Brussels regrets it cannot afford ‘wizards’ anymore

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Despite attractive salaries and working conditions, the European Commission says it is unable to recruit the same kind of highly-talented personnel as giant multinationals.

Maroš Šef?ovi?, the European Commission Vice President in charge of administrative affairs, confessed yesterday (10 May) that the EU Executive had “problems” in recruiting talented people at middle-management level.

Speaking at at an event organised by the European Policy Centre (EPC), a Brussels think-tank, Šef?ovi? singled out the low level of interest from workers coming from “high-wages economies” like Britain, Luxembourg, the Netherlands or Denmark.

The Commission's administrative chief said he wanted the highest quality people to work at the EU Executive, but could hardly compete with the most successful private companies.

“We are looking for the best persons […] for the same quality of people who can become very successful bankers, economists, lawyers or consultants,” he said.

When defending the EU's interests in high profile competition cases against multinationals, the Union’s executive was faced with highly qualified and well-motivated opponents, he explained.

“If you defend the industry of a giant, they can clearly afford it. And they are usually represented by the partners of these firms, whose salary easily tops one million euro a year. And of course, on top of it, they get the bonus fee."

"EU civil servants don’t get anything like it, they just work for their salaries,” Šef?ovi? said.

In fact, Šef?ovi? wasn’t pleading for higher wages for EU civil servants – quite the contrary. He said that under the circumstance of the crisis, the Commission had the duty to show solidarity with Europe’s citizens and he had put forward a 5% cut in staff numbers for all institutions and agencies. At the same time, working time will be increased to 40 hours per week to make “significant savings”.

Šef?ovi?’s main message was that the EU civil servants did not cost much to the European taxpayer, and that in return their contribution was quite important.

56,000 civil servants work for the EU, with 30,000 employed at the European Commission. A further 18,000 are employed by other institutions and 8,000 for EU agencies all over Europe, he said.

He compared these numbers with the staff in the civil service of EU member countries. Regarding the UK, the country where the eurosceptic press often blasts the largesse of EU institutions, he said that there were 444,000 civil servants, with around 100,000 employed at the Department for Work and Pensions alone.

By comparison, the headcount at the entire EU Commission was comparable to the administration at the city of Paris, he said.

EU 'should not be arrogant'

The EU admin chief was pressed by EURACTIV to comment on the high cost of some EU buildings, such as the so-called “Van Rompuy egg”, which outraged UK Prime Minister David Cameron.

The Commission Vice President said that he was not in charge for the “egg” building, but he would happily convey the message to those responsible. (The new European Council building was approved before Van Rompuy's appointment.)

“The EU should not be arrogant,” he said.

Šef?ovi? acknowledged it was “very improbable” that the Commission would push forward ambitious plans for new buildings, apparently dropping earlier plans for a "spectacular facelift" of the EU quarter.

Except for the refurbishing of the building hosting DG Agriculture, which is indeed decrepit, “you will se nothing else” in terms of architectural undertakings, he promised.

In a recent interview with EURACTIV, the Commission Vice-President Maroš Šef?ovi? announced that EU officials would be asked to work longer hours, in a bid to increase budget efficiency.

In exchange, the salaries of EU officials would be maintained at the same level, Šef?ovi? said, seeking to draw a line under a bruising pay dispute with EU staff.

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