Le Lien The Link
syndicalisme européen, citoyen, participatif et unitaire
April 2015 – n°43
• Editorial: elections for the
Brussels Staff Committee |
• Working hours
• Assessment of the 2014 exercise for Senior Experts
• 2015 promotion system and promotion exercise: What's happening?
• Contract Agents: where are the concrete measures?
• EPSO: 12 years on
• Breaking Down Barriers: Towards Gender Equality at Work
• Vehicle registrations in Belgium
• Readers' Correspondence
• Please support us
• U4U at your service
The elections for the Brussels Staff Committee will commence on 9 June 2015.
U4U will submit a full list of colleagues representative of the diversity of the European Civil Service.
U4U was created just over 5 years ago. We have several thousand members working in all the institutions, services, and executive and regulatory agencies of the European Union and worldwide.
U4U has provided staff representation with new ideas and practices, achieving significant results, either alone or with other trade unions. The campaign will be a platform for publicising our achievements as well as forming an outlook for future action. We have:
· Developed practices related to encouraging staff members to become more closely involved in union activities: U4U has representatives in a large number of DGs (see the list at the end of this edition), organises regular meetings at the workplace to facilitate the attendance of staff, consults staff regularly to refine its positions (for example, see below – the consultation on working hours), and leads working groups and joint action committees (for example, the Contract Agents’ Collective or AST careers).
· Strengthened social dialogue by making practical proposals in a wide range of areas: career monitoring and talent screening policy, mobility policy, staff appraisal policy, policies to reduce disparities and job insecurity, management of working hours, social dialogue, well-being at the workplace, health insurance, canteens, etc.
· Encouraged united action between trade union organisations and stood up for staff unity: a common front for union organisations on certain topics, action collectives for united action against disparities and discriminatory regulations, joint list for the various elections (Commission and SEAE), etc.
· Promoted a European citizen-based approach. Defending the interests of staff is inseparable from defending the interests of the European institutions: their role in defending the Community-based method is the principal safeguard of the general interest. If the European construction collapses, its civil service will surely suffer.
We make every effort to communicate with staff. Our entire trade union and citizen-based approach is explained in a series of regular publications and websites without parallel in terms of staff representation. We also publish a theoretical review – Graspe – and a review on European Education.
The transition to a 40-hour working week has resulted in the introduction of a new General Implementing Provision (GIP), since the College of Mr Barroso wanted, as usual, to provide the Council with some guarantees and a clear demonstration that it was strictly applying the extension of working hours.
In early 2014, U4U had supported the petition which warned against a new organisational culture influenced by excessive controls.
Distrust and frustration are extremely powerful factors in demotivating staff and can lead to a significant loss of efficiency. The trust that exists between colleagues is a major cornerstone of our organisation, based on cooperation and team spirit. The petition recommended the introduction of simple, flexible and inexpensive means of controlling working hours, based on trust and thereby preserving cooperation between colleagues and the innovative culture of our Institution. The petition, which was translated into 12 EU languages, received more than 7,000 signatures.
On that basis, U4U negotiated the implementation of a new control system with the following key characteristics:
• Attendance checks based on trust – colleagues enter their working hours themselves, excluding double checks via the secretariats;
• The implementation of flexible working hours, allowing specific or individualised core time hours, when this is in the service's best interests;
• The possibility of more than 16 recoverable hours (20 recoverable hours throughout the year);
• Monitoring of the system by a joint committee, leading to a review and possible improvements.
U4U then met with fifteen Directorates-General to confirm that the Directors-General intended to apply these principles in the spirit of the results of the negotiations and to prepare for the review to be conducted in 2015. All the DGs consulted confirmed they wished to implement the GIP on control of working hours in full.
U4U then directly consulted staff to prepare this review in line with colleagues' real experiences. A more contrasting picture emerged. A little over two-thirds of the 1,200 responses confirmed that the rules imposed had been followed. On the other hand, practices emerged in some responses that were less consistent with the rules, and in some cases completely contrary to them. During the assessment to be carried out in 2015, U4U will insist on reforming these abnormal practices and improving colleagues' lives.
With the revised Staff Regulations, which came into force on 1 January 2014, the legislature took a step in the direction of a position-based rather than a career-based civil service. This was in complete contrast to the 2004 reform, which opened up the careers of all categories of AST and AD staff. The blocking of AD and AST careers therefore limited access to the higher grades based on jobs, an approach that before 2014 only applied to political posts (Directors and Directors-General).
This restricted access to the end-of-career grades further undermines the independence of the European Civil Service, already suffering from increasing job insecurity (AC and AT).
It should also be noted that the Council was assisted by certain staff representatives,who hoped that the savings generated by the career blocking would be redistributed to staff hired since 2004. Result: the Council penalised everybody, and in particular sacrificed the careers of more than 4,000 colleagues, a blockage that will also concern new colleagues promoted to AD12 and AST9.
