Newsletter from U4U : February 2018 – n°60
This question is beginning to concern the Member States and the EU institutions. At present, the debate remains confused in the absence of a joint policy guideline, and the arguments presented are sometimes superficial, forgetting that in recent years a number of new dossiers were added to the Commission’s work programme, such as security, defence and migration, to mention only three.
Certain States tend to believe that the EU budget is taken from the wealth of each Member State, and therefore lost to them. In fact, it is earmarked for initiatives that are useful for all, with positive consequences for everyone. Above all, it is used more effectively by the EU as a whole than by each individual Member State (border security, environment, energy, research, transport networks, etc.). This situation should be strongly defended, if not by all the Member States, then at least by the most senior leaders of the European institutions.
The estimated shortfall to be made up (12 billion Euros?) in the EU budget generated by the withdrawal of the United Kingdom is yet to be calculated precisely. This calculation does not take account of the Community funding paid to the UK, which will significantly reduce the financial impact of this country’s withdrawal. The figures for these payments/transfers exist, but they are not used. Why not? Do we want to justify a substantial decrease in the budget at any cost?
No balance sheet has been drawn up of the budget decrease decided by the Council in 2013, during the negotiation of the current programming period. This decrease hampered growth in spite of the injections of cash made by the CEB. The Juncker plan, a bold initiative to counteract the fall in the EU budget, did not have the desired impact due to the lack of public co-financing at the level required to guarantee private investors a return on their investments, something they would need as an incentive. A considerable amount of capital is now available (source FMI). Not using this, e.g. for energy transition, environmental protection, reducing inequalities, research and regional planning, would not only risk not meeting the social needs and political priorities recognised as being urgent but would, above all, risk seeing this capital used on dangerous speculative activities.
In addition, the planned reductions – of 15% – of virtually all of the programmes, in particular structural funds, will reduce the counter-cyclical function of the cohesion programmes and weaken a recovery that already promises to be somewhat weak. Such a decision would certainly be poorly received by the countries that benefit from structural funds. The principle of solidarity, which continues to promote the cohesion and therefore the soundness of our Union, would be undermined.
Finally, how could a reduced budget help us benefit from a “favourable wind”, as our President hopes, and face the new challenges he describes in his speech to the European Parliament? Such a budget would also be contrary to the very pro-European speeches of Emmanuel Macron. In his Sorbonne speech, he argued for “own resources” and an autonomous and strengthened European budget.
The civil service must contribute to this debate. It must argue for an increased European budget so that the EU can fully accomplish its tasks. It must also make proposals enabling the European civil service to have the resources to increase its competence and efficiency.
On 29 January 2018, Commissioners Oettinger and King met with British staff at an information meeting on the effects of Brexit on their jobs.
U4U thanks the Commissioners for this effort, but remains adamant that these meetings cannot be used as a substitute for social dialogue. That is why U4U confirms its request to open a social dialogue to address all aspects of the problem and find the best solutions, taking account of all the specific factors (translators and interpreters, staff posted to Delegations, etc.).
The rule is that existing jobs remain valid beyond the date of the withdrawal of the United Kingdom, unless the Appointing Authority exercises certain provisions of the Staff Regulations, such as art. 49, in regard to some individuals.
Commissioner Oettinger confirmed that the officials would not suffer any discrimination in their careers and that he would ask the College to promise not to use art. 49, except in case of a conflict of interest or other constraints.
He also confirmed that the joint UK/EU report of December 2017 allowed for the United Kingdom to continue to finance its share of the pensions budget. This point must be included in the withdrawal agreement that will be legally valid after its approval in accordance with the procedure of art. 50, as well as the issues related to tax (including PPI), non-double taxation, etc. U4U takes a different position on this question: if it is legitimate to ask the United Kingdom to contribute to the EU budget to cover its commitments, U4U believes that, even without such an agreement, it is the EU budget that must cover all undertakings concerning staff, regardless of their nationality.
Commissioner Oettinger also confirmed that the College would contact the Belgian Federal Government to make it easier to obtain Belgian nationality or other EU nationalities. U4U supports this political initiative, while noting that recent case law in the Belgian courts reinforces it. The question of maintaining the expatriation allowance will be examined on a case-by-case basis.
2- TA and CA staff
The rule is that existing contracts cease to be effective on the date of the withdrawal of the United Kingdom, unless the Appointing Authority grants an exemption. The Commissioner will ask the College for such exemptions to be granted in complete transparency and fairness, something we support.
