The Link

Newsletter from U4U : November-December 2015 – n°46


Contents :

Version française  

  • Editorial: let's stick together with the CAs
  • Doing better with the same thing
  • In or Out ? Or Wait and See ?
  • Walk the talk: a talented Commission at the service of a talented Europe
  • Middle management: the Commission's projects
  • Staff: je t'aime, moi non plus….
  • Mediation service report for 2014: some interesting recommendations
  • Prevention: a necessary action for staff!
  • Open forums: Contract agents, a generation of lost talents - Canteens, ill-advised good ideas - the issue of licence plates
  • U4U at your service

Increasing insecurity is harmful to the institution, disrupts services, damages its efficiency. A large number of staff – the CAs – do not yet have career prospects, although the VP K. Georgieva recognises the need for them.

U4U is united with the action of the Contract Staff's Collective. Its appeal has already been signed by 6,253 colleagues. U4U wants the 12 points in the Collective's appeal to be considered during the current negotiations. Better still, an inter-union document covers the crucial aspects. This document, approved by U4U/RS, the Alliance and the FFPE is very important, as it brings together a union majority in defence of this case against the administration.

Although the negotiations in progress have made some advances possible, they are not enough. A lot will depend on the ability of the staff to assert the urgency of some proposals, especially on the size of the internal competitions and mobility, by its rallying and its presence at different events organised by the Collective (a demonstration had to be postponed twice due to the recent political and security situation).

In any case, U4U is acting both within the Collective and at inter-union level to promote staff claims.

U4U believes that to be credible and legitimate, social dialogue must satisfy the expectations of the staff here and now, for the good of the institution and the staff, as one cannot succeed without the other. U4U calls on all staff to be united, to sign the Collective's appeal, to participate in future rallies, as the fight against insecurity involves the entire European Civil Service and all the staff.

Let us tackle the sickness of indifference to others – when we each think only of ourselves and lose the simplicity and warmth of human relationships – by standing alongside our colleagues whenever they need us.

Sign this appeal and encourage others to sign it!

U4U is launching a campaign under a name that covers one of the goals of VP K. Georgieva. U4U is trying to improve the working conditions of civil service agents by using small measures that can make a positive contribution to daily working life. Of course, without forgetting the major issues: talent management, part-time work, teleworking, reduction of inequalities, training, promotions, etc. 

At this moment, 500 colleagues have already responded to our 5 proposals, and their comments will be very useful. We are going to send you these 5 proposals once more, while also developing more that we will submit to you for your opinions and comments, using the same participatory consultation procedure. Thank you for your contributions.

Should the Commission hold its breath waiting for the British referendum? That is the impression we get from the highest bodies. Numerous files are frozen, the mid-term budgetary review is on hold.

For example, it is not possible to internalise security guards. That would be less expensive and win the loyalty of those members of staff, a not inconsiderable benefit in these troubled times. But the Commission believes that to avoid British criticism of such a modest staff increase, it needs to compensate by reducing the workforce.

Should the EU budget be revised upwards, in line with the demands of the PE and believed to be necessary due to the catastrophic economic and social situation of the EU? Absolutely, we are told repeatedly, "in the context of the British referendum".

We think that such considerations will not take us far. The Commission must more strenuously propose and defend the measures needed by the EU. The rejection by the voters, including the British, is primarily due to the inaction of the EU in cases where it could act to protect its citizens, defend its social model and its values and encourage participation in an ambitious project.

"In a changing world, the Union must become an intelligent, sustainable and inclusive economy. These three mutually supportive priorities must help the EU and its Member States to provide higher levels of employment, productivity and social cohesion."
(Presentation of Strategy Europe 2020 on the Commission's website)

Europe needs to develop its talents in order to continue to develop its living standards, to promote its values, to face global challenges and to increase its influence in the world. This statement forms the basis of Strategy Europe 2020. It is also the basis of the priorities put forward at the beginning of its term by the Juncker Commission: increasing investment and digital innovation, improving Europe's energy resilience, returning a social dimension to Europe, all of this is only possible by developing our talents and making the best use of them.

A Commission capable of helping the States and Citizens of Europe to develop their talents and make them work is also a Commission that knows how to develop and enhance its own talents.

