Commission President José Manuel Barroso won the unanimous backing of all 27 commissioners to take the case to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg, Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen, spokeswoman for the EU executive, told journalists yesterday.
Before Christmas, staff at the European institutions had threatened to go on strike over the bitter dispute, which was sparked by national governments' decision to block a routine salary increase for EU civil servants (EurActiv 11/12/09).
Confirming the Commission's decision to take action before the Court of Justice, Hansen said it was now "for the court to decide" whether to annul the member states' decision.
"We are talking here about the respect for agreed rules," the spokeswoman explained. "It is not an issue where political discretion is at play."
Staff at the EU institutions were due to receive a 3.7% salary increase according to a formula agreed between the bloc's governments in 2004, but the Council, which represents EU member states, last year decided to reduce the pay rise to 1.85% in view of the economic crisis.
"In the Commission's opinion, the Council has not respected the link between the annual adjustment and the evolution of purchasing power for the member states' civil servants and has not respected the Staff Regulations," Catherine Day, the EU executive's secretary-general, informed staff by email yesterday.
"We would like to inform you that the Commission decided today to bring an action for annulment before the Court of Justice against this decision taken by the Council. In addition, it decided to authorise the Legal Service of the Commission to file this action before the Court of Justice and to ask for the application of the accelerated procedure," her message continued.
The EU executive is expected to argue that the 3.7% increase is legally-binding according to its Staff Regulations, as previously agreed upon by EU leaders themselves.
But with many governments slashing the salaries of civil servants at home to reduce their budget deficits in a bid to emerge from the economic crisis, they want to halve pay rises due to be awarded in Brussels too.
"The actual amount is not the point," one national diplomat told the FT. "You simply cannot have the EU, which already has this 'gravy-train' reputation to contend with, give its staff a 3.7% pay rise this year – and certainly not while trying to push member states to cut their budget deficits."
It is now up to the court to decide how to proceed with the matter, with a ruling on the case expected before the summer.