Most staff in the EU Council joined a strike on Tuesday (5 February), in a prickly debate on whether they get too much money.
Trade unionist Simon Coates told EUobserver the vast building in the EU quarter in Brussels is “almost empty” and that fellow officials in the European Commission and European Parliament will stage demonstrations later in the day.
In a repeat of last November, the action comes 48 hours before EU leaders meet for talks on the Union’s €1 trillion, 2014-to-2020 budget.
A group of net contributors – including Germany, the Netherlands and the UK – want deeper cuts in EU officials’ pay to fit in with national austerity programmes.
The trade unions said in a statement that if the reductions go through “[EU] institutions would no longer be able to perform their tasks of designing, drawing up and implementing future policies.”
Coates added: “The aim is to send a clear signal to the heads of state and government that behind the numbers they might agree at the end of the week, there are real men and women who work here.”
For its part, German newspaper Die Welt said on Sunday that “thousands” of senior EU officials who earn a basic salary of €18,370 a month get more than German Chancellor Angela Merkel (€16,359).
The story prompted a prickly rebuttal by EU commission spokesman Antony Gravili on Monday.
He said if you count Merkel’s perks, such as her Bundestag diet or special Christmas vacation pay, she pockets about €25,000 a month. “Not one EU official, including all their allowances, gets more than Chancellor Merkel, including all her allowances,” he noted.
He claimed EU institutions are fully transparent because they publish salary scales.
EU officials also get perks, such as a 16 percent “expat allowance” and around €1,000 a month for private school fees for each child.
But Gravili declined to disclose the take-home pay of any specific EU employee, including top public figures such as foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton, saying this would violate “common human decency” on the right to privacy.
He also declined to reveal the take-home pay of a hypothetical EU employee, saying commission staff do not have the time to handle the “sheer volume” of press requests on the subject.
The question of transparency already came up last year.
EU parliament chief Martin Schulz last summer asked member states to disclose how much they pay their Brussels-based diplomats in order to compare with EU staff.
He got a partial reply which he described as “a series of disaggregated data.”
“I find it very worrying that you should be so anxious to hide information about your salaries,” he said in a letter to the then Danish EU presidency.