Speaking to journalists in Brussels on Friday (16 December), EU staff union leaders conceded that European civil servants have difficulties making their case to the public.
"We well know that we suffer from an image problem," said Pierre-Philippe Bacri, president of the Federation of European Civil Servants.
To counter this, EU staff unions have published their recommendations for saving €1 billion from the administrative budget through measures such as ending the dispersal of EU agencies across member states and reducing the number of directorates-general, akin to EU 'ministries'.
"We are trying to be reasonable in terms of financial expenditures," Bacri said.
There has been intense pressure from national governments to reform the European civil service and the issue has also been receiving unfavourable attention in national media in recent months. Belgian public TV station RTBF notably broadcast a documentary on the subject in October entitled Are Eurocrats paid too much?
New Commission proposals
Maroš Šefčovič, the EU commissioner for Administration, published on 13 December his revised proposals to reform EU staff rules.
They include a 5% reduction in staff for all institutions in 2013-2017 through turnover, an increase in the minimum working week from 37.5 hours to 40 hours, and an increase of a "special levy" in addition to income tax from 5.5 to 6.%.
Perhaps the biggest change will be the creation of a new pay scale for clerical and secretarial staff. Salaries of new secretarial and clerical staff will be cut 18%, bringing down entry-level gross monthly salary to €2,160 with a maximum of €4,350 for the most senior.
Union leaders say the measure will unfairly hurt women as they make up the vast majority of secretarial staff. Women make up three-fifths of the Commission's less-paid "assistant" category and are conversely underrepresented among "administrators", who have more executive roles and generous pay, making up two-fifths.
The system for calculating yearly salary increases to compensate for inflation will also be changed, which will now shadow the evolution of purchasing power of civil servants in all 27 member states.
EU staff trade unions claim that the reforms as a whole are incompatible with the institutions' greater responsibilities in the wake of enlargement and the passage of the Lisbon Treaty, and will make it more difficult for the Commission to attract staff in appropriate numbers from each member state.
Šefčovič's office declined to comment on the feasibility of the unions' alternative proposals, saying: "The ball is in the court of the European Parliament and Council now."
No longer proud of working for the EU
In addition to ill-feeling towards the reforms, EU staff have also been increasingly demoralised over the changing role of European institutions.
Trade union leader Georges Vlandas said that in previous years there had been "positive projects" such as enlargement and the creation of the euro. "We had been proud to participate in this adventure," he said.
Vlandas contrasted this with the current circumstances where the Commission has been asked by the European Council to implement "policies which are hostile to the populations."
"All the austerity that we have seen for the past two years in Greece has only paid the interest [on debt] of the banks," he added.