However, the unions managed to negotiate some measures to reduce the impact of this career limitation and make it less harsh:
· a second non-management grouping, giving access to grades AD 13 and AD 14 and senior assistants above AST 9;
· transitional arrangements that compensate slightly for this career limitation: two additional grades for AD 12 and AD 13 colleagues on 31 December 2013 (unfortunately not available to AST grades);
· the possibility of endorsing a maximum of 600 colleagues as equivalent Advisers or Heads of Unit, before 31 December 2015.
Let us look at the current situation for staff, whose careers have been restricted by the new Staff Regulations and the decision on job types:
· Although the DG HR notified the Resource Units of the DGs, it appears that the information intended for those concerned by these issues has not always been passed on in an effective manner, meaning that they were unable to grasp certain aspects of the impact on their careers: loss of the two extra transitional grades for AD 12 and AD 13 staff, restricted mobility of colleagues appointed as Senior Experts, only to Senior Expert or Adviser positions.
· The selection procedure for Senior Experts has not been harmonised by the DG HR, with the selection methods varying from one DG to another.
· After this first Senior Expert appointment exercise (just over 100 posts), the Commission is preparing to commence a second exercise in the spring for an additional 140 posts.
· The Commission has not yet begun the exercise enabling colleagues to be reclassified as Adviser equivalent or Head of Unit, a transitional measure provided for in Annex XIII of the Staff Regulations. Other institutions, like the Council, have already implemented this provision that will allow the careers of 600 colleagues to be unblocked before the end of 2015. It would be a shame not to take this opportunity when we know that more than 3,000 AD colleagues have lost any prospect of a career, which is obviously not very motivating!
U4U therefore requests the Commission to:
- Harmonise the appointment procedure to Senior Expert posts, irrespective of the DG;
- Increase the number of posts provided for Senior Expert appointments, not to organise an artificial shortage that will cause huge frustration in this category, and to do likewise for access to Senior Assistant posts;
- Organise the labelling process as quickly as possible, which will enable the careers of 600 colleagues to be unblocked.
U4U will monitor this situation very closely and will keep you informed.
Several union organisations have sent all Commission staff incorrect and inaccurate information on the promotion system, following the Ribeiro Sinde Monteiro / EEAS judgment of 18 March 2015 (F-51/14) by the EU Civil Service Tribunal (TFP). In addition, on 24 March the Tribunal also gave a second judgment (case Magiuili/Commission, F-61/14) related to promotions. Let us explore the legal situation and present the latest information on the current promotion exercise.
What is the result of the judgments given by the TFP in the Monteiro and Magiuli cases with regard to the Commission's promotion system?
In the Monteiro/ EEAS case, the petitioner raised a plea of illegality in respect of the EEAS promotion system on account of a failure to compare the merits of the candidates. The judge ruled in favour of the petitioner on the basis of the following arguments:
· The comparison of merits made by the EEAS is not sufficiently discriminating to allow harmonisation;
· The comparison of merits is based on synoptic tables that do not allow an accurate presentation of the merits of each person;
· The period allowed for the comparison of merits is inadequate;
· The AIPN has no necessary margin at the end of the promotion exercise to ensure the comparison of merits.
In the present case, this judgment is imposed only on the EEAS. The Commission – although it must carefully study the arguments of the TFP in this case – is not directly concerned by this judgment, particularly as the modalities of our promotion system are different from those of the EEAS system.
What are the differences between the Commission's promotion system and that of the EEAS? First of all, the period allowed for the comparison of merits is significantly greater in the existing procedure of the Commission than in that in force at the EEAS, which allows us to carry out this exercise under good conditions. Next, the working groups (which, in certain conditions, can examine cases on their own initiative), the Promotion Committee (which has a 5% correction quota) and the AIPN on completion of the exercise have effective tools to provide as discriminating a comparison of merits as possible. Finally, the different actors involved in the promotion exercise do not use summary tables to carry out this task, but have direct access to Sysper 2 to verify the appraisals.
The EEAS lodged an appeal against the TFP's judgment in the Monteiro / EEAS case which, while it is not suspensive, means awaiting the decision of the Appeal Tribunal.
In the Magiuili / Commission case of 24 March 2015 (F-61/14), the petitioner did not raise a plea of illegality in respect of the Commission's promotion system, but challenged his non-promotion, on the grounds that a colleague had been promoted with worse appraisal reports than the petitioner.
In this judgment, the TFP talked at length about the monitoring of legality with regard to promotions, which restricts the judge's authority to verifying an obvious error of judgement or an error in law, which as a result leaves the institution with considerable discretionary powers with regard to promotion, subject to compliance with the legal and procedural standards. In this case, the TFP did not challenge the Commission's promotion system.
In a different case (Silvan / European Commission, case F-83/14), the petitioner raised a plea of illegality against the promotion system. This case was heard on 23 March 2015, and it is unlikely that the result will be known until the autumn, or even the end of the year.
