European Commission defends payout to former chiefs

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission defended on Thursday its practice of paying former commissioners up to 60 percent of their EU salary for three years after leaving their posts.

Seventeen ex-commissioners continue to draw an allowance of up to 60 percent of the 20,000 euro ($26,800) monthly salary they received while working for the EU executive, a European Commission spokesman told Reuters.

A source with direct knowledge said they included former trade commissioner Peter Mandelson, internal markets chief Charlie McCreevy and Dalia Grybauskaite, now president of Lithuania, as well as France’s Jacques Barrot.

Some of those on the list, first published in Germany’s Financial Times Deutschland newspaper, have since taken jobs with industry, such as McCreevy, who works for Irish low-cost airline Ryanair.

Pay levels for EU officials have in the past attracted criticism, which may be rekindled at a time of governments carrying out drastic spending cuts around Europe.

The Commission, which is the civil service or executive of the 27-country bloc and writes EU laws, defended the payouts, saying the procedure was enshrined in rules agreed by member countries over which it had no influence.

The allowance is adjusted according to how much former Commissioners earn from new positions in industry, or elsewhere, and they would be eligible for nothing if they earn more than the 240,000 euros they received annually in their EU roles.

Others to receive the allowance include Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini, Bulgaria’s Meglena Kuneva and former Czech prime minister Vladimir Spidla. Belgium’s Louis Michel, who also gets the allowance, is now elected to the European Parliament.

Michael Mann, a Commission spokesman, said former commissioners -- each European Union country sends one to Brussels -- receive the allowance to help them as they return to professional life outside the institution.

The 17 former Commissioners drawing the allowance account for almost all of those eligible. Eight of the politicians in the previous EU Commission, which reached the end of its term earlier this year, kept their jobs for a second five-year stint.