Kinnock under fire over bid to reform EU

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Former Labour leader Neil Kinnock came under fire today from EU civil servants over his plans for Euro reform. The vice-president of the European Commission seemed undisturbed by the attack from the so-called ' militant complacency' among the EU' s civil servants in Brussels.

Former Labour leader Neil Kinnock came under fire today from EU civil servants over his plans for Euro reform. The vice-president of the European Commission seemed undisturbed by the attack from the so-called ' militant complacency' among the EU' s civil servants in Brussels.

It came as the man who once battled successfully against the militant tendency in Britain launched a major shake-up of the Eurocracy.

Commenting on a staff union leaflet condemning his new reform plans, Mr Kinnock told a news conference in Brussels: ' I was a Thatcherite at the top of the leaflet and a Blairite at the bottom. This shows a philosophical confusion in some quarters.'

Already there are mutterings of industrial action by the highly-paid Euro civil service over Mr Kinnock' s plans to slash union power within the Commission.

His main target is a clique of 50 full-time union officials within the Commission who represent the interests of just 40% of the 16,000 staff.

' I was astonished at the number of full-time union officials,' said Mr Kinnock, whose mandate is to streamline the Commission and throw off the ' gravy train' image in the wake of this yearÿs fraud and mismanagement scandals. ' You would expect them to be representing a substantial proportion of the total number of Commission employees. That is clearly not the case.'

All of them are paid full Euro-salaries, which Mr Kinnock said could not be justified either from the point view of the employers, the employees themselves, or from the standpoint of a trade union worker, which he himself was in the sixties.

Half the Commission trade union full-timers work on ' social dialogue' with the EU hierarchy. The other 25 deal with trade union issues - and Mr Kinnockÿs new staff charter to modernise the Commissionÿs industrial relations includes reducing their strength to just five.

A letter from Mr Kinnock to all Commission employees makes clear that the culture has to change. He points out that there must be a ' fresh start' after 25 years in which union arrangements for consulting staff remained unaltered. ' Kinnock is trying to cut the influence of the unions, but we will fight,' warned Louis Rijnoudt, president of the European Civil Servants' Union FFPE.

But Mr Kinnock said he was not planning a pitched battle: ' If you want the gunfight at the OK Corral you' d better get Kirk Douglas. I have never had any interest in OK Corral industrial relations or OK Corral politics.'

Nevertheless Mr Kinnock is seen as throwing down the gauntlet to a civil service where jobs are virtually guaranteed for life and where even ' lowly doormen' can expect to take home £15,000 a year.

The staff unions are guardians of lavish salaries for senior EU civil servants, with unrivalled top-ups which add 16% for living abroad, 10% if a worker is ' head of household' and help with education fees for children right up to the age of 24. In addition the staff canteens within the Commission are reputedly the cheapest anywhere, with a subsidised square meal at less then £2.

Mr Kinnock said his first job was to identify the exact number of unions operating inside the Commission and the membership of each one.

In future any union will have to have at least 5% membership of Commission workers to be officially recognised as a negotiating body.

Mr Kinnock wants to bolster the role of the Commission' s central staff committee - a consultative group representing all Commission employees. But the ' militant complacency' say that will still reduce the clout of the unions in defending the Euro lifestyle.

Mr Rijnoudt warned that attempts to set the various staff unions against each other would be resisted and urged Mr Kinnock to withdraw his plans and start again.

But the Commission vice-president insisted: ' The proposed changes are clearly not anti-union, anti-staff or anti-social dialogue. They are needed on their own merits.'

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