UK Politics

UK minister attacks EU wage increase

The government has criticised planned pay rises for European Union staff as an "estrangement from reality".

The wage bill is set to increase by 1.7% increase and Treasury minister Chloe Smith said the EU must remember that "national taxpayers stand behind" its budget.

The Commons agreed without a vote that the pay proposals were "unacceptable".

But the EU said the salary changes were in line with those of civil servants across member states.

Ms Smith told MPs that Whitehall departments were having administrative budgets slashed by 34% by 2014-15 and "the EU should show a similar drive to finding efficiency savings".

She added: "Any suggestion of waste in the EU budget damages the standing of the EU institutions and of the EU as a whole."

'Unprecedented'

She said the organisation was "very evidently lacking" the will to economise - and was planning to save "much less than one thousandth of its 3.3 billion euro (£2.8bn) budget".

Ms Smith said: "We are clear that the EU institutions must manage themselves, and the programmes they help manage, far better and on lower budgets...

"I can inform the House that the chancellor took the unprecedented step of voting against discharging the accounts for the 2010 EU budget.

"We have not seen enough progress at reducing the level of errors in EU transactions, which is unacceptable."

The government had imposed a two-year freeze on civil servants' pay over £21,000, with an average 1% rise after that, but similar action was not being taken by the European Commission.

For Labour, shadow Treasury minister Cathy Jamieson criticised Prime Minister David Cameron for not building up alliances in Europe. She claimed this had prevented the UK from playing a key role when issues such as wages were discussed.

Ms Jamieson added: "It is accepted from all sides that the issue of EU salaries... is an important one and it is clear that we simply cannot have a situation where the dispute between the commission and the council as an annual tit-for-tat with serious financial consequences."

Conservative MP Bill Cash, chairman of the Commons European Scrutiny Committee, said many bureaucrats lived in "a cloud cuckoo land", paying no attention to the eurozone crisis.

Ms Smith said the government would lobby for EU staff savings through cutting workers' allowances, slashing the cost of pensions and changing the overall pay system.

The UK decision to join Dutch and Swedish counterparts in refusing to sign off the European Union's accounts was the first time it has withheld its vote of approval. But the act is symbolic - the annual procedure to "discharge" the budget does not affect the actual accounts or sums already spent in the relevant year.

But a European Commission spokesman said: "The adjustment of salaries and pensions of EU staff reflects the evolution of civil servants' salaries in member states, both up and down.

"The commission's proposal is to cut salaries by 1.8% in real terms, which is exactly what happened to salaries of national civil servants.

"Given inflation of 3.6% in Belgium, this translates into a nominal adjustment of 1.7% for EU officials in Brussels. This compares to an adjustment of 1.3% on average for UK civil servants, based on figures the UK government itself provided.

"This system of adjustments was agreed by all member states and has the force of law. There is therefore no room for political discretion."

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