What are the consequences of these cases for the promotion exercise currently in progress at the Commission? The result of the above is that there is currently no factor that could call into question the legal safety of the present promotion exercise that concerns on average 25% of the Commission's staff, i.e. more than 4,000 colleagues.
While U4U is an organisation that is respectful of the law, it remains true that it is not necessary to frighten staff away, as has been the case with certain tub-thumping, demagogic trade unions.
Nor should we continue to mix legal problems with political problems. U4U believes it is necessary to undertake an appraisal of the current system and its implementation, in concert with the Commission. On the basis of this appraisal, we will then be able to see what needs to be done: improving or changing the current appraisal/promotion system, but solely with a view improving the rights of colleagues. The election period must not be an excuse for reckless one-upmanship that will have a harmful effect on staff.
The current promotion exercise
• The promotion procedure
In each DG, the Directors are presently discussing the proposals for promotion with the Heads of Unit. The Directors will then negotiate with the Director-General, before the latter adopts a draft list, which will be discussed with the Staff Committee's representatives in May 2015. Following these meetings, each Director-General will adopt his/her list of proposals, which will be made public in June 2015. The working groups of the AD and AST Promotion Committees will examine all of the appeals against these proposals between July and September 2015, in order to put forward their recommendations to the AD and AST Promotion Committees. In October 2015, these Committees will adopt an opinion, with a draft list for the attention of the AIPN: the Director-General of the DG HR. The AIPN should make its decision in October and the list should be published in early November 2015. The salary catch-up, with effect from 1 January 2015, should be paid before the end of 2015.
The U4U representatives will play an active role in all stages of the promotion exercise, as in previous years.
• The method for calculating promotion quotas by DG and by grade
Further to the demands of staff representatives, the Commission agreed to review the system for calculating promotion quotas. The distribution of promotion quotas by DG and by grade was conducted in proportion with the number of promotable people, in other words those with more than two years seniority in the grade, on the basis of the indications provided by Annex 1B of the Staff Regulations.
• The exceptions to the calculation of promotion quotas for grades AD 12 and AD 13
In addition, there are exceptions to the calculation of promotion quotas concerning grades AD 12 and AD 13. The calculation of quotas for these grades is based on the number of people qualified for promotion and not on the number of promotable people, as with other grades. The Commission therefore only considers those officials in Adviser or Senior Expert management posts when calculating the quotas for these two grades.
There are approximately 2,000 promotable colleagues of grade AD 13, including 600 Heads of Unit and Senior Experts. With the rate of promotion to AD 14 standing at 15%, we can assume a calculation of around 100 promotions to AD 14 for the purposes of this exercise. It is a simple matter to calculate the difference by applying the 15% rate on the promotable population.
The situation is more complex for those in grade AD 12 posts. There are about 2,700 promotable officials. However, the promotion in this grade must take account of colleagues who are already heads of unit/advisers, as well as colleagues who, when becoming Senior Expert, are promoted from AD 12 to AD 13. Once again, it is a simple matter to calculate the difference by applying the 15% promotion rate to 2,700.
This approach substantially reduces the chances of promotion for middle management. U4U requests that a less restrictive approach be adopted in this respect. Indeed, this system for calculating promotion quotas for AD 12 and AD 13 grades works against the need to motivate middle management staff, who have significant responsibility within the Commission's services.
In addition to the publication of Senior Expert and Senior Assistant posts, U4U requests that the Commission commence the labelling exercise quickly – a transitional measure in Annex XIII of the Staff Regulations – which will also increase the promotion quota in the AD 13 grade, at least, and therefore increase the promotion opportunities to AD 14 (see previous article).
• The promotion cascades from the higher to the lower grades, to remedy existing disparities (post/pre-2004)
The Directorate-Generals will continue to benefit from the “cascades” system that provides for the recovery of unused promotion quotas in the higher grades so that they can be redistributed in the lower grades in order to reduce disparities and support colleagues recruited since 2004. The limit is imposed by the promotion rates in Annex IB, which are 38% in the entry grades for ADs.
To finish, U4U will keep you informed of developments with regard to promotions on completion of the exercise in a clear, concise and straightforward manner.
It is generally acknowledged that a reform of the European Commission regulations on the recruitment, careers and mobility of Contract Agents (AC) is urgently required (also by the Administration). The Contract Agents’ Collective here presents the main claims that were put forward to the Commissioner Mrs Georgieva at her meeting with all the trade unions on 20 March 2015. The policy that will be implemented at the Commission is in line with the objectives of the staff representatives.
- Definition of a recruitment policy for ACs
The DG HR recognises the need for a practical and responsible policy concerning the 6,000 contract agents it employs. It will now work to achieve specific and fair rules to define its new recruitment policy. Bearing in mind the current economic crisis, there is a genuine consideration of all the claims made by the unions, and in particular by U4U over the last six years:
- Greater account taken of work experience to offer higher salaries on entry to the Civil Service
The forthcoming competitions will take account of the professional experience acquired prior to taking employment with the European Commission in order to readjust salaries appropriately.
