Brussels — What anonymous group of office workers can earn higher pay than the chancellor of West Germany? Pay tax of only 10 to 20 percent? Buy a tax-free car? Receive one month's extra salary to help settle in after moving to new posts? And even purchase a dog license without the usual tax of $3?
The answer: the "Eurocrats" -- the 16,000 faceless men and women who sit in two mammoth glass-walled offices in Brussels shuffling the papers that run the 10 nations, the 258 million people, and much of the world's trade that add up to the European Community.
Sit down with a Eurocrat in his office these days and he will defend his privileges with some heat.
He will oppose with even more heat a proposal from West Germany, supported by Britain and a number of other countries, to freeze his pay for the next five years, effectively cutting his salary by an estimated 20 to 30 percent.
The proposal has already led to selective strikes by EC staff.
One senior Eurocrat pulled out a salary scale for Community civil servants during an interview in his airy office full green potted plants high above the ancient streets and the red roofs of Brussels one recent sunny afternoon.
The figures showed why Bonn, London, and some others believe Eurocrat salaries have been rising too fast, and are now out of line with civil service pay in member states.
At the top of scale, for grade A1, salaries go up to $97,442 a year. A newly arrived Eurocrat at the bottom of the ladder (A7) earns $30,776 a year.
"I myself have been here 12 years," said my informant. "I am a level A4 -- I make 140,000 Belgian francs a month [$4,193, which comes to $50,313 a year].
"My tax, as a married man with children, is 10 percent, which I pay to the EC itself."
Another perquisite: Twice a year he can buy 900 Belgian francs ($27) worth of duty-free alcohol.
For years he did not have to pay a Belgian 100-franc ($3) tax on his bicycle each year, but not he must. There is talk of removing the alcohol allowance as well.
He says his salary is fair: He competed for entrance into the Eurocrat system 12 years ago against 300 others for five vacancies. He says he has given up his seniority in his home civil service to come to Brussels. It has always been a principle, he says, that Eurocrat salaries should match the best salaries of equivalent civil servants back home.
He himself has risen from A7 to A4 in 12 years, but the usual time was closer to 16.
Moreover, the practice of filling the very top posts with political appointees from various countries meant he could not hope to reach the top ranks himself. He knew of only one career man who had reached the rank of director-general in recent years.
Salaries now account for about 2 percent of the annual Community budget of about $25 billion. West Germany and Britain, both facing economic difficulties, insist that he salaries are unfairly high.
Eurocrats are now studying the pay of German and British government employees in Brussels and say the resul ts will bolster their own case.