U4U believes it is important that the staff concerned can be certain of their future well before the deadline. It is also necessary for unemployment benefits to be clearly calculated and for tax matters to be clarified, in case of future residence in the United Kingdom. U4U is asking for the exemptions to be treated sympathetically, taking account of the interests of the service and of merit, as broadly as possible.
U4U wants a one-off exemption to supplement the years of service required for pension rights, when there is only a short time remaining (under a year) to qualify.
Likewise, those in the process of obtaining a different nationality could be kept in place for the length of time required to complete the procedure, provided their contract allows this.
3- Staff in Delegations
The Commissioner says that British staff will no longer be able to serve in Delegations after Brexit. He wants staff to be repatriated to Headquarters. U4U asks that those CA and TA staff who want to can be repatriated a few months ahead of the withdrawal date to help them look for a post, with the possibility of agreeing the same type of contract, something that is almost impossible when based in certain countries.
4- Staff in the Agencies and in the other institutions
The Commissioner wants to coordinate the approaches to guarantee equal treatment.
5- European schools
The Commissioner says that the United Kingdom will cease to be party to the Agreement on European schools with effect from the end of the 2018–19 school year. British parents will be able to continue to send their children to school.
U4U wants to see the conclusion of a transitional agreement for an indefinite period between the United Kingdom and the Board of Governors of the European Schools, clarifying the following points:
In any event, U4U wishes to ensure that British children in school do not suffer from any of the effects of Brexit.
A few hundred people are affected by these measures, so the problem is not significant from a financial or organisational perspective. On the other hand, all of these people are experiencing a stressful and difficult time; their situation must be clarified urgently, and they must be provided with as much certainty as possible, as soon as possible.
After a substantial amount of negotiation and a long period of uncertainty, the responsible Appointing Authority (the Director General of OLAF) finally submitted a decision for consultation to the Central Staff Committee. While we appreciate the work of a number of OSPs, including U4U, the FFPE and the US, we can only regret the division of the Temporary Agents [TA] that this decision will lead to.
Indeed, the decision is not based on the previously established procedures for the TAs at the JRC or GROW, or on similar procedures provided for in the Staff Regulations (by analogy, the reclassification of CA staff). Curiously, OLAF chose to offer an open-ended career possibility to TA staff who have not reached a “dead” grade. AD12 and AST9 grades, however, will have no solution nor any means to recover from past wrongs, sometimes going back 15 years. The weightings will always be in place, frozen in the absence of any promotion, for agents without the possibility of promotion or a career, and with profiles that are too specific for a change of profession. These weightings will therefore not be changed.
The decision also refers to the hypothetical "senior expert” quota, while putting TA staff in competition with officials of similar grades who are already in supervisory or senior expert posts and who work close to the senior management that decide careers.
U4U will not abandon these colleagues, for whom the only course of action that remains is legal action. The unified group of OLAF TA staff is today divided by the acting Director General. Responsibility cannot be attributed to HR, which has managed the situation of the TA staff at the DG GROW well, where career prospects have been created for everyone.
The AD12 TAs have no reason to withdraw the legal action initiated with the support of the OSPs. It will be a long time before the commitments of Mr. Oettinger are realised by the OLAF Appointing Authority.
Finally, there is a risk of perpetuating, in the OLAF staffing table, the resources currently reserved for the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) and even of increasing them, by using the quotas specifically assigned to OLAF to reclassify its TA staff.
At the same time, OLAF is continuing to recruit fixed-term TA staff for undefined duties despite the fact that the lists of successful candidates are full of future enthusistic officials. What a contradiction!
During his meeting at the end of February with our British colleagues, Commissioner Oettinger made the following statement:
“European Schools – UK will cease to be a party of school convention, with effect at end of school year. However if UK staff remain in service, their kids will be able to stay in the European Schools. UK hasn’t set out position. Schools Summit in spring.”
If the United Kingdom leaves the intergovernmental agreement governing the European schools, this will have no impact on the English-speaking section and its retention.
The United Kingdom has not sent British teachers to the schools for several years now. The English-speaking sections have continued to provide teaching options with detached staff from Ireland and locally recruited staff.
