EU staff don’t lose their pensions for criticising the EU

30 September 2019
What was claimed

If Lord Kinnock, Lord Mandelson, or Lord Patten began to publicly criticise the EU, their pensions would be withdrawn.

Our verdict

All three are ex-EU commissioners. None would lose their pension for criticising the EU.

“Do you know senior employees of the EU lose their pension if they criticise the EU in public.

If Lord Kinnock or… Lord Mandelson… or Chris Patten… began to publicly criticise the EU, their fat cat gold plated pensions would be withdrawn.”

Andrew Pierce, 12 March 2017


“Why do you think people like Blair and Kinnock NEVER say a bad word about the EU?

“It's a "gags for pensions" racket.”

Twitter user, 13 September 2019

A video from 2017 of LBC radio presenter Andrew Pierce talking about the pensions of senior EU employees has recently gone viral on twitter. Similar content has also been shared on Facebook, which includes a screenshot of a Daily Telegraph article from 2009 making a similar claim.

In the video, Mr Pierce claims that—“not a word of exaggeration or distortion”—senior EU employees lose their pension if they criticise the EU.

This is exaggerated and distorted. It’s true that there are rules on the conduct of current and former EU staff members, which in some cases can lead to pensions sanctions, but the extent of those rules is overstated by Mr Pierce.

The European Commission told us that it would be “probably impossible” for the people mentioned to lose their pension for criticising the EU or supporting Brexit. We’ve seen multiple cases of both current and ex-commissioners criticising the EU.

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What rules do EU staff members have to observe?

The EU told us that current staff have the right to freedom of expression and can express their personal views, which may differ from the official position of the institution, as long as they respect the “principles of loyalty and impartiality”.

In practice, loyalty means not acting in a manner that undermines the Union’s function or norms. Case law also set out that this means “refrain(ing) from conduct detrimental to the dignity and respect due to the institution and its authorities”. The case in question involved an EU official who complained after she was prevented from publishing an article aiming to draw attention to harassment within EU institutions. The Court of Justice of the European Union ruled against the official on the basis that the “text at issue would seriously prejudice the legitimate interests of the Union” and was “not substantiated by any evidence to support its claims”.

Additionally, and especially for more senior officials, they must act in a manner that is beyond suspicion and maintains a relationship of trust between themselves and the institution.

The European Commission also told us: “It is extremely rare that pension rights are affected as a result of a sanction. When this happens, it would not be the result of a normal participation in a public debate with political opinions and criticisms based on factual arguments.

“It would be probably impossible to impose a similar sanction in an area protected by a fundamental right like the freedom of expression.”

Such obligations are not unique to the EU. For example, British civil servants must “serve the government, whatever its political persuasion, to the best of your ability in a way which maintains political impartiality… no matter what your own political beliefs are.”

They must also “act in a way which deserves and retains the confidence of ministers” and “all those with whom you have dealings”.

The rules for ex-officials are slightly different

Andrew Pierce also says that Neil Kinnock, Peter Mandelson and Chris Patten—three ex-politicians now all part of the House of Lords—would all lose their pensions if they criticised the EU.

None of these men is currently employed by the EU. All three served as European Commissioners, Kinnock from 1995 to 2004, Patten from 2000 to 2004, and Mandelson from 2004 to 2008. The viral Twitter post also refers to Tony Blair, who has never been employed by the EU.

As the other three are no longer EU employees, they are not subject to the staff regulations, including the duty of loyalty, mentioned above.

However there are specific rules for current and former commissioners (like Lords Kinnock, Patten and Mandelson), stating that they could lose their pension rights if they don’t respect “their duty to behave with integrity and discretion as regards the acceptance… of certain appointments or benefits.”

These are somewhat “vague notions” but effectively set boundaries on potential conflicts of interest—for example prohibiting an ex-commissioner taking a job that involves lobbying the EU on their former policy portfolio for a two year period after leaving post.

The European Commission told us that a political view expressed by a former Commissioner (such as supporting Brexit) in a public debate would not normally qualify as a breach of obligations, and not lead to them losing their pension.

In addition, the European Commission told us that former staff must respect the confidentiality of information, and to notify the commission about their professional engagements for a two year period after leaving.

The fact that former commissioners are, in practice, allowed to criticise the EU can be seen from the fact that several of them have done just that.

For example, in April 2019, the German former Commissioner Günther Verheugen criticised the EU’s Brexit negotiating position, saying “the problem is on the EU side”. In 2017 the British former Commissioner Lord Hill supported “getting on” with Brexit, and this month the outgoing President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, criticised his successor Ursula von der Leyen’s decision to create a commissioner for “Protecting the European Way of Life”.  

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