The Link

Newsletter from U4U : October 2016 – n°49

Content :

  • Editorial: cultivating the European spirit
  • The Kroes affair: Sweeping the problem under the carpet is not a solution
  • Mid-term budget review: an inadequate proposal
  • U4U at the EP
  • Missions Guide : state of negotiations
  • Document: Brexit and British pensioners in Belgium
  • DG DEVCO: staff are concerned
  • Accident insurance
  • Readers' mail
  • U4U at your service

Version française

The situation created by Brexit is raising concern among our British colleagues. We share and support their expectations.

U4U's policy is resolutely European. For us, the United Kingdom's exit from the European Union is not necessarily definitive. We must preserve the possibility of an eventual return, without compromising ourselves. The fate of our current British colleagues must take account of this hope. That is why we are first and foremost in agreement with President Junker when he states that our British colleagues are European officials and that Brexit will change nothing regarding their statutory position. This position is in accordance with Staff Regulations.

Taking the expectations of our colleagues into account is something that must be done in a way that respects their dignity. They therefore cannot be subjected to a change of nationality, for example.

We don't want to start dreaming up fanciful and alarming scenarios. It is important for us to have a clear and united political position.

Article 50 has not yet been triggered. When it is, probably in 2017, although this is not certain, part of the EU/UK negotiations will relate to our colleagues' situation. There will be internal social negotiations with the Commission's Brexit task force. U4U will advocate a combined union approach to this subject.

For further information ...

The Commission's response to the Barroso affair was too little too late. In spite of the outcry among the Commission's staff, and indeed among all of European civil society, at the end of the day the Commission only did the minimum required when the Mediator published a report that could no longer be ignored.

When ex-Commissioner Neely Kroes switched to Uber, the Commission remained silent although Ms Kroes had involved herself in the Uber case while she was still in her position. However, it now appears that Ms Kroes seriously and knowingly violated her obligations with regard to transparency and conflict of interest.

The Commission can no longer hide the fact that its own deontological rules are inadequate, ineffective and not applied. The question is political: in these difficult times, can the Commission afford the luxury of providing ammunition to its enemies and died-in-the-wool populists? Can it continue to ignore the anger and indignation of European society? Can it help to destroy the trust that citizens should have in it?

The Commission must react strongly and immediately, using the weapons provided by the Treaties, in particular art. 245 TFEU. Its credibility is at stake, as is the future of the European construction. It must finally revise its deontological rules, asour union asked President Juncker to do on12 September last year.

U4U has analysed the proposed review of the MFF presented by the Commission last week. We do not believe it is in line with the current economic, social and political situation.

The Commission is proposing to redeploy a little over EUR 6 billion of unused budget and is only asking for an actual increase of a little over 6 billion. In total, the Commission's proposal concerns EUR 13 billion, 6 billion of which will be redeployed over 4 years. Part of this redeployment comes from section 5 funds, although the operating requirements remain unsatisfied.

And yet, the EU budget in 2016 is EUR 154 billion. Over 4 years, total credit amounts to EUR 616 billion. The Commission is therefore proposing an increase of only EUR 6 billion and a packet of EUR 13 billion, 0.97% and 2.11% respectively. These amounts clearly do not correspond to the issues of migration, unemployment, security, defence, and the internal market in particular. This mid-term review does not make it possible to realise the ambitions of the Commission or to guarantee its political role. Indeed, political priorities are logically reflected in the budget and the agreed efforts to prepare for the future. As a result, we see a real divergence between words and resources.

Furthermore, this review has to be validated by the Member States and the European Parliament. How will they react? In short, if the Commission really wants to become political, it should display a higher level of ambition.

By way of a decision taken by the President of the EP dated 13 September 2016, U4U was recognised as a union organisation party to the framework agreement concluded between the European Parliament and the OSPs.

This recognition opened the way to the formal establishment of a U4U section at the EP and the official participation of U4U in the social dialogue. We will also be present during the next professional elections at the EP.

We will soon be organising a meeting with our members at the EP.

Let's not forget that this recognition comes after the creation of our section at the EASA agency in Cologne.

At the beginning of September, the decision concerning the per diem scales and hotel caps is due to be adopted. It has not been revised since 2008.