- Organisation of CAST competitions (also providing mobility).
• Organisation of
CAST competitions in 2015 that will open the way to inter-institutional
Organisation of "reclassifications" with the aim of changing categories
There is a lot to be done at AC level with regard to reclassification rates and the time they require to be implemented.
Internal competitions enabling ACs to become permanent employees from 2015
The claim made to the Commission at the meeting was mainly focused on the more permanent nature of these internal competitions (2 or 3 times per year), rather than on an exceptional basis.
Mobility, End of contract
Organisation of horizontal mobility (between offices, agencies, etc.) and vertical mobility (from DGs to agencies, offices, etc.). Desire for greater flexibility with regard to the mobility of ACs, both horizontal (between offices, agencies, etc.) and vertical (from DGs to agencies, etc.)
AC salary levels in Luxembourg below the social minimum level.
The testimony of
colleagues in Luxembourg is illustrative and pertinent for colleagues in
Brussels as well. For the situation to improve, there must be:
EPSO was created by a decision of the EU institutions and a second decision by their Secretaries General. The main objective of this institutional body is to generate large-scale savings and enable the institutions to deal with future expansion by streamlining the selection process.
What is the context of EPSO?
The institutions display their support for EPSO in political terms. However, the budget dedicated to the selection of staff is relatively small. The Office's workforce is also quite modest, and some institutions, such as the European Parliament, regularly impose a burden on the EPSO budget with reserves. It is important at this stage to emphasise that the question of selection is a power game between the different institutions and between the EU and its Member States.
Another very important aspect concerns the medium- to long-term unpredictability of staff needs on the part of the institutions.
However, we can now see a certain stability in the forms of the competitions since 2010, until which time they had been liable to vary considerably (Generalist Competitions v. Specialist Competitions, reserve lists with classifications v. lists by merit group v. lists without classifications, level of grades of competitions, skills-based tests v. knowledge-based tests, etc.).
In short, the Office operates in a sometimes difficult context while being subject to (occasionally harsh) criticism in one form or another.
How do we assess the first 12 years of EPSO's performance?
EPSO has successfully provided the institutions with lists of successful candidates in good time, enabling the recruitment of more than 3,000 colleagues from new EU Member States since 2004. This objective was also achieved for the next two expansions.
We should also note that the Office has improved the quality of selection and streamlined the selection processes with an annual competition system (AD, AST and linguists) and the provision of a reserve list just over a year after the publication of the competition, as opposed to a 2 and a half year waiting period before 2007, while at the same time reducing the organisational costs. These changes have also affected the competitions and selections.
The debate nevertheless remains open on the nature of the tests, which some believe should relate to a more in-depth and systematic knowledge of Europe, to encourage recruitment of staff who genuinely share European values. It must, however, be noted that this knowledge is assessed as part of the evaluation centre. The question remains of knowing whether this assessment should not also be conducted at the time of the CBT tests and how, without turning it into a "quiz" on Europe.
It should also be noted that the streamlining of the competition system involved the professionalisation of the selection boards and the appointment of permanent boards. Looking back over three years, the results have been positive. We should not forget, however, that a hard core of ten board members is not sufficient, particularly as it is increasingly difficult to find non-permanent boards due to the pressure of work and the low priority accorded to this activity by the institutions.
With regard to the boards, we should finally emphasise that the Community Courts have clearly established the distribution of competences between EPSO and the boards and have also clarified the most important principles concerning how they are composed and the male/female split.
On the basis of a satisfaction survey on a sample of 1,800 people in 10 institutions, over 90% of managers stated they were satisfied with the skills levels of new recruits. The attractiveness of the institutions on the European jobs market remains significant. Indeed, the success of the competitions organised by EPSO on behalf of the institutions is undeniable: approximately 30,000 candidates for the annual AD competition in spite of lower salary levels on entry to the European Civil Service, reduced career prospects and the noticeable professional downgrading within the institutions.
This attractiveness is further confirmed by the generally positive image of the EU institutions as employers in the EU Member States (although only the 10th best employer of the 500 best European employers – Trendence), along with the largest companies in Europe.
In addition, it should also be noted that the results of the satisfaction surveys of stakeholders and candidates in the ESPO competitions are also positive.
What challenges does the future hold for EPSO?
These challenges must be seen in the global context and in particular in the context of the Staff Regulations and staff demographics.
In spite of the 5% reduction in budgetary posts in the EU institutions, a large proportion of the staff will reach retirement age in the next 10 years. It will probably be necessary to organise competitions and selections to prepare for the future of the European Union and its institutions, which requires an effective selection system organised by the institutions themselves and not by the Member States.