The English-speaking sections also teach the children of Irish and Maltese parents, who have no sections in their official second languages. When they return to Headquarters, colleagues at the EEAS or the DGs of the Commission that regularly deploy their staff to delegations usually have their children educated in the English-speaking sections, as the “Out-of-Union” schooling usually takes place in international English-speaking schools. Finally, colleagues in a dual-nationality relationship use English as their family lingua franca, and therefore also send their children to the English-speaking sections.
Following a proposal from the OIB, the DG NEAR wanted to make its staff work in "open spaces", without the agreement of the staff and with there being no operational necessity to do so. U4U, together with other trade unions, protested, criticising a non-participatory method that did not take account of operational realities. A strike notice was even issued, albeit without specifying a place of strike action.
After a few very long months, the Directorate-General backpedalled, finally realising that it was better to make changes on the basis of common assessments and solutions agreed by staff. This was a wise decision appreciated by colleagues, as good decisions are better late than never.
Such a waste of time! Such a bad atmosphere created unnecessarily in a difficult situation in which the staff and the institution should be acting together to accomplish the missions of the EU. Instead of conducting expensive external studies, which at the end of the day did not recommend open spaces at the DG Near, the Directorate-General should have listened to its staff.
The content of the new screening programmes was presented to the Sickness Insurance Management Committee (SIMC). On the whole, these programmes meet the expectations of most members of the Committee who want them to be revised. They are more comprehensive and put the family doctor at the heart of the system to maximise its effectiveness. They were approved by the Medical Council on 12 October 2017.
As things stand, section III, chapter 2 of the GIP states, "beneficiaries wanting a screening test must have it done at an approved centre. If this cannot be done at an approved centre for reasons beyond their control, the Settlements Office may authorise such tests to be carried out at centres or service providers close to their place of work or residence." In other words, 80% of current beneficiaries of these tests go to approved centres, a list of which is available on each institution’s website. The remaining 20% freely select a centre or service provider in the absence of an approved centre local to where they work or live.
Designing new programmes that place the family doctor at the heart of the preventive system means reviewing the agreements made with the approved centres that offered a full service (medical history and tests). These agreements expire anyway in April 2018.
In the simulations carried out to understand how these more comprehensive programmes would impact the scheme’s expenditure, the Central Office established a spending increase of up to EUR 10 million per year, depending on the success of these new programmes (figures necessarily to be treated with caution).
In other words, in April 2018, there will be no valid agreements with most of the approved centres contracted for more or less the same period, which will mean that the previously established preventive medicine examinations cannot be carried out with them.
To be able to launch the new programmes as soon as possible while controlling costs, the Central Office proposes to review the GIP in order to:
It therefore asked the January SIMC meeting to open the GIP on this specific chapter. It is in a hurry and requests the SIMC to decide quickly to avoid delaying the implementation of the new programmes.
The SIMC is not opposed, in principle, to revising the GIP to free beneficiaries from the requirement to go to an approved centre. It was more circumspect in regard to the matter of establishing ceilings. Indeed, the Central Office is now planning to negotiate agreements to find an advantageous fixed rate for these examinations. The best prices at approved centres will serve as a benchmark to define the payment ceilings for the freely selected centres. In the absence of a local agreement within a particular area, the prices for the Brussels area will apply by default, taking into account the equality coefficient [coefficient d'égalité] (or reimbursement-level coefficient [assiette remboursable] as appropriate). The discussions should begin at the next SIMC meeting in March.
In the opinion of U4U, opening the GIP is not essential to the implementation of the new programmes or access to the patient’s regular doctor from April 2018 as “beneficiaries can already have tests at centres or service providers of their choice if they cannot go to an approved centre for reasons beyond their control". If the agreements become null and void in 2018, this is a reason beyond their control, meaning that they have to opt for a freely selected centre. On the other hand, the GIP should be modified, eventually and once new agreements have been concluded, to remove the requirement to attend approved centres and allow the free choice option for all those who want it. For U4U, legal certainty is guaranteed. U4U hopes that the new agreements will enable examination costs to be controlled so that they remain below the cost of free choice centres.
Opening the GIP to establish a ceiling is no longer necessary. In fact, the GIP have placed a safeguard in the General Definitions (p.7) in anticipation of it becoming surplus to requirements. Accordingly, "in accordance with art. 20 of the common rules, when a payment ceiling is fixed … the part of the costs that significantly exceeds the prices normally charged in the country where the services were implemented can be excluded from the reimbursement." It is enough to announce and apply it.
