It’s been a long time since I’ve done any work for the EU. I hope it will be even longer before I do it again. Having agreed to speak at a conference on ‘Climate Change and Civil Society’ in Brussels, I felt I couldn’t back out. But the administration required to claim back the modicum of expenses was ridiculous. I had to write to my bank for a stamped form verifying my identity, as well as getting copies of my passport, my VAT form and anything else they could think of!
‘Money laundering regulations’, they said, when I complained. But I haven’t had to do this for any business clients. Why not? I’ve discovered that quite a lot of people decide it’s simply not worth the hassle and don’t bother claiming expenses. Unfortunately this doesn’t mean the EC is economical. Rather the reverse – their bureaucratic systems are wasteful and even worse have bad environmental repercussions too.
An example of this is the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), who set up the conference on climate change. Apparently they have more than 300 members, most of whom travel to Brussels weekly from different parts of Europe, often for just one meeting. Here’s the shocking bit. They only get paid a flat rate for attendance if they come to Brussels. They also get reimbursed the expenses they actually incur or a sum based on how far they’ve traveled – and many choose the latter because it’s quite generous.
What this means is that many of them will simply be coming to Brussels to get remuneration – they have absolutely no incentive to set up teleconferencing and cut down on air travel. How mad is that? This doesn’t just apply to the EESC – the European Parliament work with the same system and there are 785 of them!
Another thing on the cost side are the huge sums of money paid for translation and interpreting services – 60% of the EESC budget of 130 million Euros is spent on this. One reason for this is that EU policy stipulates that all members have a right to read documents and listen to discussions in their mother tongue even if they are fluent in the working language. Oh dear.
If anyone feels they can change the system – please give it a go. I’ll certainly be looking for ideas on how to stop all that pointless flying…… Incidentally I discovered that taking the train from Brussels to London is at least as quick as taking the plane. If I do the journey again, I’ll certainly be on the tracks – I had thought it would take at least 5 hours….