The Missions Guide is also in the process of being revised within the framework of social negotiations. The new text states, in particular, that "the supervisor may require the interested party to use methods that optimise cost effectiveness, even when the Guide authorises more expensive methods". The same applies to the recruitment organiser. The head of mission can therefore be required to change airline, hotel or arrival/departure times to reduce per diem expenses, even if the head of mission is following the Guide's thresholds and the offer comes from a travel agency approved by the EC.

Concerned about this requirement, U4U has obtained an agreement from the administration during the ongoing negotiations to introduce the concept of a duty of care on the part of the supervisor in the control he implements over the mission presented for his appraisal. Let us hope that this principle will prevail when necessary. Intended to restrain over-zealous organisers, this principle of care is in line with the endeavours of the VP to encourage the reconciliation between private and working life and promote fit@work, which after all stands for well-being in the workplace.

U4U also wants to dispose of the requirement to seek out cheaper methods when the Guide's rates and other conditions are being complied with, fearing that over-zealous supervisors and organisers will impose disagreeable mission conditions in the pretext of respecting cost effectiveness. It is enough to say, as is already the case, that the principle of cost effectiveness must be taken into consideration, as it is sufficient in itself. The requirement maintained in the draft text by the DG HR is patronising.

During these hard times in which the administration is watching every cent to the detriment of the smooth functioning of the services, without mentioning the well-being of colleagues, it would be a good idea for the example to come from the top. Our leaders should be eager to set an example. You can be sure that a list will be published tomorrow of brave commissioners or directors-general who have used a low-cost company, for example, in their work-related travel, knees under their chin, disturbed by hours of adverts while they prepare their briefings and try to talk with their colleagues, to whom they will certainly never have been closer.

Once more, the quest for savings is being made on the backs of the same people, by further cutting back on our living conditions at work. By seeking to counter a few wrongdoings (the fault of the foot soldiers? Doubtful, given the fact that inspections of the process of organising missions have been going on for years…), the administration is establishing a coercive system that punishes everyone else.

The result of the United Kingdom's referendum of 23 June 2016 has caused concerns among numerous British pensioners who are resident in Belgium. Before addressing the nature of these concerns in more detail, we need to make two observations:

·         in legal terms, the UK's exit from the EU will not take place until the end of the negotiations (in theory in two years) under the terms of Article 50 of the EU Treaty. The start of this period depends on when the UK triggers Article 50.

·         the rights and obligations of pensioners resulting from the Staff Regulations of EU officials and other agents do not depend on their nationality, but purely on their status as officials and other agents of the EU. However, the country of residence can play a role.

For pensioners of British nationality who are resident in Belgium, the UK's exit from the EU therefore affects neither their statutory rights nor their pension.

The funding of these pensions is already guaranteed by the salary and employer contributions withheld during their working lives (Art. 83, § 2 of the Staff Regulations). The pensions are paid from the EU budget and guaranteed collectively by the Member States (Art. 83, § 1 of the Staff Regulations). The pensions are adjusted simultaneously with salaries (Art. 82, § 2 of the Staff Regulations). The pensions are taxed by withholding at source in favour of the EU budget in accordance with a regulation based on Article 12 of protocol no. 7 (privileges and immunities of the European Union) annexed to the EU Treaty. Within the EU, these pensions are not subject to national tax.

Sickness insurance cover is still available to retired officials (Art. 72, § 2 of the Staff Regulations), whose contributions account for one third of this cover (Art. 72, § 1, para. 4 of the Staff Regulations), the remaining two thirds being payable from the EU budget. Obviously, this right also applies to British pensioners resident in Belgium.

In theory, these statutory rights apply, with slight variations, to all EU Member States. However, at the point when the UK leaves the EU (i.e. in theory, after the two years provided for by Article 50 of the EU Treaty have expired), those pensioners resident in the UK will be in a "third country". The UK section of the AIACE has has summarised the problems which could also arise in the UK.

Finally, it seems relevant to mention another problem that could arise in the long run for British pensioners resident in Belgium. At present, these pensioners reside in Belgium as EU citizens. Once the UK has left the EU, this residence qualification will disappear. Although it appears unlikely that this change will cause a serious problem in Belgium, it seems sensible to address this problem in due course with the help of the Commission and the authorities in the Kingdom of Belgium.

Article by Ludwig Schubert.

