Insight: Facing austerity, Europe's bureaucrats chafe

Sun Nov 18, 2012 5:53am EST
 
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By Sebastian Moffett and Claire Davenport

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Workers protesting austerity on the streets of southern Europe weren't to know it, but earlier this month there was also a strike at the heart of the European Union - by bureaucrats fighting possible cuts.

For an increasing number of Europeans, cuts in Brussels are what is needed.

The European capital has told member states to reduce spending, but as millions in Spain, Portugal and Greece feel the pain in pay, pensions, and social services, people are looking to the centre and finding what looks like fat.

Britain has led the way. Newspapers there have for decades carped at cosy 'eurocrats', as they call Europe's civil servants. Prime Minister David Cameron need only mention the EU and generous spending to produce a sea of nods and chants of "hear, hear!" around parliament.

"We can't have European spending going up and up and up when we're having to make difficult decisions in so many different areas," Cameron told reporters at the last summit of EU leaders in October, going on to express his frustration at the salaries of civil servants in Brussels.

Now, doubts are mounting in other member states. Such concerns have held up talks over the EU's long-term budget, a financial program worth more than 1 trillion euros ($1.3 trillion) over the next seven years. EU leaders hope to reach a deal at a summit on November 22-23.

The problem is that governments from Helsinki to Madrid are freezing spending or cutting it by 5 percent or more a year, but the European Commission has asked for a 6 percent increase over 2014-2020. An influential group of eight EU countries, including Germany and France as well as Britain, wants the Commission to save between 5 and 15 billion euros over the period.

The Commission argues that it has already made cuts. But in politics, symbolism matters, and numerous examples appear to contradict the claims of restraint:   Continued...

 
Demonstrators shout slogans against the government in front of the Portuguese parliament during a 24-hour nationwide general strike in Lisbon in this November 14, 2012 file photo. REUTERS/Rafael Marchante/Files