The other major challenge to be tackled by the institutions and EPSO concerns the geographical distribution of recruitments. We can see today a growing geographical imbalance in selection and recruitment, particularly in the basic grades. Nationals of the larger Member States and the Northern States, where salaries are higher, are increasingly absent from the competitions. On the other hand, a growing number of nationals of certain new Member States, those from the South and those in trouble, are attending the competitions and being recruited. This situation is linked to the last two reviews of the Staff Regulations and, in particular, to the cut in entry salaries and the diminishing career prospects (blockages, compartmentalisation in all categories imposed by the Member States, etc.). However, it is absolutely crucial that the composition of the workforce in the institutions reflects the diversity of European society, so that it can identify with it!
Although the revision of the provisions of article 27 of the Staff Regulations goes some way towards remedying these imbalances, it does not, however, address the fundamental issue: pay levels, career prospects and the professional interest to attract nationals of those countries with the highest salaries. It is clear that this aspect is outside of EPSO's remit, even though for some years now action has been taken to promote European careers in the under-represented Member States.
The other balance issue that must be monitored concerns the gender ratio in recruitment. While there were imbalances unfavourable to women in the past, with regard to selection, the situation appears to have significantly improved: in the last competition, 53% of the successful candidates and 56% of those recruited were women. EPSO also plans to introduce an e-tray test for the AD competitions to guarantee a good male/female structural balance. The Vice-President, Mrs Georgieva, also stated at her hearing before the European Parliament and subsequently that she attached considerable importance to this issue.
Compared to 2002, the Office has also improved the linguistic aspect of the tests (all the pre-selection tests are now available in all the official languages of the EU). It will be important in the future to extend this possibility to other types of test, because although linguistic skills are important, they must be balanced with professional skills in one or more of the basic fields. Both specialists and generalists with linguistic skills are recruited by the institutions, and this aspect must not take priority over skills and knowledge, except, of course, in the case of the language services.
The professionalisation of the boards, with permanent boards, since 2010 is an important step in ensuring the reliability of the competitions and selections. After several years of operation, the appraisal of the performance of the permanent board system is positive, and it seems like a good idea to strengthen the permanent board team, which is still rather small. In order to broaden the choice of the institutions and Staff Committees and to further support this professionalisation, it would also be helpful to make participation on the boards more attractive for colleagues. The institutions must underline the importance of the selection process, which constitutes the initial image of the institutions.
In a context of rapid and permanent changes worldwide in terms of evaluation tools and methods (remote testing, IBT, gamification, etc.), it is important that EPSO remains abreast of changes if it is to continue to be competitive, without prejudice to any decisions by the institutions concerning selection policy. Such innovations will enable the institutions to continue to recruit the best candidates according to their needs and the existing context. It has to be kept in mind, however, that the objective is to recruit genuinely competent candidates and that the tools must demonstrate that they make a genuine contribution to this objective.
One last major issue concerns the selection of contract agents. The Office has also organised a number of CASTs to select contract agents working mainly in the Commission's services and the executive agencies. It should be noted that a year ago the Commission adopted a derogation of the text concerning the recruitment of contract staff, covered by article 3 ter of the RAA. This derogation has been extended for a further year. This means that the services can recruit on the basis of an AMI and a simple CV. It is clear that this situation will give rise to objections and is not consistent with the principles of equal treatment and transparency. EPSO has, it seems, prepared a new system to replace the CAST, which could be implemented in early 2016. In any case, it is now urgent that contract staff posts are filled on the basis of solid, transparent and sound systems. It would also be useful to have selection methods that favour the Commission's mobility policy for contract staff.
It should be noted that the AC staff recruited without CAST suffer discrimination with regard to mobility procedures. It is therefore important to find a solution that avoids creating a new category of staff even less well treated.
In view of the results referred to and the forthcoming challenges, U4U invites the institutions to prepare a formal assessment of EPSO's activities since 2002 and, if necessary, to improve the resources of this Office. In all cases, it remains crucial for the institutions to maintain control of the selection process, essential for the independence of the European Civil Service. EPSO is the main tool for this process. U4U will therefore keep a very close eye on the development of this Office!
U4U participated to lunch break seminar organised by CESI in Brussels on 11 December 2014 on “Breaking Down Barriers: Towards Gender Equality at Work”. The panel gathered Kerstin BORN-SIRKEL, Director of Corporate and External Relations at the Centre for European Policy Studies, Philippe KERAUDREN, Vice-President of U4U, Acting Head of Unit Reflective Societies – DG Research and Innovation, Fiona O’MALLEY, Senior Manager in the Financial Sector and Arnd BECKERS, Policy Adviser, CESI, under the chairwomanship of Viviane TEITELBAUM, President of the European Women’s Lobby Group and with the closing remarks by Klaus HEEGER, Secretary General of CESI.
All speakers agreed that “not much has happened for the last few years”. Despite a general trend of improvement of gender equality at work, there are still quite a number of obvious problems to solve. Among others the weak representation of women in politics (whether in Parliaments or in governments) and in decision-making circles of enterprises and in… trade-unions also. Besides, women still represent, with children, a rather high number of at-risk of poverty European citizens. Crucial in this respect is the trend towards an accumulation of social disadvantages for women along their life course: whereas girls usually fare better than boys at school, the transition towards labour is often the beginning of a long road into inequalities for young women often trapped into precarious jobs with low pay. As a consequence, the difference in average income in the EU between men and women is still 16% and as the inequalities grow over a life time because of the labour structure, the differential in pension incomes between men and women even reaches 36% at the detriment of the latter of course. This means that a high proportion of older women at the age of pension are actually at risk of poverty when living alone.
