Presenting provisional Eurostat figures on the remuneration of EU employees for 2011, Commission officials revealed that salaries will be reduced by 0.4%.
If confirmed, then taken together with an expected 2.4% increase in the cost of living in Brussels, the new figures represent a 2.8% decrease in their purchasing power.
"The general trend among EU member states is that salaries have been going down, so ours will go down too," said a Commission official at a briefing for journalists yesterday.
EU salaries are calculated by multiplying an index representing the variation of the cost of living in Brussels by an indicator measuring changes in the purchasing power of national civil servants (see 'Background').
EU civil servants to 'share the pain'
"EU civil servants share the pain with national officials when their salaries go down. This illustrates the effectiveness of the Method, which ensures parallelism between the changes in purchasing power of national civil servants and the European civil service," said the Commission in a statement yesterday.
Given that member states provide the EU executive with figures related to the previous year, there is always a one year time lag in determining the adjustment of EU civil servants' salaries for the year to come.
A Commission official was quick to stress that the figures are provisional and must still be validated by the statistical authorities in EU member states.
"These are the most recent figures that have been passed to the Council. They may change if member states decide to adjust the salaries of their own civil servants in the next few months," the official said
"We're doing what we’re doing because the member states have asked us to. We have no choice," he added, expressing frustration that "the salary drops for EU civil servants are greater than what has happened in many member states".
If confirmed, the salary adjustment would mean that the purchasing power of EU civil servants fell by 6% in the period 2004-2010.
Court case pending
The method employed by the EU executive to calculate Brussels salaries is currently under the spotlight at the European Court of Justice.
In January, the Commission decided to take EU member states to court over their refusal to back a pay rise for staff at the bloc's institutions and agencies (EurActiv 07/01/10).
The Council adopted a 1.85% increase in pay instead of the 3.7% calculated in accordance with EU rules as laid down in the Staff Regulations.
"Criticism against the Method last year was the result of time lag in calculating national civil service salaries," the Commission claimed in its statement.
Before Christmas, staff at the European institutions had threatened to go on strike over national governments' decision to block the routine salary increase for EU civil servants (EurActiv 11/12/09).
"The Commission has no choice other than to follow what is set out in [the rules]. We think the Method works. It's fair and produces a fair figure compared to those in EU member states. This is why we’re going to court," said a Commission official when asked about the issue yesterday.
The hearing is expected to take place on 21 October, but the European Court of Justice is not expected to rule on the case until early next year.
If the court rules against the Commission, then no further action will need to be taken as the EU executive was forced to implement the 1.85% increase while the case is pending.
However, "if it rules in our favour the figures will have to be adjusted," a Commission official said. "We have set aside enough money in our budget planning to make sure that we have enough if we win the case," he added.
Meanwhile, the European Commission will review its method for calculating the salaries of EU officials in 2012, when the current system expires.