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EU defends three-year golden parachute for commissioners

Brussels — The European Commission on Monday defended its golden parachute system for former commissioners, under which they can get up to 65 percent of their salary for three years after leaving their post.

The European Commission "applies the rules which have been agreed by the EU member states," said commission spokeswoman Valerie Rampi.

The system has come under fire in the media and from organisations such as the British eurosceptic Open Europe think-tank.

Open Europe has voiced outrage that former EU commissioners Peter Mandelson and Franco Frattini would continue to receive sizeable monthly sums even though they went straight into national government cabinet posts after quitting.

"Taxpayers around Europe, whose pensions have been swallowed up in the recession, will rightly question why they are footing such an enormous bill for a handful of remote officials who they never voted for in the first place," Open Europe analyst Sarah Gaskell said.

"It is a topsy-turvy world when an unelected EU official is earning the same wage as the democratically elected President of the United States."

The current rules stipulate that outgoing commissioners can receive a one-month’s "resettlement allowance" and thereafter a "transitional allowance", paid for three years, of between 40 percent and 65 percent of their salary.

This money is to help them with their "re-entry" into the non-EU world, according to the spokeswoman.

Once an ex-commissioner lands a job they can still receive an EU top-up if their new salary falls below those levels.

The basic monthly salary for the EU commissioners currently reaches up to 24,422 euros (32,219 dollars), almost 300,000 euros per year in the case of commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso, not including housing allowances and other perks.

According to Open Europe that basic salary is equivalent to US President Barack Obama’s 400,000 dollar annual salary.

When former EU commissioners eventually retire from all paid work they can receive an EU pension equivalent of up to 70 percent of their final commission salary.

The European Commission’s chief spokesman Johannes Laitenberger said the general rules existed "because it is impossible to anticipate all individual situations that might arise" for former commissioners.

The payments system helps them "to preserve their independence," he added.