The DG DEVCO, responsible for international cooperation and development policies, has more than 3,300 staff, around 1,000 of whom are officials, almost 900 contract agents and over 1,200 other members of staff (including local agents in Commission delegations abroad). It was the subject of reorganisation in 2015 and is divided over three buildings in Brussels. The DG is trying to improve staff working conditions by concluding an agreement with the OIB in April 2016 for the extensive refurbishment of LOI 41 and a concentration of staff in two buildings.

The DG DEVCO's tasks are very political as it defines and manages the EU's development policy worldwide at a political level (defining the "post-Cotonou" approach for the ACP countries in particular) and that of development aid through fund management, particularly the European Development Fund (with more than 30 billion Euros over the period 2014-2020). In other words, these cases are mostly political and fascinating, combining geostrategy, diplomacy and Community fund management.

However, in the Commission's satisfaction surveys in 2014, the DG DEVCO produced some worrying results. 56% of the staff of DEVCO Brussels (49% for DEVCO delegations) stated that their DG compared very favourably or favourably with the "ideal workplace", compared to the average across the Commission which was 63%. 67% of the staff of DEVCO Brussels (57% of DEVCO delegation) considered themselves satisfied or very satisfied to work at the Commission, with an average of 72% across the Commission. The staff recruitment level (composite indicator with seven factors) fell from 67 to 60 points between 2013 and 2014 (for the whole of the Commission it fell from 71 to 35 points). Although some of these scores indicate an improvement over the 2013 survey, they remain markedly below the average scores for the Commission, especially in the delegations. One certain point of satisfaction is that the participation in the 2014 survey was one of the highest in the Commission (68%), which shows the commitment of DG DEVCO staff to expressing their opinion.

At the beginning of 2016, U4U visited the DG DEVCO in Brussels on several occasions to inform staff of developments in the human resources policy under the Juncker Commission and to "take the pulse" of its staff through direct contact and try to identify any problems. The following issues arose, and without being able to say that they are common to all of the DG DEVCO, they nevertheless reflect the reality in several units or departments:

1.    There is a fairly widespread feeling that the strong policy of development expertise outsourcing renders the DG toothless. This leads to a paradox where the most interesting work of substance is given to external consultants, while members of DEVCO staff are more concerned with procedures. This results in a regular loss of professional competencies, which in turn contributes to continued outsourcing and a concentration on the purely bureaucratic elements of the development policy. Colleagues tell of the major political uncertainties of the DG: where are we going and what are the principal directions for the future, as attested by the current discussion on the Post-Cotonou agreements?

2.    Numerous questions are being asked among the contract agents (CAs). In addition to the recurrent problems concerning the difficult planning of six years for the CAs (the DG uses the system of 5 contracts in 6 years, i.e. 1 + 2 + 1 + 1 + 1 year for budget reasons), the lack of evaluation, and problems renewing contracts, there is a general feeling that the CAs are frequently used to do the same permanent work as the officials, and even to compensate for the loss of permanent posts. Hence the feeling of a certain "exploitation", particularly when a GFIV does exactly the same job as a wrongly used AD 13, to give an often-quoted example.

3.    The poor career and mobility prospects for AST grades is another frequent matter of concern at DEVCO. Numerous AST colleagues have the feeling that neither the Commission nor their management are interested in them, hence a certain disappointment with regard to the ambitions they had for their careers. Nevertheless, the DG DEVCO has an active policy in terms of certification and manages to place several AST colleagues in certification, although there are still some critics of the choice of staff called for certification.

4.    Return from delegation in difficult conditions is a recurrent topic. The DG DEVCO always has difficulty finding pertinent posts for those coming from delegations. Some colleagues have even had to look for their posts themselves or have discovered by chance that a post had been found for them, without any consultation with them. It goes without saying that the current policy of staff cuts has made the problem much worse.

5.    A rumour about the renovation of the rue de la Loi building and the creation of an "open space" has caused a wave of panic at DEVCO. Although the use of open space is supposed to be limited to the IT functions at the DG DEVCO, this simple fact also reveals that staff can rapidly feel threatened by new initiatives: it seems that after the reform of Staff Regulations, which had only negative results, the salary freeze for several years, the substantial job cuts and the reorganisations whose logic is often incomprehensible, as well as initiatives such as fitAtWork whose impact appears very limited, staff remain cautious. At the level of each DG, including DG DEVCO, it is therefore not easy to regain locally a trust largely lost by a disappointing, and sometimes even threatening, central HR policy.