With most of the expenditure occurring in Brussels, these thresholds have been known for a long time. In addition, in two file notes sent to the SIMC, the Central Office explains that: "The current approved centres recruited via a broker charge uncontrolled prices (especially in Brussels, which represents the majority of the market), and are sometimes more expensive than the centres not subject to agreements." There is therefore little to fear from using the free choice option. And setting ceilings would not necessarily harm the 20% of colleagues who do not have access to the approved centres, elsewhere in Europe and worldwide.
Although the preventive medicine system is more expensive due to the examinations being more comprehensive, U4U believes that the scheme will have no problem absorbing this extra expenditure. In fact, JSIS has a reserve constituted from the direct contributions of its members (from salaries and employer’s share). If the staff decide to allocate some of this reserve to an overspend (which remains to be seen) in order to have better cover, that is their choice: but they should be given the option. On this point, however, the Central Office appears to have already decided that it is necessary to set ceilings, which would not be without consequences for the beneficiaries who will never have access to the approved centres (elsewhere in the EU or worldwide).
In our opinion, these new programmes should be put in place without delay, agreements should be signed with as many centres as possible, and we will see what the actual cost of the JSIS preventive medicine will be in a year or two. There will still be time to change tack at that point, if the figures show an inflated outlay. That being said, U4U is inclined to wonder how that would be possible, as there is already a ‘surplus’ mechanism being practised?
AST mobility now compulsory at the European Parliament
Last November 2017, the administration of the European Parliament consulted the Staff Committee [SC] regarding its new mobility policy plan for the AST category. To make it short, the intention was to force AST staff to mobility every 5 years, willingly or not.
The Staff Committee replied to K. Knudsen, Acting Director of HR, beginning of December, asking further information for providing an opinion. Attached to the letter, four pages of useful comments and smart suggestions were made. U4U elected members within the Staff Committee supported this letter requiring a different approach: imposing mobility may only lead to disappointment. Some other EU institutions have already come up to this conclusion.
Together with the Staff Committee, U4U agreed that "mobility is an instrument for human resources management that could represent an effective career development mechanism while guaranteeing a high standard of services in the interest of the Institution. In order to achieve this objective, staff motivation is the essential element of such a process".
U4U has always pleaded for including the mobility exercise in the path of a career development. Staff should be trained in the perspective of its further development. "Exchange market of posts" should be organised and the whole system supervised by the DG PERS, who should be able to guide colleagues in their own development. The staff working on HR issues should remain sufficiently stable to follow-up their actions on the long-term.
The requested documents were never transmitted to the Staff Committee; the 4 pages of useful comments and smart suggestions were ignored. Indeed, beginning of January, the European Parliament adopted its new AST mobility policy without more delay.
None of the recommendations made were considered or discussed openly with the staff representatives. The Staff Committee didn't get any answer to its letter. What happened with the last so-called "consultation" of the Staff Committee exemplifies one more time the contempt of the administration towards its staff' representation.
On such an important issue as AST mobility and career paths, staff opinion, wishes and expectation did not count much. For 4U4, it is time to ask again the Parliament administration to face the Staff Committee and trade unions in the framework of a genuine, open and transparent social dialogue. In the temple of the democracy, at least one of the more advanced form of it, ignoring the staff committee requests and inputs is not only a mistake, it sounds like a violation of chapter IV of the Charter of Fundamental Human Rights of the European Union.
Luxembourg : Good practices for AST staff
Transfer of experience and exchange of good practices should be encouraged among EU institutions/agencies/offices. Find below an example of what is done at the European Commission (Luxembourg) where AST mobility is encouraged, framed, guided, helped and not imposed (except for sensitive posts as everywhere else). This good practice should be encouraged.
(extract of European Commission DG HR LUX email to concerned staff)
Dear colleagues AST and AST/SC officials based in Luxembourg,
I would like to invite you to an information session
concerning the launch, by DG HR, of a pilot mobility exercise for AST and
AST/SC officials based in Luxembourg.
Who is concerned by the pilot mobility exercise?
How will it work?
Food for thought….
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équipe de rédaction : Bertrand Soret, Victor Juan Linares, Fabrice Andreone, Sylvie Vlandas, Kim Slama, Christian Tritten, Gérard Hanney, Sazan Pakalin, Agim Islamaj, Yves Dumont, Stéphane André, Ivan Cusi Leal, Georges Divaris, J.-P. Soyer