EU officials on strike again, but talks move forward

 

BRUSSELS - EU officials were out on strike on Wednesday (5 June) in the latest round of a running battle with governments on reforms to the EU's staff regulation.

The walkout - which followed similar action by European Council officials in February and May - comes in protest against EU countries' demands for deeper cuts to pay and conditions.

EU leaders in February agreed additional savings worth €1.5 billion in the bloc's next administrative budget.

The European Commission had earlier included €1 billion of savings in its 2011 budget draft.

The fresh cuts would involve a two-year salary freeze, an increase in the working week from 37.5 to 40 hours and a hike in the retirement age from 63 to 65 years.

A group of net contributors to the bloc's budget - including Germany, the Netherlands and the UK - want to go even further: more pay cuts and retirement at 67.

The demands came despite advice from the Council's legal service that they are against EU law.

A statement issued on Wednesday by Union Syndicale, one of three bodies representing EU civil servants, said: "the objective of certain member states is to weaken the European civil service and in the process impede European construction."

Speaking with EUobserver, Simon Coates, a union official for the Federation de la Fonction Public Europeenne in the EU Council, commented that Wednesday's strike covered more than 90 percent of staff.

"Very few people came into the building today," he said.

Around one in two officials in the Council is believed to be a member of a trade union.

Meanwhile, the European Parliament's legal service has also challenged the legality of the position taken by governments.

But behind the rhetoric there are signs that a deal is within reach.

"Slowly but surely, we are moving closer to an overall package that is quite removed from the extremist position of the Council," an EU official told this website.

"The parliament is refusing to negotiate on the Council mandate but there might be room for manoeuvre on the pension age and contributions," he added.

For his part, Antony Gravili, an EU commission spokesman, also sounded an optimistic tone.

"While both the European Parliament and the commission have made clear that the Council mandate is unacceptable and not a basis for successful negotiations, the trialogue [internal talks] has been making progress on the commission's austerity and reform proposals," he said.

http://euobserver.com/news/120390