6.    The 2014 satisfaction survey was followed up by an information exchange policy to try to identify ways to improve the lives of staff at the DG DEVCO. There has been a real follow-up by the DG DEVCO, with innovative actions for well-being and to improve staff recruitment. Some people, however, are wondering about the actual scope of these initiatives.

In accordance with article 73 of the Staff Regulations, the accident insurance contracted by the Commission, to which staff contribute 0.1% of their basic salary, also covers accidents away from work. In this context, medical costs remaining payable by the member (after reimbursement by JSIS) would be fully reimbursed, as would other costs that could be incurred as a result of the accident.

You need to submit your file to the PMO.

Les relations de l'ex-Président Barroso avec Goldman Sachs, pendant le temps qu'il était encore à la tête de notre institution, ont reçu une vaste couverture à tonalité critique par la presse européenne.

Beaucoup d'accusations sont adressées non seulement au manque d'éthique de Monsieur Barroso, mais également au mode de fonctionnement des institutions européennes, et à la fonction publique européenne. Ces accusations portent, en général, sur le fait que la Commission serait devenue une organisation peu transparente, arrogante, sourde aux inquiétudes des citoyens mais très à l'écoute des désirs des lobbies les plus forts. Selon les critiques, l'Europe serait un édifice peu démocratique, dans lequel on applique des traités incompréhensibles et des régles non démocratique, dictées par la loi du plus fort. Les dirigeants européens seraient guidés par les mêmes valeurs que les serviteurs des groupes économiques, visant uniquement augmenter le profit des actionnaires.

Monsieur Barroso s'est défendu. Sa ligne de défense devant la presse s'est basée sur les éléments suivants:

  • Il n'a transgressé aucun règlement;
  • Il est normal pour la Commission Européenne d'écouter toutes les parties intéressés et donc ses entretiens avec Goldman Sachs seraient tout à fait normaux.
  • Goldman Sachs est une institution respectable.

En plus, il se considère discriminé, parce qu'il n'est pas citoyen d'un pays riche mais plutôt d'un pays pauvre.

Il est clair que l'attitude de Monsieur Barroso, aussi bien que ses déclarations récentes ont fait d'énormes dégâts à l'image de l'Union Européenne. Elles sont des munitions importantes pour tous les populistes intéressés uniquement à attaquer et détruire le projet européen.

Cependant, la grande majorité des fonctionnaires de la Commission ont une vision, des valeurs et une conduite assez différentes de Monsieur Barroso. Ils savent qu'au moment où ils sont devenus fonctionnaires, ils ont conclu un contrat avec l'intérêt public. Ils se sont engagés à le défendre. Ils savent que pendant toute leur vie professionnelle ils doivent bien discerner ce qu'il est l'intérêt général et ce qui est la position des groupes de pression qui souhaitent faire valoir leur position et défendre leurs actionnaires.

Il est clair que les services de la Commission pouvait écouter la position de Goldman Sachs dans le cadre des initiatives de la Commission dans le secteur bancaire. Ce n'est pas ça le problème. Le problème est que Goldman Sachs a obtenu la clé pour l'accès direct au Président de la Commission. Bien sûr, cette clé n'a pas été accessible à d'autres organisations du secteur financier et non plus à des organisations défendant des causes d'intérêt général. Cette clé a eu un prix.

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

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

Already a member? Upgrade from our subscription membership of €15 per year to a support membership 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 membership, 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

Manuela Alfe (Executive Agencies)
Fabrice Andreone (General Affairs, information, legal issues),
Ute Bolduan (Outside Union)
Trémeur Denigot (GUDEE, co-editor of Education européenne),
Pierre-Alexis Feral (institutional Affairs)
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)
Pierre Loubières (ICE),
Petros Mavromichalis (EEAS HQ)
Sazan Pakalin (Ispra),
Gregor Schneider (Regulatory Agencies)
Kim Slama (Statutory affairs)
Bertrand Soret (EEAS DEL),
Georges Spyrou (European Schools),
Brunhilde Thelen (relations with USHU)
Catherine Vieilledent-Monfort (relations avec le monde associatif européen)
Sylvie Vlandas (Affaires générales et budgétaires)
Carmen Zammit (issues concerning the post 2004 reform).

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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, Kim Slama, Gérard Hanney, Sazan Pakalin, Agim Islamaj, Yves Dumont, Stéphane André, J.-P. Soyer  

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