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Brussels Sprout

political, satirical




Private Eye newspaper
Brussels Sprout column
May 2003

Approximately 200 members of staff belonging to EU institutions are awarded « invalidity » pensions – pensions granted for illness – each year according to a special report from the European Court of Auditors. In an information note from the auditors, the total net cost of the pensions awarded each year is estimated at €74 million

The audit found that there was an extremely low rate of « re-instatement, especially in the 50 per cent of cases involving psychological disorders. » That is, once a man or woman working for one of the EU institutions becomes too ill to work, they are highly unlikely ever to recover from his or her ailment.

The data applies to the approximately 30,000 people on the staff of the various European institutions, the largest single unit of which is the European Commission, with around 20,000. The other institutions include: the European Parliament; the Council of the EU; the Court of Justice; and the European Central Bank. Working on the figures available, it appears that in a normal year, on a statistical basis, 0.67 per cent of members of staff might be found eligible for an invalidity pension. This could give them 70 per cent of final salary for the rest of their life.

If one assumes that a typical career in the service of one of the institutions is 35 years, that would mean around 23 per cent of European Union institution staff retire on the grounds of ill health.

The Court of Auditors, whose mission is to independently audit the collection and spending of European Union funds, noted in its report that there is evidence that frustration in the working environmental is a significant element in de-motivating some staff. These unfortunates are eventually retired on ill-health grounds.

Performance indicators

However, the audit found scope for financial savings through the adoption of adequate administrative measures for prevention and early treatment, particularly in cases where the ground for invalidity is psychological. The Court of Auditors suggests that such measures should include the development by the institutions of an overall policy on absences due to illness and on invalidity. The policy should include the application of « performance indicators », and « strong support from senior management ».

It also advises the adoption of strong medical and administrative synergy. Careful and resource-intensive attention should be given to the needs of those members of staff who need support, it says. This policy should focus both on actions to be taken in the early stages though preventative measures that « consider the organisation of work and working conditions ». It would like to see action to help rehabilitate and encourage members of staff in poorer health to continue to work under reasonable conditions. An investigation by the Court found that the overall rate of invalidity retirement has remained stable over the last 15 years.