All 27 European Commissioners have agreed from next month to accept a 25% salary cut "as a gesture of solidarity with our weakened economies", a spokesman for Commission President José Manuel Barroso announced today (1 April).
EurActiv understands that the bid to show compassion for ordinary EU citizens was instigated by Barroso, who hails from austerity-stricken Portugal.
The move has been in discussion for some weeks, but was agreed shortly before Easter, galvanised by events in Cyprus.
Last week Cypriot president, Nicos Anastasiades, announced that he would be taking a 25% salary cut "in solidarity" with the Cypriot people. The newly-installed Anatasiades' cabinet ministers have also agreed to slash their wages by 20%.
EurActiv understands that Barroso used this over the weekend to persuade several Commissioners unwilling to accept the salary cut to relent; he felt all 27 should agree the cut to make it meaningful.
As Cypriot president, Anastasiades' annual basic salary is around €110,000 but with additional perks thought to be in excess of that figure, compared to the €304,000 basic pay of Barroso (€25,351 per month).
Commissioners receive €19,910 each month, and vice-presidents €22,963. All also receive extras including a residence allowance equal to up to 15% of that salary, and allowances for expenses like running a household and schooling for children.
After the pay cut, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is now assumed to be the best-paid EU politician. Merkel’s monthly base salary is €21,000.
Solidarity is key
Barroso has long championed solidarity.
“Let's be frank, solidarity is one of our core values and a driving force of the European integration process: solidarity between member states as we tackle the problems we all share in our fast changing world, solidarity between rich and poor as we work to bring growth, jobs and prosperity to every corner of our continent,” he said in a press release published today (1 April).
Easter was considered an appropriate time to make the announcement, in light of its traditional religious associations with extreme sacrifice.
EurActiv understands that two Commissioners were absent from the college meeting at which the move was agreed.
One of them is Industry Commissioner Antonio Tajani. According to unconfirmed rumours, he was travelling on business in Bora Bora at the time, and was particularly "upset" about the move. The name of the other absent was not known by the time of publishing.
The Commissioner for Inter-Institutional Relations and Administration, Maroš Šefčovič, will reduce the salaries by 25% from next month, Barroso's spokesperson Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen told EurActiv.
"The ball is now in in the camp of Commissioner Šefčovič who is in charge with everything in relation to Commissioners' salaries," Hansen said.
Commission spokesperson Koen Doens told reporters at a press briefing:
"As you know, this high-level decision was reached as part of a trilogue with the European Council and the European Parliament under the first pillar of a smart roadmap for a green paper launching a mechanism for a multilateral stakeholder consultation for smart proposals to boost European smart growth and jobs under the competencies of the multi-annual financial framework in the Union's Horizon 2020 strategy."
Koen Doens declined to comment on what this meant.
Sylvie Jacobs, president of the Union Syndicale Fédérale, welcomed the announced pay cuts in the Commission:
"I think it's a positive signal. The Commission has finally realised that we are all in the same boat. With these cuts, the commissioners will also experience what many of our members experience every day."
The Association of Independent Officials in the European Commission warned that the 25% salary cut should only apply to Commissioners and not be enforced on regular staff. It added: "Our 16% expatriate allowance should not be touched, even for officials who spend their whole career in Brussels".
Pierre-Philippe Bally, Chairman of the Federation of European Civil Servants, told EurActiv that its members were ready to protests in front of the EU institutions in case the reduction of salaries would spread across the board.
Leanda Barrington-Leach, spokeswoman for the European Women’s Lobby said the pay cut should take into consideration that women in general are paid less than men.
“This should be reflected in the salary cuts. Women commissioners should only have their salaries cut by 20%.”
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble declared: “We had our share of sacrifices under Agenda 2010 [reforms planned and executed by the German government, initiated by then Chancellor Gerhard Schröder], now it’s time for EU institutions. Germany is ready to support Greece and Cyprus, but not excessive salaries in Brussels.”