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ANALYSTS CITE LOW PAY AS REASON THAT EUROCRAT JOBS REMAIN EMPTY

Ministries find EU positions hard to fill

HUNTING down qualified bureaucrats to deal with the EU agenda is proving difficult for Slovak ministries as they near the deadline for filling new posts ahead of Slovakia's entry into the economic bloc.
Low wages in the state sector are widely blamed as the root cause for not filling so-called Euro-bureaucrat positions ahead of the August 31 deadline. More than 400 of the 1,300 posts remain vacant.
The public servants will be expected to work in various ministries programming special EU projects, and will be crucial to the country's effective communication with EU bodies after the May 2004 entry into the union.


DEPUTY Prime Minister Pál Csáky (right) promised to fill EU-critical civil service posts.
photo: TASR

HUNTING down qualified bureaucrats to deal with the EU agenda is proving difficult for Slovak ministries as they near the deadline for filling new posts ahead of Slovakia's entry into the economic bloc.

Low wages in the state sector are widely blamed as the root cause for not filling so-called Euro-bureaucrat positions ahead of the August 31 deadline. More than 400 of the 1,300 posts remain vacant.

The public servants will be expected to work in various ministries programming special EU projects, and will be crucial to the country's effective communication with EU bodies after the May 2004 entry into the union.

Ľubomír Plai, the head of the State Service Office, said he hoped ministries would manage to fill the posts but admitted that the deadlines may need to be postponed if no qualified people are found in time.

He said that so far there were, on average, seven candidates for each post but there were occasions where none of the applicants met the criteria necessary for specific jobs.

It is believed that qualified individuals are uninterested in state jobs because of a dramatic difference between wages in the state and private sectors.

Plai said: "Quality must be paid for. It is an illusion to expect that people who speak two world languages would come to work in these positions for only Sk10,000 (€240)."

"Sk10,000 is the average monthly rent for a flat in Bratislava. It is clear that the private sector can pay quality workers several times better," said Peter Zsapka, an analyst with the Centre for European Policy.

But building good administrative capacity to handle the EU agenda has been a weak point not just in Slovakia but also, to a differing extent, in the other nine candidate countries, according to a recently published preliminary accession progress report produced by the European Commission.

To address the lack of Euro-bureaucrats, some Slovak ministries even admitted that they had made concessions on some of the individual jobs' requirements by, for example, dropping a required experience in similar jobs, and recruiting a large number of fresh university graduates.

Béla Angyal, the head of the state service office with the Agriculture Ministry, said his ministry took in many university graduates on a temporary contract basis.

"When suitable candidates are found during the August job interviews, the graduates may be replaced. At this point, however, we see no other option," he said.

He also said that although graduates lacked work experience they, as a rule, excelled in language skills, a must for almost every Euro post.

But whether graduates could be trusted on the posts, many of which require good orientation in EU matters, the ability to build and maintain good contacts, strong communication skills, and experience in administration work, remains questionable.

Analysts, however, are disappointed that the cabinet has failed to grant wage increases to qualified public servants. Zsapka, for example, thought that with the deadline approaching fast, the Euro-posts would simply be filled with the second-best candidates.

"The posts will be filled in just so that it can be said a target was achieved. But it is questionable whether these people will be the right ones in the posts," Zsapka said.

The Finance Ministry's head of state service department Jana Červenáková, recently admitted in an interview with the Slovak daily Pravda that changes in the law on state service were needed because "the current legislation, only under very complicated circumstances, enables [the state] to recruit and pay" qualified staff well.

Meanwhile, a new law on state services is being prepared by the government, which hopes to introduce measures that would enable quality public servants be paid on a competitive basis.

At the moment state bureaucrats are paid according to fixed tariff tables while only long-serving employees are entitled for special bonuses.

According to the new law, that should take effect next January, employees who perform well would be entitled to receive bonuses reaching as much as 100 percent of their fixed basic wage.

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