A very good article from Charlemagne (The Economist’s EU affairs blog). I 90% agree. Here are some excerpts:
Are Eurocrats in it for the money?
Nigel Farage, a British MEP from the UK Independence Party, who has issued a statement saying:
“Just as people’s wages are falling and unemployment is rising, the man in the street should be appalled at the amount of money that these EU officials are being paid, many for pretty menial tasks. People should be appalled to learn how much money, many of these EU bureaucrats earn. For example, an EU civil servant with a few years experience and two children (at level AD 10) has a net take home pay of 8,810 per month. Out of his gross pay, he has only had to pay 570 euro in tax and to compound the insult, he does not have to pay VAT on a car or household goods. For a fantastic health insurance scheme, the EU bureaucrat has only to pay only 1.7 % of his salary, a measly 134 euro. No wonder many of these people are screaming for “more Europe”. What they really want is “more money” for themselves. The EU is a racket perpetuated by EU officials to keep themselves in the life to which they have become accustomed – it has got to stop.”
Is that right? It is a common assumption in Britain, where I would not be astonished if a majority of the public assume that EU officials are primarily motivated by pay, perks and privileges.
Actually, from Mr Farage’s point of view, I suspect the truth is still more worrying. EU officials, in my experience, want “more Europe” because they want “more Europe”. Brussels is a very odd town, but it is much less Sodom and Gomorrah than it is like the Vatican. Europe is at heart a faith-based project for most people who inhabit the Brussels institutions, or at least it was when they first took the entrance exams and joined the project. If they become more cynical with the passing years, they never quite lose that spark of faith, is my sense of it.
But for all that, I do not think money primarily motivates EU officials, certainly not compared to contemporaries of mine who have gone into things like the City of London or corporate law. I often hear City types or high-powered lawyers admitting that they loathe their jobs, their working hours, their bosses and at least half their colleagues, but boy the money is good. I do not hear that from EU officials when I meet them socially.
Actually, I disagree. Every EU employee I know, when in private, says: “Boy, the money is good! And you should see how low taxes I pay”.
Who are the Eurocrats?
I think other things mark out EU officials, as a breed. Here, briefly, are some distinctive characteristics I think I have spotted.
EU officials live in a world in which nationalism is the great evil. They are proud of the many languages they speak, they are very often married to spouses from another country (and divorced from spouses from still another country, come to that). They have multi-lingual, multi-cultural children who really do feel European as a nationality.
A friend at the commission once pointed out that rather often they come from regions with strongly independent identities, such as Catalonia, Wales, Northern Ireland, Brittany or Bavaria. That gave them a reason to avoid making a career in their national capitals, whether Madrid, London or Paris, and instead latch onto the dream of a federal Europe in which nation states would wither away, in favour of powerful regions and a post-nationalist superstate at the top.
Hmm, interesting. I should dig deeper on that.
They are often highly educated, in a geeky sort of way: the EU exams are hard to pass, and the finer points of EU treaties (like the finer points of theology) do not appeal to everyone. I have written before that many of them live in a bit of a gilded cage, bored in corners of the institutions where nothing much is happening, and glumly resigned to the realisation that promotion has less to do with merit than with politics and semi-acknowledged quotas of top jobs for various countries. That explains why there are so many choirs, book clubs or sports clubs for Eurocrats. These are clever, bored people.
I find a lot of people in this town at best naive about how much integration public opinion will accept, and at worst a bit hostile to democracy. Get a Brussels dinner party onto referendums, and hear people rave about the madness of asking ordinary people their opinions of the European project.