The devil takes the hindmost

MAY 2014 – “The devil takes the hindmost” – Interview with MEP Ingeborg Grässle (IG), Member of the EP’s Budgetary Control Committee: How high-grade officials put the whole burden of cuts on the lower grades

G2004: Dr. Grässle, you have made a name for yourself as a tireless and hard-working campaigner against mismanagement and for more accountability in the EU institutions. What do you think of the changes brought about by the recent (2014) staff reform? Does it address the public criticism of benefits and privileges of (certain) EU civil servants?

IG: The 2014 reform follows the same erroneous principles as the 2004 reform, namely that:
1.1. The reform brings only cuts, but no modernisation to the European public service.
2. “The devil takes the hindmost” – meaning that newcomers are made to carry the entire burden of the reform which, as I said, almost exclusively means cuts.
On the other hand, pressing questions remain open like: how can the EU remain attractive for young professionals from all Member States? How can the EU attract staff from highly competitive professions in the free economy?

Nothing is done to tackle the deadlock of the pension burden which is a real time bomb and where at the end of this financial period, a quarter of all administrative expenses will be used up for the effective payment of pension commitments that are being made today. That is going to be a very difficult situation, even though European officials contribute with a certain part of their income to the financing of the pensions of their retired peers.

The same holds true for some very high salaries of pre-2004 officials where at present, more than half of all salary payments goes to officials ranking in the staff levels AD 12, AD 13 and upwards! That‘s pure fiscal madness and the Commissioner responsible for this should be fired – today! The current situation is, in addition to these alarming facts, a great injustice towards all other people.

Thus, NO, the reform of 2014 fulfils none of the public expectations. Yet, however, nobody has really realised it. Also, up till now, nobody has realised the fact that this reform is set in stone until 2023 – nb: it is the only EU benefits regime that is valid beyond the year 2020. If this becomes common knowledge, the European public service will suffer even further damages. It is a grave error to discuss and decide everything concerning staff matters behind closed doors!

G2004: You became an MEP in 2004 – the year when a major reform of the staff regulations was pushed through, curtailing (for the generation of civil servants recruited after that reform) many of the benefits and privileges that had been criticised in public. However, this reform did not touch the ‘acquired rights’ of the older generations, and produced a certain number of unexpected results, with a clear disconnection in some cases between the level of responsibilities and the level of remuneration.1 Has the reform achieved its expected objectives and have the savings been worth the inequality and divisions created within the EU public service?

IG: I regret that no analysis has been undertaken on the results achieved with the reform in 2004. No debate took place – neither in Parliament nor in any other EU institution – about what aims should have been achieved with the 2004 reform. No audit from the Court of Auditors was available on the effects of previous reforms. Everybody’s only concern was not to let the topic go public.
In the Parliament the results of the negotiation in 2014 were never discussed in plenary. The President of the Parliament decided to pre-pone the vote in plenary that was initially scheduled on Wednesday, 3rd July 2014, to Tuesday, 2nd July 2014. No discussion – not even in the group meetings – was possible any more. So, most of the colleagues who voted on the reform did not know what they were voting on at all.

As the rapporteur of the Budgetary Control Committee I tried to make proposals aimed towards aligning responsibilities and managerial duties of officials with their respective salaries as well as the promotions that they were and now still are entitled to. Furthermore, already in May 2011, I tried to make other proposals that would have solved some of the more urgent problems.
The magical argument during the debates that I often encountered, the reason to refuse all changes to the pre-2004-generation’s entitlements, was the protection of “vested rights” or as we call it in Germany “Besitzstandswahrung”. I would have been very interested in having an in-depth legal study conducted about this and other bogus arguments that ‘legally’ prevented, and even prohibited – at least so I was told – changes to the Staff Regulations that would have endangered the status quo of (some) public officials.

If I look at the content of the 2014 reform, it is obvious that high-grade officials who designed this reform tried to put the whole burden of cuts on the lower grades and on to the “new generation”. They followed the same intrinsic rules as the creators of the 2004 reform did: Après nous – le deluge!!!

G2004: You are currently campaigning for a third term in the European Parliament and you are committed to continue your important work on budgetary control. What do you see as the challenges and opportunities for your future work in this area?
IG: This may appear paradoxical, but after 10 years as a member in the Budgetary Control Committee of the European Parliament, I am profoundly optimistic; because for the first time we encounter a real lack of funds, a situation that was well known in the Landtag – the Parliament of the state of Baden-Württemberg in Germany – of which I was a member for eight years.

This situation of scarce funds will have a significant impact on us and our work at European level in the next five years. I am sure it will help to move things forward where better spending will be the major yardstick within all areas of public spending in Europe.

Focussing on HR expenditure, we should have the courage to look at what is possible beyond simple bargaining and tit for tat. Changing the Staff Regulations must also tackle questions like:
– how can we provide for a fairer balance between “generations”?
– how can we spend our money more effectively and more efficiently?
– how can we spend public money better?

I, for one, would like to see less fear and fewer taboos when tackling these problems and I would wish for a common upheaval for a truly European civil service that is able to fulfil the dedicated task, instead of only being dedicated to defending its own privileges. In this respect I welcome the fresh and credible approach that you have brought up through Generation 2004.

G2004: Dr. Grässle, we thank you for these clear views.

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