Interim commissioner bonuses branded ‘excessive’

Ex-Finnish Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen, in the European Parliament. [EP]

Former Finnish Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen during a hearing in the European Parliament. [EP]

Interim EU commissioners, elected in July, will receive roughly half a million euros for just four months of work, along with a bonus and pension plan comparable to fully-fledged commissioners. This system needs reform, critics contend. EURACTIV Germany reports.

EU officials with very little work, generous free time, exorbitant salaries and horrendously big bonuses; it’s an image that harks back to the idea of Brussels as the “land of milk and honey”, a description already used in a 1962 article published in Germany’s ZEIT newspaper. 

Four politicians who took over temporary EU Commissioner positions from July to October will each earn over €500,000 this summer, for just four months of work. The four are filling in for commissioners who moved to the European Parliament as MEPs after the European Elections in May.

The payments clash with the Commission’s self-imposed austerity plan following the economic crisis. The plan called for pay freezes among EU officials and consistent staff number reductions until 2020.  

In addition to their basic salaries, Martine Reicherts from Luxembourg, Jacek Dominik from Poland, Ferdinando Nelli Feroci from Italy and Jyrki Katainen from Finland will each receive €100,000 as a residence allowance and expense compensation.

But the so-called transitional allowance they will receive is much higher. The amount is calculated according to the term of office. A commissioner who served for four months receives 40% of his basic salary for three years, in this case €300,000.

Added to this there are two monthly salaries at the start and one monthly salary upon completion of service as a lump-sum for organisational costs worth €62,000.

Finally there is a pension claim of more than €43,000, assuming the commissioner is over 50 years-old, will retire at 65 and will claim the benefit for 20 years.

Pay system is non-negotiable

MEP Ingeborg Gräßle said she considers it unsustainable to offer such high salaries for such a short time.

“The problem is not the salaries themselves but the transitional allowances. [The latter] are just as high for a few months as they are for 2 years in office”, said the centre-right politician in a statement for

The pension claim is also “difficult to explain” to the public because the commissioners earn virtually a life-long pension for four months of service, she added.

Pieter Cleppe from the Brussels-based think tank Open Europe called the EU’s pay system outdated, while speaking with Interim commissioners are not supposed to be included in the system, he said.

Cleppe pointed out they are being treated almost exactly the same as ordinary commissioners who serve an entire term. This is a problem, Cleppe said, because the situation is likely to recur in which interim commissioners replace those moving into the European Parliament.

With the Parliament’s power steadily increasing, Cleppe explained, the institution has become more attractive for politicians.

But the salaries of EU officials are too high in general, Cleppe said. “I have nothing against officials earning a lot. But when many thousands of them earn more than heads of state in the member states, then it is simply excessive.”

In the wake of the economic crisis, the EU has also taken steps to reform staff regulations. Salaries of EU officials have not risen since 2011.

Weekly working hours were increased from 37.5 to 40 hours and the pension age was bumped up from 63 to 65 and 66 for newcomers. Holidays and bonuses also underwent reductions.

By 2017, the EU as said it plans to cut 5% of its positions or 2,500 jobs.

High salaries needed to attract the best?

The Commission defends consistently high pay among its officials.

The institution said it needs “good specialists who can stand opposite corporate giants of the world and top bankers who walk home with absolutely incomparable salaries”.

Offering attractive pay attracts the most talented people, then Commission Vice President Maroš Šef?ovi? told the Süddeutsche Zeitung last year.

“But paying politicians almost as much as corporate giants is not what this is all about”, Cleppe said.

The Commission simply does not realise, Cleppe said, that something must fundamentally change regarding its remuneration system.

“This simply goes to show that many top EU officials are not convinced of the European project. Otherwise they would recognise that their behaviour damages the image of the EU. Then they would understand that the EU must adapt its own salary system to fit those of national officials”, Cleppe said.

Now it is up to the European Parliament, he emphasised, saying it must assert itself and set financial boundaries for the Commission.

But centre-right MEP Gräßle remains sceptical. “We must question the entire European remuneration system. But after the experiences during the previous staff regulation reforms, I am very pessimistic,” she said.

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