Striking hypocrisy: Eurocrat spat

While EU member countries struggle through their toughest times, forcing harsh austerity measures on their people in order to survive, EU employees in Brussels are visibly less keen to make sacrifices themselves.

­Demonstrations and protests sparked by the euro crisis have become an almost routine event on the streets of Europe.

And now it seems that the rising tide of discontent is about to spill into the plush halls of the vast European Commission bureaucracy.

Staff unions are threatening to go on strike after rejecting a proposal by the Commission – the EU’s civil service – to save one billion euros over seven years by:
-. reducing pensions
-. increasing working hours from 37.5 to 40 a week
-  raising the retirement age from 63 to 65
-  limiting pay rises to 1.8%
- cutting 5% of jobs

But they are getting short shrift from some, who believe they don’t know when they are well off.

“At the end of the day, they get a 1.8% pay rise proposal and they say it’s not enough,” comments Peter Cleppe from the Open Europe eurosceptic .think-tank.

A union representing lower-paid staff says the media tends to lump them in with the fat-cats who get most from the EU gravy train. He wants the highest salaries of those at the top to be slashed instead.

“Commissioners have privileges which the normal staff don’t have. Commissioners don’t contribute to pensions. We pay 11.6% and they do not contribute anything,” Gunther Lorenz, president of Union Syndicale told RT.

But some politicians are astonished at the notion of a strike by officials they claim are feather-bedded, while ordinary workers are losing their jobs and facing hardship.

“They get excellent healthcare, free education for their children in private schools here, a wonderful pension deal. And you wonder, people listening to this at home, looking at what they earn, and perhaps working 10 hours a day – these guys are grumbling because they’re being asked to work eight hours a day,” Stuart Agnew, an MEP from the UK Independence Party, told RT.

While they are perfectly within their rights to contest planned changes to working conditions, what raises eyebrows is the fact that they are complaining at a time when millions of EU citizens have been bearing the brunt of harsh austerity measures imposed by the very institutions they work for, not to mention the 23 million who don’t have a job at all.

“To remove one or two perks, to suggest they take a slightly lower percentage increase, is hardly going to bring the world to an end,” thinks Martin Callanan, a British Conservative Party MEP.  

Still, union members remain adamant they are getting a raw deal.

“We are against putting everything on the shoulders of the secretaries. We think the salary gap is much too high. We would like to close that gap. And many of us would be ready to pay for it,” says Gunther Lorenz of Union Syndicale.

But whether European taxpayers share the same willingness to sustain the benefits of their civil servants in Brussels at a time when they themselves are being forced to accept austerity measures, is another question.