Interestingly, there was a consensus among speakers (and the chairwoman) as to the usefulness of having quotas in favour of the least represented gender. The issue has been hotly debated in general but also among feminist movements and has sparked disagreements not only on the potential outcomes and side effects of such a policy but, more importantly, on its philosophy and political meaning. It seems at least, at an empirical level, that the imposition of quotas do trigger improvements in gender equality while voluntary gender equality policies reproduce more of the same. That is to say that, like in the market, regulation rather than “laissez-faire” can improve the participation of women to important areas of our social and political life.
Philippe Keraudren for U4U also insisted that this issue of gender inequality must be linked to a rising trend in inequalities in Europe and to the current weaknesses of democracies in Europe. If democracies are still in favour of equality rather than inequalities but if inequalities increase (whether we have economic growth like in the 1990 and early 2000s or a crisis like since 2008), then we must re-think equality and democracy. The exclusion of 52% of the population from decision-making in the highest political and economic arenas is obviously a serious democratic problem. However, the issue is to see whether the current democratic systems can be improved or whether new practices of democracy should be encouraged which could ensure much better the representation of women in democratic outcomes.
A. General considerations on the issue of registrations
Commission officials and agents who have a vehicle registered in another Member State must, in certain cases, be able to drive from time to time in Belgium without being troubled by the police. If they can at least show that they have a vehicle registered in Belgium, they must be given the benefit of the doubt. Alternatively, they should be able to provide evidence that the vehicle registered in another Member State is used from time to time in both countries.
In a previous article, we referred to the zeal displayed by certain Brussels police officers when dealing with colleagues driving a vehicle registered in another Member State, irrespective of whether or not they are the owner.
This article is intended to remind you of the legislation that applies in Belgium as well as to show that it does not correspond with the multinational reality of our staffing situation. The law applied in Belgium is not necessarily the same as that in another Member State. For most of us nowadays, our roots are elsewhere in Europe, and not always in our Member State of origin.
Having made the choice to be the capital of Europe, Brussels also chose to host a community of nationals of EU countries that it must treat in accordance with their special position as expatriate guests. Belgium profits greatly from our presence and it must be remembered that, although the officials do not pay income tax (which is deducted at source and paid into the Community budget), they are an important source of fiscal revenue for the country. VAT on all purchases in Belgium, property taxes, regional taxes, motor vehicle duty and road tax, not including the taxable revenue (VAT, which as we know constitutes the main source of tax revenue) generated by the economic activity related to our presence. Finally, the medical body's obligation to declare our consultation payments also produces a significant source of tax revenue.
That being said, and in spite of the incidents referred to in the previous article, it must be stressed that the Belgian fiscal policy on registrations is not the most stringent. Although the taxes related to registration are lower, or even non-existent, in some neighbouring countries, the Belgian tax regime is about average for Europe. In Denmark, for example, the total tax amounts to 180% of the value of the vehicle. In addition, Belgium grants new residents six months to put their registration in order, which is a more than reasonable period compared to the legislation in most Member States (for example, 20 days in the United Kingdom and one month in France).
In broader terms, the legislation on vehicles covers numerous issues, such as insurance, registration tax, the registration period, the fee for the licence plate, the annual road tax, the resident's parking permit, the driving licence and the vehicle inspection.
While the tax factor is only one aspect of the registration issue, let us not deceive ourselves: it is at the heart of the matter. Indeed, all of the other questions derive from the power of the Member States to impose taxes on a vehicle registered in their territory. This can lead to a Catch 22 situation, for while tax asymmetry can cause some drivers to register their vehicle with the 'lowest bidder', it does encourage a zealous approach by the authorities, sometimes crying foul against the European spirit. As a host country for the European institutions, and as the main fiscal beneficiary of our presence there, Belgium must take account of the circumstances, some examples of which we will see below.
B. What does European legislation say?
In terms of tax, there is no European fiscal legislation concerning vehicle registrations. The Member States have never reached an agreement on what amounts to a "cash cow". The only legislation that applies is of international origin. It is harmonised as it was ratified by all the Member States and is a result of the 1958 New York Convention. The Convention's principles were incorporated in the Directives on temporary imports ((83/182/EEC) and permanent imports (83/183/EEC), although the latter has never been applied to registration taxes. All attempts by the Commission to propose a more comprehensive harmonisation of the tax regimes on vehicle registrations have been unsuccessful. The Commission's proposal to transfer the registration tax levy to the road tax has unfortunately made no headway since 2005.
However, it is standard practice throughout the European Union to require a vehicle to be insured and to carry out a vehicle inspection in the Member State in which the vehicle is registered.
