European Union diplomats who are accidentally paid too much are allowed to keep the money, PublicServiceEurope.com
can reveal. Recovering all sums owed by those working for Catherine Ashton's European External Action Service would be a "great disincentive" for recruitment and would be "contrary to the principle of legal certainty", says the European Commission.
Members of the newly formed EU diplomatic corps posted outside the EU have their salaries adjusted on an occasional basis to take into account changes in the cost of living compared to Brussels. The EU publishes a list of country weightings incorporating purchasing power parity and currency exchange rates. Fluctuations in weightings affect officials as they can opt to be paid part of their salary in local currency. The same system also applies to European Commission officials posted outside the EU.
Weightings can, however, take more than a year to finalise, meaning salaries are adjusted retroactively. The latest list began to apply on July 1 2010 but has still not been approved. Officials will get a salary increase dating back to this date if the cost of living is shown to have risen in their country of work. But if living costs have dropped, they will only be required to repay six months of the money they have unfairly pocketed.
This uneven approach is justified because "some countries can be affected by very substantial variations of weightings" says Antony Gravili, commission spokesman for inter-institutional relations and administration. The African state of Guinea-Bissau has seen its weighting drop from 140 to 90 and rise again to 116 over a three-year period, Gravili told PublicServiceEurope.com
. He continued: "Not offering some minimal protection for colleagues in these countries – i.e. the limitation of recovery to six months – would be a great disincentive for them to apply for posts in these countries.
"Retroactive recoveries for an extensive period of time would also be contrary to the principle of legal certainty, as an official would never be certain whether the salary he is paid is really what he is supposed to get, or whether he may have to pay back large sums through no fault of his own." The EU offers less protection than other international organisations such as the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, which according to Gravili "does not practise any recovery at all".
The justification was not enough to satisfy the EU's detractors. "Not to claw back this money is a dereliction of duty by a taxpayer funded organisation. Whose money is it anyhow?" asked UK Independence Party MEP Marta Andreasen
, the commission's former chief accountant. "Research has often shown that financial incentives are important in the employment and retention of quality staff," Andreasen told PublicServiceEurope.com
"But it also shows that far, far more important is working for an organisation that is believable and is led inspirationally," she said. "EU staff are paid very well already with copper bottomed perks, so that can't be the problem. If there is an issue with applications to the EEAS it must be because of the catastrophically dismal leadership offered by Cathy, Baroness Ashton."
Ashton, a Labour life peer, has requested a 6 per cent increase for the EU diplomatic corps in current budget negotiations, a request dubbed "somewhat ludicrous" by a UK minister.