Vice-President Georgieva has clearly understood this, as she announced that she wanted to make talent management one of her priorities. She is beginning this project with middle management and the advisors. We are counting on her not to stop until the job is done, to address talent management upstream as well as downstream of middle management.

She has set herself 5 goals:

  1. to target excellence of managers and in this context to promote female colleagues;
  2. to speed up the development of all staff, especially via mobility;
  3. to contribute to strengthening a collaborative culture (which, in our opinion, cannot be limited to an internal communication strategy and launching an improved version of Myintracomm);
  4. to improve staff performance, in particular through better monitoring of staff deficiencies;
  5. to clarify career expectations, particularly for contract workers via internal competitions, and via increased support for planning their careers.

This is an initiative we can only welcome, without, however, failing to draw immediate attention to the problems that such an initiative will undoubtedly encounter. In accordance with its non-corporatist union position and committed to the defence of a quality European Civil Service working for an openly assumed European project, U4U is in the process of developing proposals, together with its members and staff, it believes to be crucial on this subject, ahead of the texts presented by our Vice-President.

See the first document prepared by U4U. We welcome any comments you would like to make.

The Commission is currently in the process of preparing a "decision on middle management" that concerns its 1126 heads of unit, including all grades. This decision is clearly crucial since, as well as the future of these heads of unit, the daily lives of thousands of officials, temporary workers and contract agents will be affected by it. Weakening the heads of unit could cast doubt on their independence and therefore on that of the European Civil Service as a whole.

For the Commission, the lack of mobility of the heads of unit, outside of their original DGs, poses a problem. Inter-DG mobility remains poor, and a number of HU themselves complain about this. However, in the DG families and horizontal functions, there are real possibilities for implementing some intelligent mobilities. The Commission seems to believe that the quality of part of the middle management could be substantially improved.

Finally, the Commission considers that the changes it wants to introduce in the management of all staff must begin with middle management.

Read the file (document for debate) prepared by U4U

The fit@work programme launched by Vice-President Georgieva less than a year after taking her post includes, in particular, the reworking of decisions concerning teleworking and part time work, to improve well-being at work and to reconcile professional and private life more effectively. At the same time, she is looking at talent management and training. She communicates frequently with staff, using all the modern communication tools at her disposal.

Unfortunately, these actions must be seen as taking place in a context of staff reductions, budget cuts and a lack of mobility (apart from forced redeployments).

For example, U4U recently approached the Director General of the DG AGRI (see text box below), having had wind of further reductions required in this DG in addition to the cuts already made and efforts already made with regard to reductions and redeployments.

The indirect response of the Director General (see text box below) sent to staff is a clear indication that above and beyond the fit@work profile is "more work to fit". More staff cuts and a heavy overload of tasks per individual will reduce the impact of all the planned well-being measures.  All that will then remain is the display of capable personal communication that is without results.

For once, U4U would like to be wrong...

Dear Director General,

I have been informed of a forthcoming - and new - restructuring of the DG AGRI departments caused by the need to provide the DG HR with more posts than planned within the framework of redeployment.

This time, it would also involve the restoration of AD posts and your Management would reflect on the relevant criteria to decide on the posts to be withdrawn.

In addition, we have received numerous comments from colleagues in the DG AGRI, especially AST grade, who would like to benefit from the mobility policy, but cannot, due to the lack of available posts, which seems to be a general problem for the Commission following the staff cuts carried out, mainly in that category.

If I link these two subjects, it is because behind some posts, there are people seriously affected by these cuts and restructurings, especially by the resulting lack of professional opportunities.

As a matter of principle, U4U is never opposed to change. However, it would like to see this implemented with the greatest possible transparency, which is an expression of respect for a mature workforce that provides our institution with magnificent service, particularly since the recent job cuts have not slowed down the increase in the workload. It is important that all the tools, and training in particular, are used to manage resources as humanely and efficiently as possible.

Georges Vlandas

Communication from the DG:

Dear colleagues,

I am aware that some colleagues are worried because they have heard about upcoming staff cuts in DG AGRI in addition to the 5% reduction until 2017. I would like to explain to you what the current situation is:

In his Mission Letter, President Juncker charged Vice-President Georgieva with an analysis on how to further rationalise the Commission's working methods and how to match the allocation of human resources with the priorities of the Juncker Commission. This analysis has started and VP Georgieva recently explained at a meeting of Directors-General that the analytical work conducted by her services to date will feed into a collaborative phase involving all Directors-General.

