be embarrassed by the lack of substantial progress and internal divisions.
% CAP FOR SALARY INCREASES
The proposal to recast the ‘Method’ put on the table by the Commission upon request from member states does not suit the Council
(1). Instead, member states argue that Council and Parliament should haggle each year or every two years (co-decision) over the adjustment of EU staff salaries on the basis of a capped Commission proposal. The suggested cap - stated in brackets - is 2% per year. If the Council’s proposal were to be green-lighted by Parliament, this could pave the way for a return to venomous interinstitutional negotiations and regular civil service strikes. In practical terms, such a proposal would be difficult to put into practice seeing as the Commission comes up with its proposal to adjust salaries in November and that an agreement would have to be found before the end of December.
DIVISIONS ON GEOGRAPHICAL BALANCE
The most divisive issue broached in the Council’s working group relates to efforts to address the imperative of geographical balance of EU staff. The Commission has repeatedly publicised its difficulty in recruiting civil servants from the richer member states, such as Germany or Finland. To address this issue, the EU executive suggested “corrective measures,” of which a geographically targeted EPSO concours could be an option. This idea, formulated in a Presidency compromise, could not achieve sufficient support from delegations. The progress report reads that on the issue of geographical balance “the positions expressed at this stage are diametrically opposed; no compromise proposal could reconcile them at this stage”. The Cyprus Presidency will have a tough job on its hands.
On several other issues discussed in the working group, Copenhagen concluded that further clarifications concerning administrative expenditure in the context of the post-2013 MFF talks are needed before the Council can adopt a position. Realistically speaking, this means negotiations amongst member states on the staff regulations can only start to gather momentum around September or October, when figures for the next financial framework are expected to be put on the table.
The issues at stake include increasing the normal and early retirement age, a concept which is generally supported as a step in the right direction but seen as having overly generous transitional measures in the Commission and that should be accompanied by further savings on pensions. Most delegations welcome the suggested raise in the solidarity levy (currently known as special levy) taken out of civil servants’ salaries from 5.5% to 6% but request increasing it even more. The Council calls for further reform of the career structure to create a stronger link between grade and responsibilities. Allowing for fewer automatic salary increases and promotions based on seniority and introducing a capping so that the highest grades would be reserved for employees with management responsibility were mentioned as possibilities. Member states also want further savings to be made through the reduction of annual travelling time granted to civil servants so that they can go back to their country of origin and cuts are also foreseen to their annual travelling allowance.
REVIEW CLAUSE FOR 2018
National delegations reached a tentative consensus at technical level on several other issues. For example, they agree, so far, with MEPs to extend the maximum duration of contracts for auxiliary contract staff from three to five years instead of six as proposed by the Commission. They support the flexible working time arrangements outlined in the EU executive’s proposals. Member states also request the addition of a review clause whereby the Commission would be tasked with submitting a report to EP and Council by end 2018 identifying necessary amendments to the staff regulations.
Furthermore, the Danish Presidency progress report highlights that a majority (80%) of the Commission’s envisaged €1 billion in savings up to 2020 does not derive from the proposed amended staff regulations but from the 5% staff reduction.
The preliminary overview given by this progress shows that EP and Council are far apart. Indeed, Parliament’s Committee on Legal Affairs (JURI), which voted its position on 25 April, broadly supported the EU executive’s proposal, while member states ask for more substantial savings. Formal negotiations are yet to start. For that, the Council needs first to get to a consensual position.(1) It foresaw that the adjustment would be calculated from nominal - rather than real - salary changes in all member states rather than from only eight so-called ‘old’ member states as is the case today