As for the driving licence, a non-Belgian EU national may drive in Belgium with the licence issued by his/her Member State of origin for as long as it remains valid. However, it can only be renewed (or replaced) by the authorities of the country in which he/she is resident.
C. What does Belgian legislation say about registrations?
The Belgian legislation is based on the principle of the vehicle driver's residence. This means that any EC official or agent resident in Belgium must drive a vehicle registered in Belgium. The concept of residence is generally understood, but as far as we are concerned, the fact of being entered in the local records of a Belgian community makes us de facto residents.
Among the exceptions to the Belgian registration regime, an issue that concerns us is the case of a vehicle rented from a foreign car rental company. The rental contract must not, however, be for more than six months and cannot be renewed. The rental contract must be carried in the vehicle.
D. In what way does the strict application of Belgian legislation not reflect the reality of EC officials and agents?
Let us look at the most recent cases.
1. Member States do not all have the same legislation concerning vehicle registration.
As long as the issue is not harmonised, the Member States can impose registration tax on the basis of the vehicle's situation, and not only on the basis of the situation of the person using it.
For example, you are an official or agent posted to Brussels and you have secondary residence in Germany. For practical reasons, you wish to use a vehicle in the country of your secondary residence. If this vehicle remains in Germany for more than 185 days it must be registered in Germany, although in theory, according to Belgian legislation, it should be registered in Belgium as you are officially resident there. Consequently, if one day you happen to be in Belgium with your car registered in Germany and you are stopped by the police, the Belgian authorities will not hesitate to take legal action (a heavy fine, requirement to pay the taxes, or even seizure of the vehicle purely on the grounds that it is not insured in Belgium), as seems to be the general trend these days. It appears that an incidental journey into Belgium may be tolerated, but that is not entirely certain.
2. National officials on detachment
Let us take the case of a French official resident in Paris and on detachment to Brussels for a limited period. If he/she remains in his/her Member State of origin for more than six months in the year, he/she must be considered as being resident in that country. If this person wants to stay in accommodation in Brussels, then in order to subscribe to gas, electricity or a telephone service, he/she must be registered with the local authorities. The person would then be considered resident in Belgium, contrary to the principle of the usual place of residence. Accordingly, if the person has not registered his/her vehicle in Belgium, he/she is liable to prosecution.
3. The loan of a vehicle
The case of a one-off loan to a resident of a vehicle belonging to a friend or family member has recently been clarified by a Royal Decree that came into force on 1 October 2014. In the Van Putten case, the Court considered that the matter in question was a loan and that the prohibition of such a loan was in breach of the free movement of capital and was not applicable in this case (while still applying the general principle that the vehicle must be registered in the country where the vehicle is mainly used).
E. The Commission must negotiate an agreement with the Belgian authorities
The failure to date to develop a European policy on vehicle registrations has direct consequences on our lives as EC officials and agents.
While the rule is that all colleagues resident in Belgium must register their vehicles in Belgium, we can suffer from the lack of harmonisation and the contradictions in the laws in force.
In spite of the free movement of goods, capital, people and services, it must be noted that a vehicle registered in a Member State other than Belgium whose owner resides in Belgium cannot in theory, under current European law and case law, be driven in Belgium. There are, however, examples where the Belgian authorities have recognised and accepted during checks that there were cases of "incidental" use. This being the case, the concept of "incidental use" must be clarified.
In order to avoid legal action and judgments more or less consistent with the major principles of the European Union, and also to avoid a form of harassment of our colleagues, it would be helpful for the Commission to negotiate an agreement witrh the Belgian authorities, with the result that:
1. Officials and agents of the Commission who own a vehicle registered in another Member State (i.e. the vehicle in question spends more than 185 days per year there, or the State in question is the country of origin of the official or agent) can occasionally drive in Belgium without being harassed by the police. If they can show they at least have a vehicle registered in Belgium, they must be given the benefit of the doubt. Alternatively, they should be able to provide evidence that the vehicle registered in another Member State is used from time to time in both countries.
2. All colleagues on detachment from a Member State whose usual country of residence is not Belgium, although they are registered with a Belgian local authority, must not be required to register their vehicles in Belgium.
3. The police must be duly informed of the Royal Decree following the Van Putten judgment*.
It would make sense for the Commission and the Belgian authorities to hold discussions and reach an agreement so that these common sense proposals may be taken into account.
* The Van Putten judgment is not a ruling against Belgium (it is a preliminary ruling and the Member State in question is the Netherlands). Before this judgment (on 26 April 2012), it was correct that the temporary imports directive clearly prohibited the loan to a resident of a vehicle registered in another Member State. This was a case in which the Court was particularly innovative and progressive by stating that it was not possible to impose the tax if it was only a one-off use. There have not therefore been, as the article quoted claimed, "numerous rulings against Belgium" by the Court.
