Reform of staff regulations
JURI broadly backs Commission proposal
By Gaspard Sebag | Thursday 26 April 2012
The European Commission’s proposals to reform the EU staff regulations were broadly supported by the European Parliament’s Committee on Legal Affairs (JURI), on 25 April. The central plank of the reforms - a 5% staff reduction in each institution and agency - stays in Dagmar Roth-Behrendt’s (S&D, Germany) report backed by 19 MEPs (three against and two abstentions). JURI members also added new rules to protect whistleblowers and a cooling-off period for civil servants in order to prevent conflicts of interest.
Administration Commissioner Maros Sefcovic welcomed the adoption of the report, which he believes presents an “overall balanced approach”. Greens-EFA deputies voted against after their demand for the introduction of a progressive levy on the salaries of higher-earning EU officials was rejected.
With this proposed reform, the EU executive hopes to make a total of €1 billion in savings in the 2014-2020 multiannual financial framework (MFF). Around 80% of these savings would stem from the proposed 5% staff reduction, which the 50 EU institutions and agencies, employing around 55,000 staff members, are to act upon mainly by not replacing certain departures starting in 2013.
Though most of the Commission’s proposals in the new regulation were backed, JURI did introduce new elements and made changes. MEPs decided to extend the maximum duration of contracts for auxiliary contract staff from three to five years instead of six. Deputies want to reduce the number of days per year granted to staff members to travel back to their place of origin by half a day more than the EU executive, which proposed to push it down from a maximum six to three days.
MEPs also took advantage of the reform of the EU staff regulations to push for tougher rules on conflicts of interest. They request that former senior officials be banned from engaging in lobbying or advocacy vis-à-vis staff of their former institution on matters for which they were responsible during twelve months after they leave the service. Furthermore, JURI demanded that each institution put in place a procedure for handing complaints of whistleblowers.
Case of incompetence will no longer be business-as-usual for EU staff, say deputies. An amendment to Roth-Berhendt’s report states that officials whose performance is deemed “unsatisfactory” over three consecutive years in the annual reports compiled by his or her superiors are to be downgraded by one notch. If their performance is still deemed unsatisfactory in the next two annual reports then the officials should face automatically dismissal.
Several of the Commission’s proposals were left unchanged by the committee vote: MEPs agree to increase the minimum weekly working hours from 37.5 to 40; to raise the solidarity levy taken out of civil servants’ salaries from 5.5% to 6%; and increase the normal retirement age up to 65 years instead of 63 and the early retirement age from 55 to 58 years.
Upon request from several member states, the Commission proposed to recast the ‘Method’ used for adjusting salaries and pensions of EU staff every year. Parliamentarians backed the Commission’s proposal in full. They agreed with the EU executive that the adjustment should 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. MEPs also okayed the new exception clause, which would enable to deviate from the ‘Method’ in case the EU’s GDP decreases and at the same time the gap between the adjustment value of remuneration and pension of EU staff and change in the EU’s GDP exceeds two percentage points. The final change proposed by the Commission that JURI members chose to leave unchanged is to replace the Brussels International Index, used to calculate the increase in cost of living, by a joint correction coefficient for Brussels and Luxembourg.
Member states, which request “very substantial reductions” in administrative expenditure in the next MFF, and deputies appear sharply divided. Urgency is, however, of the essence because if no agreement is found by the end of 2012, both the Method and the special levy will expire.