IN a week when it has frequently been suggested that at least one British minister is being paid more than he is worth, a survey of the salaries of ministers and civil servants in Europe has thrown up some interesting comparisons. Tony Blair and Angela Merkel of Germany are the most highly paid heads of government at about 265'000 pounds. Both preside over large countries which enjoy international standing but in third place comes Bertie Ahern of Ireland who gets around 175'000 pounds, followed by Dominque de Villepin of France. The Hay Group which undertook this survey points out that these salaries are nowhere near what top ministers could command in the private sector. It suggests, for instance, that Tony Blair is being paid only 10-20 per cent of what he could get for a comparable-sized job with an international company. With retirement looming, the prime minister will have noted these figures with interest. However, top British civil servants are paid well in comparison to their EU counterparts. Many of the most senior of them get more than the ministers they serve. One of the reasons for this is that successive government have tried to encourage good managers from the private sector to move to Whitehall and have accordingly made the salaries competitive. Recent dreadful instances of rank incompetence in the civil service, for which one minister has had to pay the price, raises the question of whether such salaries can be justified across the board.