That being the case, it must be recognised that Belgium has been rather slow to implement the principles of the Court (more than 2 years) and seems to have been particularly active since the judgment. In fact, it is only a Royal Decree in September 2014 (just a few months ago) that brought Belgium in line (following proceedings brought by the services of our colleagues in the TAXUD). It is therefore not surprising that, in most of the cases referred to, the police were unaware of the existence of this judgment.
I recently became a member of U4U in the hope that together we could change the damaging situation of the unequal treatment of staff within the services, which is the most urgent issue concerning contract agents.
In a recent declaration, Mrs Georgieva once again praised the dedication of her staff, and the need to motivate them, but it must be noted that there are thousands of contract agents in the field who are left without any career prospects at all.
It seems to me that it is time to ask some pertinent questions concerning such double-talk, on the surface arguing for a high degree of motivation, while in reality leaving a large number of her employees (at least 20%) in permanent fear for their future, the only certainty being that their contracts will end whatever they do.
These questions could be:
• Why is the work of contract agents not assessed and why can the management not show some appreciation? Is that not how a proper assessment should contribute to the improved performance of the services?
• Why are contract agents who have shown over several years that they are capable of carrying out their duties perfectly well required by the Commission to take an external competition to obtain confirmation that they are capable of carrying out their duties perfectly well? The skills tests that form part of the competitions are designed to assess the probability that employees will be capable of successfully carrying out their duties in a number of different circumstances. Is not the best test the one that contract agents take every day? What do contract agents who have carried out a specialised and demanding job still have to prove if they have completed their duties to the satisfaction of the service where they work?
• It is logical for staff who have taken an external competition to be rewarded for this, but should contract agents who are wholeheartedly committed to their work be shown the door without any real career prospects after a limited period of time, irrespective of their professional skills and expertise and their commitment to Europe?
• The Europe of values is also meant to be the Europe of social justice. Where is this social justice when two people can be doing the same job in an institution, but one was hired before the expansion and the economic crisis and the other in more recent years, resulting in a huge difference in how they are treated? Without mentioning the fact that as a result of the staff cuts, the opportunities of recent recruits to successfully complete the competition process and be rehired are fewer than ever?
• The contract agents sign a fixed-term contract, it is true, as the administration wants to provide a specialist workforce to help resolve a temporary excessive workload in one service or another. It should nevertheless be noted that in the services where they are employed, the workload is constantly high. The main advantage of contract staff is that they cost less and can be dismissed if they fail to perform. Weighing our words carefully, can we not say that in this case Europe is guilty of a mild form of social dumping?
• Does the administration take account of the cost of recruitment, training, integration and professional development that it has to pay every time an experienced and capable contract agent leaves the institution? Does it make sense for the administration to deprive itself of a member of staff who has proven to be an excellent worker just because a contract has to come to an end?
I imagine that one of the administration's concerns is nepotism and confirmation in contract staff posts of employees who are not necessarily particularly competent. Would it not be possible to establish appraisal and appointment committees to make an independent judgment of a candidate's file, based on actual figures and performance?
With regard to the overall situation of contract staff, I wonder if we should work with the press to make progress on certain issues; an article on the HR management situation within the Commission would undoubtedly be of interest to many media outlets. It is not so much a matter of washing our dirty linen in public, but it does seem to me that the current situation is undermining the well-being of staff and the positive atmosphere at work. Contract agents do not have the feeling that they are working in a meritocratic system, but rather in a system where an elite wants to hold on to its privileges at any price, without considering that by protecting themselves they are turning thousands of contract agents and their families out into the cold.
I thank you for your ongoing commitment to the situation of contract staff and look forward to reading your publication again soon,
I agree with the claims made in point 3/contract agents, concerning the condition to be imposed that contract staff who will be offered the chance to take an internal competition have been hired on the basis of a list of successful competition candidates and not by other means... which is the case for a certain number of them, though unfortunately with very little certainty involved...!
I do not intend to go into their professional ability, but respect must be given to those who have first followed the rule that requires one to work for a competition, that one is eligible in the Institutions under the terms of this requirement, before applying for internal integration or promotion competitions.
I hope I am not the only one to make this comment, and particularly that this requirement for legality will be taken into consideration.
Thank you for all that you do,
Appel à votre soutien
U4U est un syndicat actif, au contact des collègues grâce à ses réunions sur les lieux de travail, y compris hors de Bruxelles, présent dans les négociations avec l'administration. Nous avons un site web informatif et à jour, nous éditons des journaux réguliers, systématiquement traduits en anglais, nous vous défendons individuellement devant l'administration et devant le Tribunal de la Fonction publique.
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éditeur responsable: Georges Vlandas
équipe de rédaction : Bertrand Soret, Georges Spyrou, Olivier Brunet, Philippe Kéraudren, Victor Juan Linares, Fabrice Andreone, Sylvie Vlandas, Tomas Garcia Azcarate, Kim Slama, Gérard Hanney, Sazan Pakalin, Agim Islamaj, Yves Dumont, Stéphane André, J.-P. Soyer