Monday, January 24, 2005

The Bigger picture

A week or so ago, we heard that the Sun was despatching a reporter to Brussels. At the heart of the evil empire, he was going to root out the fraud and corruption, telling the readers back home like it is.

And so, after not a little silence, the mighty elephant has roared… and produced a mouse.
In today’s edition, we get a piece form Michael Lea, the European Correspondent – there's glory for you – under the title "Fill Eur boots with cash".

From this we learn that – nay "The Sun can reveal" – that "the monthly take-home pay of fatcat eurocrats is regularly MORE than their gross salary."

As for the ghastly detail, "Wage packets of EU "Sir Humphreys" — on up to £140,000 a year — are swelled by generous tax-free perks worth thousands. Those who work directly for EU institutions pay no national taxes — only a levy to Brussels of around 16 per cent of their BASIC salary.

And, horror of horrors: "But this is outweighed by a 16 per cent bonus on the ENTIRE package for expats — just for working abroad."

Terrible, one might say, and there is a good case for sacking the whole damn lot of them BUT (the Sun is not the only one that can use capitals), there are several points that emerge from the Sun's "scoop".

Firstly, all the details are in the staff manual, and can be read off the internet. There is nothing new at all in the story, which could have been written from the London office.

Secondly, while the "fat cat" commissioners get the big salaries, many staff are relatively poorly paid and have difficulty making ends meet.

Thirdly, being an expat is expensive. Many workers have to run two homes, and commute between the two, while the disruption of moving can be extremely costly.

Finally, compared with the financial packages given to other expat workers, in the private sector, in other international organisations, and even for civil servants working for the Foreign Office, what the EU offers is in fact fairly modest.

Basically, if you want workers to "up sticks" and work abroad, you have to pay them to do it. No tears for them – they chose to do it. And you can always argue that the jobs should not exist – as indeed we do. But to run this sort of story is pathetic, compared with the bigger picture. If that is all the Sun's Brussels correspondent can manage, they might as well bring him home.

And, by the way, can we have details of the Sun's pay and expenses package for their expat workers?

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