VP Georgieva's mandate is to look at how to make best use of available resources and to work more efficiently without compromising the capacities of DGs to deliver on their political priorities. It will not entail global staff reductions beyond the commitments the Commission has already made.

The analysis that VP Georgieva has launched consists of two strands: the identification of potential improvements within individual DGs and the exploration of possible changes to the organisation of key horizontal support functions (ICT, HR, communication,…) across the Commission. DG AGRI is involved in both strands. As regards the first one, discussions have started at technical level on basic data and indicators aiming at analysing DG AGRI's organisational structure and working methods, and the potential for further synergies and efficiency. Work is still ongoing and discussion are being held at cabinet level.

For the second strand, working groups have been created at Director-General level in the areas of human resources, information technology, communication and logistics/event management. I have decided to participate in the first two working groups. Every group will meet several times before presenting their conclusions mid-November for discussion with the wider group of Directors-General. The final conclusions will then contribute to concrete proposals to be put forward by Vice-President Georgieva towards the end of the year.

This is all I can tell you for the moment since the discussions are at a very premature stage and the meetings of the working groups have only started. I will keep you informed about any further developments in the coming weeks.

Jerzy Plewa

First of all, this paper shows that the number of cases rose by 7% in 2014, reaching the figure of 347 cases. Most of the cases dealt with were related to relational problems and not to administrative or statutory issues as in the past.

The areas in which the Mediation Service intervened in 2014 were as follows:

• "the entry into force of amendments of the Staff Regulations, sometimes poorly received by staff due to the significant changes made affecting staff motivation and the impact on private life:

  • applicable rule changes;
  • longer working hours;
  • heavier workload caused by the overall reduction in staff;
  • salaries frozen for several years;
  • career prospects now limited for several staff categories.

• certain disturbing administrative decisions and changes in the application of the rules, for example:

  • restrictive interpretations and changes of the rules by the PMO, often related to the objective of budgetary savings;
  • stricter criteria for the authorisation of teleworking or recovery of flexitime, with direct implications for the reconciliation of personal and working life;
  • depersonalisation of contacts with the major administrative services (e.g. PMO) through the exclusive use of IT systems.

• complaints reflecting a feeling of unease in the appointment service or reporting incidents of discrimination;

• the inexperience or tactlessness of some middle management with regard to managing conflict situations, particularly group conflicts;

• requests for intervention in conflicts resulting from management errors;

• support for complainants waiting for a solution;

• reintegration problems after long absences [sickness, CCP, return to HQ];

• limited possibilities to change appointment.

In the context of the cases handled, the Service has to make individual and general recommendations. U4U considers the six recommendations of general scope in the report to be very interesting. U4U invites the Commission and Vice-President Mrs Georgieva to implement them all the more urgently, as they come from one of the institution's services:

Among these, we will refer to the recommendation to adopt a transparent framework for those officials and agents who have been the subject of judicial proceedings initiated by the Commission, which were subsequently dismissed. On this very sensitive subject, the Mediation Service notes the absence of compensation for officials, placed in extremely difficult situations that sometimes last more than ten years, and the absence of communication by the administration with those concerned. Such situations could conflict with the right to be presumed innocent and the obligation of the Commission to assist its staff. Action is urgently needed, as this type of situation increases year after year.

Another recommendation concerns the recognition by the Commission of serious illnesses, and more specifically cases where colleagues are granted this recognition, but refused renewal. It is important to provide full information and detailed reasons for this type of decision, which can sometimes lead to difficult situations. In addition, the Service points out that the four criteria for serious illness must be associated to varying degrees. It is therefore important that the PMO complies with the demands of the Service and conducts its activity less from an economic and budgetary perspective and more from a human perspective.

In conclusion, U4U believes that mediation is an essential instrument that must be developed, as it makes it possible to avoid legal action to resolve conflicts and to find consensual solutions. Our organisation supports the work of the Mediation Service and invites the Commission to implement the general recommendations contained in the 2014 report without delay.

