Thursday, 2 April 2009

Recession, What Recession?

New research from Open Europe has found that European Commissioners leaving office later this year will receive more than £1 million each in pension payments and so-called 'transitional' and 'resettlement' allowances.

Long-serving Communications Commissioner Margot Wallstrom - whose main job has been to promote the EU - will receive almost £1.8 million if she leaves the Commission this year.

Meanwhile, UK Commissioner Catherine Ashton, who replaced Lord Mandelson and who has been in the job for less than a year, will qualify for an ample pension of £9,600 a year, in addition to three years of 'transition' payments, valued at over £89,000 a year. On top of this, she will receive a £18,700 'resettlement' allowance.

This is in addition to the salaries and perks that Commissioners are entitled to during their term of service. Commissioners receive basic salaries of at least £220,000 a year (more for Vice-Presidents and the President) - meaning that in one five-year term alone, a Commissioner earns in excess of £1 million.

Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso receives an annual salary of over £275,000, which is almost exactly equivalent to US President Barack Obama's salary ($400,000). This is in addition to a host of other perks, which include residence allowances of 15% of their salary (£40,000) and monthly 'entertainment allowances'.

Reacting to the news, European Commission spokesperson Valerie Rampi justified the pay-outs, saying, "Open Europe didn't discover anything new, it's all public and online... Everyone who has worked as a commissioner is entitled to pension rights, like you and me". She said the money was to help Commissioners with their "re-entry" into the non-EU world. (EUobserver, 24 March)

She also denied that Commissioners received "golden one-off payments", despite the fact that all will receive £18,700 in 'resettlement' allowances. Chief Spokesman Johannes Laitenberger said the payments system helped Commissioners "to preserve their independence". (AFP , 30 March)

Meanwhile, Danish Commissioner Mariann Fischer-Boel told newspaper Politiken "I'm worth all the millions", while Belgian Commissioner Louis Michel denied the figures, and told newspaper De Standaard: "if that's true, I'll retire immediately". The paper reported: "After consulting an assistant, the report seems to be accurate. This was followed by Louis Michel suddenly changing his tune, saying the compensation is completely justified. "We are being well paid, that is. But every morning getting up at 5 o'clock, lots of travelling, heavy files... This is a parachute, but not a golden one'". (Politiken, 25 March; Standaard, 27 March)

French daily Le Monde noted that Commission salaries are "historically high" in order to be competitive with the salaries in the steel-manufacturing industry, which prospered in the 1950s when the European Community was first conceived. The Malta Today reported that Fisheries Commissioner Joe Borg is " Malta 's highest paid pensioner". (Malta Today, 29 March; Le Monde, 1 April)

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