EU paid 53.5 million euros to non-working civil servants

More than 300 former EU workers are paid 8,200 euros per month on average

4 min

Barcelona / BrusselsThe possibility of earning close to a full salary while not working for five years before retiring was introduced in the Catalan Parliament in 2008 and is still in force today, although at a lower rate following last year's reform. It is an unprecedented figure in Spain, but not in the world: the European Union followed suit in 2015 and has since allocated 53.5 million euros to pay civil servants who are no longer working in the institution. Through a request for transparency made by ARA, the EU institutions have detailed their payments to officials who no longer provide effective services up to five years before retirement with amounts that, on average, stand at 8,227 euros per month, but in some cases can be close to 20,000 euros per month.

Over eight years, according to data provided by the European Commission's Office for Administration and Payment of Individual Entitlements, 309 people have been on "leave in the interests of the service", the name under which the arrangement is known, and which the EU denies is comparable to early retirement. It is regulated in article 42 of the EU civil servants' regulation and, as in the Catalan Parliament, requirements for eligibility apply: workers can take up this option, at the earliest, five years before retirement age and only if they have provided at least ten years of service to European institutions. However, not all those who meet the conditions are granted this paid leave: the number of places available are limited, and the head of each administration decides who is eligible.

The amount received by each of these civil servants is different in each case, as it is related to the salary they were paid at the time of their service. To simplify it, this newspaper has calculated the average monthly gross salary that these workers have received - 8,227 euros. However, depending on the civil service category, this monthly compensation can change a lot. The lowest detected is around 2,500 euros gross per month on average without working for 38 months – a European Commission Assistant –, while the highest amount is to be found in the European External Action Service (EEAS): that of a member of staff in the Administrator category who has been receiving around 20,000 euros per month without working, and who began exercising his paid leave at the end of last year.

In fact, the Administrator category is the most expensive one: of the 309 people on leave, 132 are administrators. They have accounted for 31.4 million euros, at an average of 10,000 euros gross per month without working. At the other end, there are 15 junior assistants who earn less than 4,000 euros per month.

The amount that civil servants on leave are paid is regulated in the EU Staff Regulations and, consequently, varies according to the length of time they have been on leave. Annex IV of this regulation establishes that during the first three months they will receive a "monthly amount equivalent to their basic salary", 85% from three to six months onwards and, in the following years, depending on seniority, 60%-70%.

Unlike the regulations in the Catalan Parliament, however, there are limitations on this leave in the interests of the service: the number of people who benefit from it "may not exceed 5% of the civil servants" of all the European institutions’ employees who retired in the previous year. A substitute staff member may also be called to fill in the civil servant’s post, and the worker on leave is not entitled to any promotion – but can continue to contribute to their pension scheme. 

If we look at the data per European institution, 75% of the officials who are on leave in the interests of the service are from the European Commission and the European Parliament, with an average cost of 8,130 euros gross per month. Equally noteworthy is the average at the European Union Intellectual Property Office, which has 4 officials receiving an average of 12,164 euros gross per month without working.

Who chooses it, and for what reasons

The decision to grant leave in the interest of the service is ultimately taken by the secretary general of each institution, who is the head of the administrative and human resources area of each body, but there is no predetermined procedure to be followed to take such leave, nor are there any specific conditions that determine which employees can and cannot take it. In other words, employees do not automatically benefit from the leave when they reach a certain age or have met a certain set of goals, but it is their bosses who choose or approve who can take advantage of this system (workers may also request the leave informally), taking into account - the regulation says - the "organisational needs linked to the acquisition of new competences in the institutions".

In practice, according to EU sources in different institutions, the main reason is the "rapid implementation of new technologies" and the "difficulties" some officials have "in adapting to a paperless and fully digitalised environment in a timely and appropriate manner". Therefore, when it is felt that the administrator or assistant (the two categories of EU officials) will not acquire "the new skills in a reasonable period of time" and would require "a disproportionate investment in training" given the working years they have left, it is decided that they will be removed even though they will continue to be paid. In addition, they are often replaced by another employee who already has the necessary skills.

In other cases, leave is granted because of departmental “restructuring”, new “working methods” or simply an employee’s lack of “skills”. In any case, all employees on leave in the interests of the service can be reinstated if the secretary general considers it appropriate, although none of the EU sources consulted by ARA is aware that this has ever happened.