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European Commission (British Nationals)

Volume 21: debated on Wednesday 31 March 1982

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asked the Lord Privy Seal if he will make representations to the President of the European Commission about the situation whereby fewer British nationals are employed by the Commission at all grades above A7 than nationals from the Federal Republic of Germany, France and Italy.

I raised the problem of British under-representation in the Commission services, which in fact applies only to certain levels, with the President of the Commission when I called on him in October last year, and wrote subsequently to the Commissioner responsible for personnel matters. Since then we have been in frequent touch with those concerned in the Commission at many levels, most recently with Mr. Pisani, Commissioner for Development, when he was in London on 16 March. The Commission recognises the existence of the problem and is taking steps, with our encouragement, to redress the position, for example through the open competition now in progress.

As there is now no reasonable doubt about the permanence of our membership of the EEC, should not British participation in the institutions of the Commission reflect our size and importance? Is it not absurd that at every level, except the top, the number of British civil servants in Brussels is not much more than half that of France, Italy and Germany? Is there a shortage of British applicants for those important jobs?

There is no shortage of applicants and agree that our nationals are under-represented. That is the point that I made to the President and to Mr. Pisani. They recognised the problem, which is not confined to Britain. Other more recently joined nations have the same problem and they are taking steps to set it right. That is a slow process, because vacancies do not occur all the time.

Can the Lord Privy Seal give us more. information about whether British people are applying for the jobs? Is there not also the problem that top civil servants employed by the British Government in Brussels are paid more than those who are employed by the Commission? The Commission people are overpaid, but we pay our people, for example, £36,000 as against £32,800. Is it not time that the rates were brought into line and the overpayment reduced all round?

The principle of the rate for the job should be applied throughout the Commission. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that there is no shortage of British applicants.

In a number of areas, especially industry and commerce, do not British interests sometimes lie importantly with Brussels? If so, is it not even more important that Britons should hold a fair share of responsible posts within the Commission?

Yes, Sir. That is the purpose of our representations, which are slowly having an effect.

Has this not, unfortunately, gone on for some years? Will the Lord Privy Seal have a word with the previous President, who has attended the House only when being introduced, to see whether he has any suggestions for saving British taxpayers' money and helping the British Government?