Article 59.6 of the Staff Regulations requires an official to have an annual preventive medical check-up, either with a medical officer designated by the Appointing Authority, or with a doctor of his choice. This annual check-up only concerns agents in post.

The medical check-up is not to be confused with the screening test programmes in the context of preventive medicine and funded by our Joint Sickness Insurance Scheme [JSIS], which has recently changed.

What are these screening programmes?

The screening programmes concern all members of the Joint Scheme, i.e. the agents and their family members who are covered by our system. They offer a series of different tests according to the age and sex of the subjects. These tests are conducted by medical centres approved by the system, which are listed on the JSIS website. They are fully paid for after submission of an authorisation approved in advance.

Recently, the PMO and the medical service unilaterally modified – without consultation – the content of these programmes, reducing the number of tests and changing their frequency on the grounds that they are too expensive or partially unnecessary, all in order to make savings that have not been requested of them. The most astonishing aspect is that the members of the CGAM committee, who have no medical qualifications, have exceeded their mandate by declaring themselves in agreement in principle with these modifications.

A call for tenders was being prepared on this subject. And then nothing. It was therefore with surprise that staff discovered these restrictions, which were not subject to any consultation with the unions or within CGAM. The administration failed to report the content and results of the calls for tender, without checking whether staff were in agreement, an important matter as the JSIS is paid by our indirect (deferred) salary.

Making savings as a matter of principle: is this necessary?

We may also consider the relevance of this revision, and the need to make savings on prevention when the system is no longer in deficit to previous levels. We may also wonder about the poor timing of the programme changes that cancel some screenings or limit their frequency (mammographies) at a time when the Vice-President is increasing the number of warnings about the need to ensure the well-being of staff, in terms of both physical and mental health.

U4U will ask, if possible with other OSPs, for the limitations introduced by the PMO to be revisited.

What is our position?

U4U believes – unlike some other union organisations - that the JSIS is not in danger: following the increase in salaries and an automatic salary adjustment under the new method, the annual deficit will decrease, or even disappear. What is more, and let us say it once more, the amount of our reserve – several hundred million Euros – makes it possible for us to wait patiently for the reversal of the present demographic situation characterised by a higher number of retirees.

That is why U4U recommends as a priority agreeing a contract with the hospital establishments, making it possible to reduce costs without reducing the quantity and quality of the services, as well as a thorough and prospective analysis of the JSIS data.

This space is devoted to articles that do not necessarily reflect the position of our organisation, but that we feel are interesting in terms of the debate required to determine our policy direction

Open forum: Contract agents, a generation of lost talents

The European identity is also determined by its employment policy, and it seems that this has become increasingly uncertain over time, turning into a real tragedy for contemporary society.

Job insecurity has led to an unstable and impermanent life, and my generation in particular is deprived of fundamental rights such as planning one's future, starting a family, having financial stability and facing the future with confidence. Of course, this is not a simple question as it is principally the result of structural economic changes during the post-Fordist era of the production process that is now at an impasse.

But we must first ask what exactly has caused this insecurity? Fear, confusion, instability, the difficulty of building not anly a future but also a precise identity. It undermines the advantages of secular battles for freedom to ensure the emancipation of the person at several levels, from the socio-cultural to the intellectual and human.

We are working for a stronger, ambitious and ground-breaking Europe, but this Europe has become hostage to the rules, which are increasingly a hindrance to free movement of the labour market within the European institutions. When we talk of the workforce that is driven by this project to live and prosper from day to day, the growing differences between staff members are evident.

Over the last 10 years, this institution has knowingly lost skills and know-how. In the face of a Europe that has been in crisis for 8 years, thousands of contract agents have been shown the door. Obviously, they could have entered an EPSO competition, but these test competencies that have no relation to the duties they perform within the Commission, which are nevertheless carried out over at least three years. And yet, instead of trying to assimilate these employees - more than 6,500 of them!!! - the Commission thinks about improving the talents of managers, admittedly necessary, but fails to consider the possibilities of integrating these agents who, as officials, enjoy their work on a daily basis (despite the fact that they are earning a lot less). So, work is a sensitive issue that has for centuries divided and caused conflict between political forces. Nevertheless, in a Europe in crisis, some Member States understood that it was necessary to try to integrate the existing workforces in their institutions: in France, in the United Kingdom and in Italy the governments understood that the economic recovery of their country also involved the well-being of their citizens, and that this was much more important than what was dictated by administrative rules. Thousands of workers have seen their posts made permanent (Just recently, 60,000 teachers in Italy were given tenure).

