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Editor’s blog: more cuts to European Commission perks as budget clampdown bites

The European Commission is still a very generous employer, though perks are increasingly thin on the ground, writes Justin Stares.

Recent cuts, as previously reported on this blog, have included the downgrading of some long haul flights from business class to economy class – to the annoyance of the Brussels diplomatic corps. Automatic promotions are no long possible for officials who are not in management positions.

For posterity (if no other reason)  it’s worth listing a few more bonuses that have gone in response to the European Union’s first ever budget clampdown.

Training is one heavily hit area. All staff have in the past been encouraged to take courses to improve their skills, whether directly related to their job or simply to help them become more rounded individuals. My favourite was the “dealing with difficult people” course, which evidently gave valuable insights into handling bullies and arrogant bosses. Many officials have taken language courses; indeed, language competence has been linked to promotion. The problem however was that many of these classes were outsourced, and costly. The axe has therefore fall hard in this department.

Working from home (‘teleworking’) is another perk that it much rarer nowadays. It has in the past been possible for officials to work part of the week from home for a variety of sometimes questionable reasons, including a long commute to the office. Single women without children have benefited from the privilege, though this is also now part of yesteryear’s golden regime. Even working mothers today struggle to convince their bosses of their need, I understand. A related bonus – a commission laptop – has also been junked. The lucky few who still enjoy teleworking must now use their own hardware.

“Admin” budget lines are depleted though salaries have still not been hit. Some officials kick off external meetings by stating they have taken pay cuts: this is nonsense. They have however been forced to give up automatic pay rises in the future. Taxes – paid directly to the EU – are still a small fraction of what the Belgians pay. The EU pensions and healthcare systems are still in place.

There has been some resistance to the cuts by staff unions. A plan to make officials clock in and out of the office triggered kickback earlier this year. There was even the odd placard-waiving protest outside the Berlaymont building in Brussels. But as a rule, Commission employers are not up in arms. One can only presume this is because they know which side their bread is buttered.

You can follow Justin on Twitter @JustinStares or read his personal blog on Tumblr.




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