EU to shed 600 officials in drive to shed 'dead wood'

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Six hundred officials employed by the European Commission will be asked to quit under sweeping plans to shake-up the Brussels bureaucracy announced yesterday.

Six hundred officials employed by the European Commission will be asked to quit under sweeping plans to shake-up the Brussels bureaucracy announced yesterday.

In an attempt to replace "dead wood" with high-calibre, younger recruits, the 600 staff will be offered early retirement over the next two years. But under a new blueprint to improve the Commission's performance, the overall number of people it employs would rise by 375.

Staff over 50 with 10 years service will be offered the chance to leave early and will continue to receive 65 per cent of their salary until their normal retirement date. But no one will be forced out against their will.

The early retirement scheme will cost about £6.2m a year for 10 years, while the overall increase in staff will cost between £18m and £24m a year.

The proposals have been drawn up by a working group chaired by Romano Prodi, the Commission's President. Neil Kinnock, one of Britain's two commissioners, who is responsible for administrative reform, has played a key role in the group. The shake-up was launched following revelations of fraud, mismanagement and corruption at the Commission, which employs 18,000 people.

Mr Kinnock admitted the pay-offs would be generous, but said staff who were "stranded" should be offered "a decent way out".

Some 500 officials will be switched to new duties and the Commission said the changes would mean "1,000 new faces" within two years and a 16 per cent increase in efficiency.

The shake-up is aimed at streamlining the Commission to ensure that it concentrates on its important functions and withdraws from non-essential tasks. Some of its work could be contracted out to private companies. A study will be carried out by March 2001 on the hiving off of 22 functions, including administrative tasks employing 800 staff such as the payment of salaries. Another 32 tasks will be scrapped or cut back.

The new recruits will include financial experts and auditors to tighten up management, lawyers, computer specialists and staff to work on the expansion of the European Union. The training budget, which accounts for only 0.05 per cent of the Commission's employment costs, will be increased.

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