As a contract agent in service, I would like to ask those who run our institution, for whom I have worked for more than 5 years, and whom I trust and hold in the highest esteem, what is your idea of the future? What kind of Europe do you want? What is the social model you want to pursue and achieve? I, quite simply and with humility, believe that the Commission should begin a productive discussion for these 6,500 agents who work every day with love, passion, diligence and skill. I don't believe there should be a revolution, quite the contrary, we need a project that will make it possible to integrate the existing workers, who I am absolutely certain will be needed by the institution in the near future. It is our future we are talking about, our Europe, our continent, our children, new generations. I wonder about my situation and that of my colleagues who, like me, have only one desire: to continue to work for the Commission and to serve the universal values of peace, well-being and socio-economic stability. The Commission should be the example of excellence to be followed by all the Member States with regard to jobs, especially now in this time of deep social and financial uncertainty. In a world in disorder, in a world where they would have us believe that war is the solution and religion is the problem, it would be better to reconsider what a human life is worth today with the fundamental rights and obligations that go with it.

A British philosopher in 1600 said that work was the clavis aurea (the golden key) of a person's life. I would never have imagined that 400 years later, these words could be even more real. Rethinking the concept of work, rethinking the paradigm of the production and organisation of society is another way of giving citizens confidence and ensuring that centuries of battles have made it possible to to evolve towards a better world where it is possible for one person's dream to remain just that, but where the dream of everyone can become reality. I ask you to consider that these agents you talk about abstractly are not numbers, but people - women and men, and in a single word citizens and workers who ask you, with an administrative action, to continue to have confidence in them in the posts they have occupied for a long time. The US President Abraham Lincoln also understood that in his country there were forces that were more profitable free than in chains. History has undoubtedly proved him right. But to go down in history, you have to dare, to imagine and shape the future, day in and day out for the whole community. You must decide how you want history to remember you and your administration. Here and now, we can see with sadness that our generation of contract agents is a generation of lost talents and resources.

Open forum: Canteens, ill-advised good ideas

What makes a working environment attractive? Irrespective of a management of staff, salary and career prospects that is humane and free of cynicism, a form of social support for employees that helps to simplify life while making it possible to find a balance between private and professional life undoubtedly constitutes the key element to providing excellent recruitment conditions and ensuring the loyalty of a skilled and motivated body of agents.

Social support has had its wings clipped, to say the very least. The services offered to its staff by the Commission are shrinking rapidly, in terms of both diversity and budget. However, we still have the canteens.

Why the canteens? Believe it or not, there are people who ask themselves that question and undoubtedly dream of disposing of this chore of canteen management, supposedly expensive in terms of both human and financial resources. However, at a time when we are moving to forty hours per week and with the fatal shortening of time allocated to breaks, providing a canteen service near to the workplace becomes a necessity, particularly for an employer that wants to keep its staff close at hand. With the change in pay conditions, eating 5 times a week in restaurants and fast-food outlets in the area is beyond the reach of many, even if one works in a district where there are some. And that does not take account of the fact that staff may not have the time; briefly, canteens are convenient.

They are much more than convenient, however. A canteen is a place where you can eat with your colleagues. People talk about work, exchange information, discuss European affairs, build interpersonal relationships and develop "corporate building", in other words the feeling of belonging to a group, which in this case is our administration. We strengthen our membership at its spiritual and functional core. These contacts and relationships are crucial to working together and the feeling of belonging. Eating together is a communication tool in the same way as team building or the internal press.

Eating, in addition to its vital function, is a pleasurable experience. And people who are happy with what they eat and who are properly nourished will focus more effectively on their work. Numerous studies prove this: eating well is a key factor in good physical and mental health. A healthy workforce is beneficial to any employer. From this perspective, our canteens are behind the times.

