According to a Daily Express article, thousands of EU officials are earning more than 290.000 a year, which is more than German Chancellor Angela Merkel. We rate the claim as uncheckable.
The salaries of EU officials have been a wildly debated topic over the years. Last month, the Daily Express reported on the German nationalist party Alternative for Germany’s (AfD) election program for the upcoming European elections in May. The article describes how the AfD might push for a ‘dexit’ if the European Union is unable to fundamentally reform it’s operations. ‘According to the party, 44,000 EU officials and 11,000 employees cost over €8billion a year – 4,000 of those officials earn more than €290,000 a year, which is more than the German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s salary’, the article cites.
The source of the quotation is the German party’s election program (Leitantrag), where the claim is used as an argument to push for aggressive reforms: ‘Europe’s political classes have transformed the European Union into a monstrous administrative apparatus: twelve EU-institutions with 44.000 officials and 11.000 staff members, over 8 billion euros in personnel costs, and 24 EU-agencies with an undisclosed number of staff and service providers such as interpreters and experts. MEPs, commissioners, civil servants and other EU workers receive unduly high pay and privileges, from paradisiacal pension entitlements to tax-free allowances. In the EU, for example, some 4,000 EU officials earn more than the German Chancellor (€ 290,000 gross / year).’
Although the statements about the number and cost of EU workers are interesting as well, this factcheck focuses on the salary comparison.
Origin of the claim
The AfD did not respond to our questions, so we did not get a direct answer regarding the basis of the statement. However, this 2013 press statement (in Dutch) from the European Commission specifically talks about the ‘4.000-claim’ and mentions a ‘calculation by Die Welt from 2012’. The article that the Commission is referring to is probably this one, although it’s dated 2013. The article bases the claim on calculations made by the British government. Former prime minister David Cameron made the initial claim at a 2012 press conference, saying that ‘more than 200 Commission staff earn more than I do without counting their allowances’, but does not say how he got to that number exactly.
Die Welt recalculated the numbers and concluded that not hundreds, but thousands of EU workers ‘earn more than a typical European leader’ (note that this is not just about the salary of Angela Merkel). With all extras it should be possible to receive more than a prime minister from pay grade 13 up to 16. A senior official with a wife and child should have a gross salary of 16.358,80, about as much as a prime minister. According to the article in Welt, 4.365 officials are in pay grade 13 or higher.
However, a monthly payment of 16.358,80 amounts to 196.305,60 per year, which falls short of the 290.000 that the AfD claims. And if 4.000 people earn about 196.000 per year, then the number of people who earn over 290.000 might be lower. 290.000 could be equal to the yearly salary of some European prime ministers, but does not match with what Angela Merkel actually gets paid. As a chancellor she receives 5/3 of pay grade B11, which is 23.595,55. On top of that, she gets paid as a deputy of the Bundestag and receives half of a monthly salary of a regular MP: 4.890,14. That amounts to 341.828,28 per year (WageIndicator comes up with 310.800, but the cause of the discrepancy is unclear).
The EU works with a system of pay scales as well. Different function groups within the institutions have different scales, and each scale consists of multiple grades. Only the salaries in the salary scale for function group AD and AST (administrators and assistants) come close to the salary of Merkel. Before we start calculating, it is important to understand that salaries in the EU can vary greatly, even between people in the same pay grade. That’s because there are various compensations and allowances (and income remunerations, which we will discuss later). Whether a person is entitled to these extras is dependent on his or her personal situation (marital status, number of children, place of residence, etc.).
The highest basic salary an EU official can get in this scale is 20.219,80, but he or she can receive numerous allowances on top of that. If the official has a wife and two school-going kids and works outside his home country then the allowances are significant: an expatriation allowance of 2.260,94, a household allowance of 444,83, a dependent child allowance of 820,22, an education allowance of 1.113, and a daily subsistence allowance of 517,32 for the first half year. That builds up to 4.638,99 extra per month (without the subsistence allowance) and a total of 24.858,79, which is a total of 298.305,48 per year. The picture is not yet complete: there is compensation for travel costs (which can vary greatly per person) and various other allowances, but the most important ones are covered. The above example is enough to match the claimed 290.000 that Merkel supposedly receives, but not enough to reach what Merkel actually seems to earn.
The European Commission publishes how many employees there are in each pay grade in it’s own organization. According to the statistics, 2.630 Commission employees are in grade 13 or up, but other EU institutions, like the European Parliament and the European Council, do not publish these numbers, so we cannot say whether the total number from Die Welt (4.635) is accurate. However, only 80 officials from the European Commission (which makes up about half of the total EU) are in pay grade 16.
The problem with comparing salaries is that they differ on an individual level because of the different allowances. Furthermore, the EU has it’s own system of income remunerations to account for the difference in purchasing power between countries. For every 100 euros in salary paid in Belgium (the baseline), a Bulgarian will only receive 55,20, while a Brit will get 134,70 (because one euro will buy you more in Bulgaria than in the UK). If we use the same example as before: if our official is working in the UK then his salary is not 209.949,96 but actually 37,7% higher: 281.332,95. 8 out of the 26 countries with an income remuneration are higher than the baseline, which can increase the number of people who receive more than Merkel by a small amount.
The scope of this factcheck is limited. We are not taking into account different taxing systems between the EU and Germany and have only looked at gross income, which is a limited way of comparing people’s salaries. Although these factors lie beyond our scope, it’s important to note that a better way of comparing salaries might be actual purchasing power in the individual countries.
In the end, there is no concluding evidence that 4.000 officials (9,1%) are in the highest pay scale and step and receive all of the mentioned allowances. Even then it will be hard to equal the salary of Angela Merkel. But EU salaries vary from person to person, as there are a lot of personal variables that make up the total salary. Therefore we rate the claim as uncheckable.
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