EU staff members went on strike on Wednesday (21 November) to protest against proposals to axe €80 billion from the EU's proposed budget for the period 2014-2020. The protest was especially targeted at British Prime Minister David Cameron's role in the negotiation, ahead of a special EU summit dedicated to the bloc's long-term budget.
Malcolm Colling, the president of the Association of Independent Officials in the European Commission, circulated an open letter to British Prime Minister David Cameron during the demonstration, which took place in front of the European Commission's headquarters in Brussels.
Cameron has lashed out at the EU civil servants, according to press reports on Tuesday (20 November). According to the Financial Times, Cameron reportedly said:
"My favourite fact of the day is that there are 16% of the employees in the Commission that earn over £100,000."
The British prime minister spent the weekend hitting the phones to colleagues in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and Poland to "constructively" find an EU budget deal when EU leaders meet on 22-23 November.
Britain has been arguing for a real-terms freeze in the EU's budget, arguing that the Union should match the painful austerity measures which have been adopted at the national level.
In the letter to the British prime minister, Colling stressed that any developed economic area requires an effective and reliable public administration.
"The time has come for the UK to reflect on what effects further cuts to the EU's administration budget will have on EU operations. Equally, the UK should consider the wider consequences of such attacks. Is it any wonder that the EU institutions fail to attract staff from the UK when those institutions are relentlessly criticised?" Colling asked.
At the moment Britons in the Commission represent only 6% of all staff, whereas the UK population represents around 12% of the EU total.
"In this time of crisis, Prime Minister, there is a need for your administration to rise above petty polemics and have the vision and statesmanship to see the way towards a strong UK within a strong EU," the letter read.
Sparing the summit for now
The unions estimated that 3,000-4,000 EU staff members took part in the strike. Earlier this month, some unions had threatened to strike during the summit, which will debate the Union's budget for the next seven years (2014-2020).
Pierre-Philippe Bacri, chairman of the Federation of European Civil Servants, told EURACTIV that the idea was scrapped "for technical reasons" as the unions wanted protests in front of the EU institutions and that would be impossible during the summit when the areas would be full of police and blockages.
"We think it's more efficient to have this protest now before the member states are gathering and as the administrators are preparing their files and having the final negotiations," Bacri said.
"This may not be the last time we have to face the Council to oppose these types of decisions, so there could be opportunities in the future to block other summits if we believe it is the appropriate action. This is the beginning of a process," the union chairman added.
Eric Lens, who works as an IT project manager at the EU Commission, said he was on strike because he was against the diminishing of the EU budget.
He referred to the fact that EU staff contributed with savings estimated around €10 billion as a consequence of the 2004 Reform of the Staff Regulations.
"At the moment, the salaries in the private market especially for IT people are higher than the salaries in the IT department of the Commission and we have difficulties hiring good people," Lens said.
Lens also pointed to the fact that the salary varies a lot within the EU institutions depending on the position.
"It's already the case now that only people from the Eastern part of Europe are interested in working for the European Union. People from Britain or Sweden are no longer interested in coming to Brussels and working for the European Union anymore because of the low salaries," the IT project manager said.
The Commission official added that even if the EU summit should end with the member states agreeing on drastic budget cuts, he would not be looking for a job elsewhere.
"We have one big advantage which is that our jobs are secured. You have to be a very bad employee to get fired. So there is some security there," Lens said.