This is not for lack of trying to improve things. In 2011, a petition was circulated within the Commission, distributed by U4U and calling for a review of the quality of the meals served in the canteens, taking account of the production conditions of the food used on the menus (for an environmentally friendly agriculture respectful of health) and for the gustative and organoleptic quality of these foods and their processing, ensuring a product that takes account of our mostly sedentary lifestyle and the influence of food on our physical well-being.

At the same time, the OIB had to renew the concession contract for the Commission's canteens and cafeterias. Somewhere between the DG HR and the DG BUDG the idea emerged to divide the cafeterias and self-service restaurants into lots, in order to create competition between the service providers and guarantee staff a varied offer through competition, supposedly to improve quality and reduce prices. At the same time it was trying to improve the quality/price ratio by encouraging rivalry between competitors in the market, the new call for offers took into account, in a regrettably timid manner, some of the claims in the 2011 petition by insisting on fresh ingredients, a minimum of organic products, better balanced meals, low in saturated fats with less salt and sugar, etc. The Commission certainly did not reflect the ambitions of numerous European public administrations with regard to responsible consumption for their canteens, but it made an effort. The restaurant, self-service and cafeteria market of the Commission in Brussels was subsequently allocated to three different concessionaires.

One year after they started operating, the balance sheet is unimpressive. Let us forget the feeble attempts to encourage the use of organic products, mostly limited to a range of confections in the cafeterias and the purchase of cooking oil (no comment) and focus on the central issue: the quality/price ratio. It was a fiasco. The quality was certainly not improved by this division into lots, and the prices quite obviously increased.

With the last reform (which concessionaires were not aware of when they participated in this public market in 2013), which increases job insecurity, confirms the fall in income, validates longer working hours, conditions to which must be added the cancellation of the €1 discount for the lowest grades, the use of canteens and purchasing power are falling, and hence so are takings. We also need to take account of the drastic "banqueting" budget cuts (meeting cafés, cocktails, buffets) on which the previous contracts allowed the concessionaires a margin they could not achieve merely by operating the canteens. Finally, we must include the space restrictions, the need to move out of some overly expensive or dilapidated buildings, then you will have an idea of the problems facing the concessionaires, who are losing some locations or temporarily closing while changing premises (not including their own difficulties, which are not our concern).

Unable to offset its expenses and, let us not mince words, losing a lot of money, what do you think a private service would do, before eventually retiring from the race or filing for bankruptcy? It will do everything it can to limit the damage. And in general, this will necessarily be detrimental to quality. A contract being a contract, any unfulfilled condition leading to a sanction, a concessionaire who is unable to provide the service expected, on top of write-offs, will bear the cost of the penalties. Simple. Will the strongest take over the market? Will the service continue to be provided? Yes and yes, but the strongest will also have taken significant losses while waiting for the others to fail, and it will be forced to make up for these. Who do you think will pick up the tab?

Do we care? Is the fate of companies that freely play the competition game any concern of ours? In theory, yes (sadly). But in practice? Is our collective catering facility capable of providing us with the service marketed? Is it environmentally friendly, in that respect complying with the policies our administration implements elsewhere, including on public health matters? Does it promote the healthy consumption practices a growing number of studies call for, given that they impact our present and future economy (health costs in particular, if not the cost of clean-ups or collateral damage caused by pollution)? Does it meet the needs of staff, in financial terms as well as health and leisure? Are we in a win-win situation or are there only losers?

How much does it cost the Commission to prepare these calls for tenders and then manage and monitor the contracts? To those who say let's get rid of all that, precisely because it comes at a price, we should ask them to give it more detailed consideration: where will people eat in an area without catering facilities? What will the Commission do when it moves to the outskirts of Brussels for better and cheaper spaces? Rome was aware of the influence of bread on social peace: will Brussels forget it?

How much does a dissatisfied workforce cost the Commission? What impact does this growing dissatisfaction have on the mindset, absenteeism, the unease and illnesses that result from it? What collateral costs should be considered before eventually deciding to do without this service? What impact will it have on recruitment? Which of the best talents will dream of working here if there really is no attention paid to our needs?

And although most of us remain convinced that we cannot and must not dispose of the canteens, when will we begin a discussion worthy of the name on what a canteen must provide, as a service as well as a reflection of the society in which we all aspire to live? Once again, why are we lagging behind the Member States, who take these issues seriously – their connections, their ramifications – and have quality canteens that understand all the problems related to food, its production, processing, consumption, and its societal repercussions? When will we stop imposing on ourselves the law of the economic entity that always forgets to think about the repercussions and their inevitable costs?

