“We cannot operate in a political and economic vacuum. We are the civil service of the European Union and we have to contribute to the service of the citizens in the same way as the national civil servants,” said Šefčovič, trying to explain the staff rules reform presented last June.
The Commission Vice-President has proposed new staff rules in a drive to save money and he hopes trade unions will back the plan so that a formal proposal can be presented to the Council and the European Parliament by the end of the year.
In 2004, the EU reformed its civil service, making the career structure more performance-oriented and career-based, adding new working methods, family-friendly working conditions and a new contractual status. The reform allowed the EU to save €3 billion to date and it expects to save another €5 billion between now and 2020 on that same reform package.
The new 2011 proposals, if adopted, will save another €1 billion by 2020.
“If you look at national administrations and whether they apply the same plethora of measures, I think you would need to look very hard to find a place where such a complex reform were introduced,” Šefčovič argued.
The Commissioner is trying to mobilise support for his reforms, which include a 5% staff reduction in all categories and in all institutions until 2017, an increase in the minimum working week for all staff from 37.5 to 40 hours, without compensatory wage adjustments, a surge in the retirement age from 63 to 65. Also, secretarial and clerical tasks will be carried out by contractual agents.
“I can tell you that we had to look very, very hard to find the potential measures for savings,” Šefčovič said, adding that union negotiations are intense as some of the proposals hit staff heavily.
“There is a strong feeling that they have already contributed a lot. But they see this proposal as a balanced one and I hope that they will support it as they realise that similar efforts are being performed at national level in most member states,” he insisted.
Many of the savings will be achieved in non-priority areas. The economic and monetary affairs directorate-general is on the frontline and will need more resources, according to Šefčovič, but he is eyeing reductions in IT staff, or at least consolidating IT services across institutions in an effort to boost efficiency.
“We have to really be very, very realistic and I would say very wise in how we allocate the resources and really align them better on priorities,” he argued.
Šefčovič mentioned that such move could also result in less management. “I can assure you that if my colleagues come to me with a new organisational structure to suggest more managers, then we are extremely reluctant and the success rate is very, very low,” he said, pointing out that both the Parliament and the Council have a higher ratio of management staff.
In order to allow officials to manage better the additional work-load, increase efficiency and maintain a work-life balance, the Commission has in recent years pushed for more teleworking, job-sharing and part-time work.
“We are trying to improve on efficiency and on the output of workforce, but at the same time creating better conditions for them so that they can work harder, but spend the necessary time with their families,” the Commissioner said, hinting at the fact that quality of life can offset the money compensation.
We need to attract the best
Asked on whether salaries were still too high in the EU institutions, compared with national civil servants, Šefčovič rebuffed by saying these should instead be compared to those in international institutions and the private sector.
“We have to take on the best lawyers—and there we are competing with the private sector, where salaries are totally incomparable with the Commission. We have to take the best IT specialists in the world,” he said, noting officials have to be experts in their field and at the same time speak three languages and be willing to leave their home country.
That comes at a price. “I can tell you that we have a big problem recruiting highly-qualified staff in a high-wage economy,” he said.
“Not to name countries, but we have had over the recent months quite a few turn-downs from potential European officials coming from high-wage economies who have turned down director posts because they get more in their national civil service,” he added.
Šefčovič was speaking to EurActiv Managing Editor Daniela Vincenti and Founder Christophe Leclercq