I was co-chairing a regular joint management meeting this morning with my counterpart from the Committee of the Regions, Gerhard Stahl, when a friend texted me the news that the European Court of Justice had ruled against the Council in the ‘salaries’ case brought by the European Commission. Well, we saw this one coming. It’s easy to be wise after the event but I cannot help but feel that a little more foresight and a more imaginative approach could have enabled us to avoid the bad press we are now understandably going to get. Basically, EU officials’ salaries are adjusted each year according to a method which essentially follows adjustments to the salaries of civil servants in a basket of eight different member states. By its nature, this method involves a time lag, and so alas it threw up a 3.7% increase in the middle of an economic and financial crisis. It was, quite understandably, politically impossible for member state governments, particularly those imposing harsh austerity programmes at home (including cuts to civil services), to approve such an increase although, as the Court has now confirmed through its ruling, the Council in effect had no margin of discretion. At a managerial level, the potential problem (assuming the Council now approves an increase from the 1.85 it had originally decided to 3.7%) has four parts. First, the institutions will have to find the necessary credits to pay the difference as from 1 July 2009, a budgetary year that has closed. They’ll have to do the same for 2010, a budgetary year that is almost over. They’ll have to do the same for next year (because the Council could not accept that the institutions anticipate the Court’s possible ruling in their draft budgets). And they’ll have to incorporate the relevant full increases into their draft 2012 budgets. Since we are under a legal obligation to pay the salaries of our officials, ways will have to be found. Understandably, however, none of this will play well out there in the ‘real world’. I hope that we collectively learn our lesson from this experience.