In Luxembourg, the Commission has not totally outsourced the Jean Monnet canteen (currently being refurbished) to subcontractors. Its management is shared, and the kitchen remains in the hands of the Commission. Does this cost more? It appears not. And what if we followed this example? There are certainly other avenues to explore. If only someone had a touch of ambition and a vision of the benefits of a properly fed workforce, in conditions and at prices that suit their lifestyle, their working conditions and their purchasing power. Let us stop this grandstanding, comparing ourselves with the lowest paid public servants, as if their horizon were the only benchmark allowed, and focus on the 8,000 colleagues who, every day and usually from necessity, use the self-service restaurants in Brussels.

Open forum: Officials and agents living in Belgium: the question of registration plates

A. General considerations on the issue of registrations

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.

U4U is an active union, working on behalf of colleagues through its workplace meetings, not only in Brussels, and present in negotiations with the administration. We have an informative and up-to-date website, we publish regular newsletters, systematically translated into English, we defend you individually before the administration and before the Civil Service Tribunal.

All that comes at a cost. Help us to meet it.

Not yet a member of U4U? Join us as we need your involvement.

Already a member? Move from our modest subscription of €15 per year to a support contribution of €60 per year.

We need your financial support. Help us to defend you, to propose more acceptable staff management policies and to challenge whatever hits us hard.

To join and/or change to a support contribution, use this form on our website or contact us (list of contacts below).


U4U at your service
Georges Vlandas, Président

Jean-Paul Soyer, Secrétaire général

Fabrice Andreone (General Affairs, information, legal issues),
Jacques Babot ('Over 50' file and pensioners, GRASPE),
Ute Bolduan (Outside Union)
Paul Clairet (intellectual debate),
Trémeur Denigot (GUDEE, co-editor of Education européenne),
Tomás García Azcarate (External relations, editor of GRASPE),
Patrice Grosjean (dossier Agents contractuels)
Gerard Hanney Labastille (Luxembourg site),
Agim Islamaj (monitoring of statutory issues, limited duration contracts),
Victor Juan-Linares (Organisation, proximité)
Philippe Keraudren (Restructurations, Executive Agencies)
Alain Liberos – interinstitutional Affairs
Pierre Loubières (ICE),
Sazan Pakalin (Ispra),
Gregor Schneider (Regulatory Agencies)
Kim Slama (Statutory affairs)
Bertrand Soret (EEAS, HU),
Georges Spyrou (European Schools),
Brunhilde Thelen (relations with USHU)
Catherine Vieilledent-Monfort : relations avec le monde associatif
Sylvie Vlandas (Training, COPAR)
Carmen Zammit (issues concerning the post 2004 reform).

Secrétariat : Elli Sfyroeras
Tel interne: 69 671

Vos délégués dans les comités paritaires

CCR Bruxelles: DENIGOT Trémeur, Ispra: PAKALIN Sazan, HUBERT Lenka, GRUBER Adrienn
DGT Luxembourg : BORG Carmen, GARRONI Brigid
FPI : LIAMINE Alessandro
JUST : DI STASI Marilena
OIB: TOUT Brigitte, PANDUCCIO Antonio
OP : BRITES NUNES Margarida, MIZZI Joseph
REPRESENTATIONS : ACABADO Pedro  (Bureau Lisbonne)
RTD: KERAUDREN Philippe, CM: COSTESCU Alexandru Sorin, RTD Orban: DUMONT Yves

Oui, j'adhère !                   Yes, I join !


Union for Unity AISBL, 23 rue du Cardinal Bruxelles

éditeur responsable: Georges Vlandas

équipe de rédaction : Bertrand Soret, Georges Spyrou, Olivier Brunet, Philippe Kéraudren, Victor Juan Linares, Fabrice Andreone, Sylvie Vlandas, Kim Slama, Gérard Hanney, Sazan Pakalin, Agim Islamaj, Yves Dumont, Stéphane André, J.-P. Soyer


Have your say Votre opinion Our web site Contact us Meet us on Facebook Unsubscribe