EurosThe European Commission is going to have to face a staff cut – or so it seems after EU Finance Ministers have suggested that 1700 staff that retire between 2007 and 2013 should not be replaced. A good summary can be found at EUObserver here. So what do we make of all of that? Trying to justify the cuts, Ed Balls (filling in for Gordon Brown at the Council) stated: “You have to take tough decisions where there is waste”, reported in The Telegraph. Yes, that’s true, but just hold on a minute.

First, the European Commission is small. Very small. It has about 22000 staff – miniscule when compared to UK departments like Department for Work and Pensions that employs 80000 alone.

Second, the European Union has recently enlarged from 15 Member States to 25, and will soon be 27 – surely the Commission should be able to cope with this?

Third, the criticism is that the European Commission is inefficient. This is sometimes justified, but cutting staff is not going to help. A more meritocratic system of recruitment and promotion would be the best bet. Further, by just not replacing staff that are retiring there are going to be very few new people in the Commission with new ideas to improve its efficiency.

Lastly, and worst of all, having a go at the European Commission is highly hypocritical. The Council and the European Parliament have had a gentlemen’s agreement on staff costs for the last decade or so, allowing the staffing budgets to rise steeply for those institutions (using enlargement as the justification). During the time I worked in the EP, Budgets committee were looking at 7-9% annual rises for Parliament and Council, and around 2% for the Commission. So while it might be good for the headlines to have a go at the Commission, EP and Council should not be immune to these problems.

In short, it strikes me that the Commission has every right to be annoyed.


  1. Jon i agree with you about the main topic (staff numbers) but my answer was to your “A more meritocratic system of recruitment and promotion would be the best bet”. It’s not a marginal point you made as your proposition states that recruitment and promotion is a major problem to be adressed (versus staff numbers).

    i know this post as you know 🙂

    As to older staff, they weren’t selected by the current procedure but more “à la française” as you know.

  2. Bruno – I don’t agree. First, this post is about staff numbers overall, and not about recruitment as such. However in light of my experiences dealing with them, older staff in the Commission are not exactly longing to set the world alight with bold ideas.

    As for the vexed issue of recruitment, there’s been a massive debate on that in reply to this post. I also disagree with you on that – I don’t think the Commission has its selection right.

  3. More elitist “concours” that is less posts but secured would be the best. That would avoid nepotism.

    But the selection process is entirely based on knowledge and ability which is the most objective and efficient way of recruiting officials. Perhaps the ability part should be weighed more (1/2 instead of 1/3 of the preselection process) and funny questions dropped entirely (but those questions count for less than 3% of the total and are always the same Sakharov’s winners, dating treaties, agencies location etc.).

    So the results are fair and commensurate to the goal finding knowledgeable and able officials.

  4. Robert

    Speaking of the Commission, this article about the origin of a ‘euromyth’ was telling (and depressing) in every aspect:

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