Cucumbers and grapes

JUNE 2014 – Cucumbers and grapes: How we should use the promotion system to strengthen fairness, reward performance and reduce inequality in the EU institutions

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Come spring and summer it is again promotion time in the EU institutions. This year’s promotion exercise is the first one under the new Staff Regulations. From 2014 staff with high grades (AD12-AD13 and AST9) can benefit from promotions only through nominations. However, somewhat paradoxically, the promotion rates specified in Annex IB of the staff regulation still apply, also to these high grades. This means that on the basis of these fixed percentages applied to the reference population of staff, specific promotion quotas are allocated to these grades (really it is “a bit” complicated than that, but we’re sure you get the picture…).

Promotions are a scarce resource and efficient use thereof is extremely important for the sustainability of the EU institutions. As regards the above, this will be determined by one important choice DG HR has to make this year: DG HR can either grant the status of advisors/senior assistants to several hundred colleagues during the summer on a totally artificial basis just because these colleagues happen to be in the right grade at the right time; OR it can decide to cascade theses quotas to benefit the career-development of low grade colleagues, ostensibly those penalised by the 2004 reform.

Based on our calculation (see newsletter 6/2014 for details), 530 promotions would be available for ADs and 60 promotions would be available for ASTs. Here is a real, tangible opportunity to reduce the divisions among staff rather than continue to increase this divide even further by artificially creating new advisor/senior assistant positions which nobody really needs for a lucky few and which are totally disconnected from any considerations of merit and fairness. NO “needs-based” analysis has been conducted by DG HR in this sense as far as we know; if it has – let us see it! In other words and to use our favorite animal allegory: DG HR should ‘squeeze the Camel’ rather than pulling the poor animal to pieces.

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The career pattern in the EU institutions is strikingly comparable to a two-hump camel, when ideally it should look like a dromedary!

In practice, this process could be carried out during the appeals phase of the promotion exercise by increasing the quotas of promotions available to the Joint Promotion Committee (foreseen to be 4% of the total number of promotions this year). A more elaborate exercise could be proposed for subsequent years. When taking the decision on which avenue to go down, DG HR should consider that it would be extremely unwise in the current climate to create artificial advisor/senior assistant posts to help non-management staff with end of career grades into even higher grades, signaling to the legislator and the public that it has immediately found a creative loophole to get around the recently-concluded staff regulation reform and continue to promote people in non-management positions into AD13 and beyond.

It would be equally important to seek an inter-institutional agreement to prevent the institutions from competing with each other in creating an inflationary number of artificial advisory posts; and it should also keep in mind that:

1. promotions to very high grades are costly promotions not only in terms of salaries but particularly in terms of creating huge(r) future pension liabilities which are effectively paid out of the EU’s administration budget; 2. that the average recruitment age to the Commission is now 35 (even higher for ADs) with prior relevant professional experience not recognised at all;
3. that it is necessary to catalyse talent in the AD5-AD8 segment to move into higher grades in order to enable them to take over management positions in the next 5 to 10 years when many of these positions will be vacated; it is also necessary to enable deserving ASTs to reach grades where they can apply for certification;
4. that the ongoing internal competition exercise, that really appears to have been organised mainly to allow for a continuation of the unsavoury parachutage practice, will cannibalise promotions in the receiving grades;
5. that last but not least, the EU civil service should be based on a reward system that promotes fairness and cooperation rather than inequality and discord as the former is positively correlated to staff motivation at individual level and performance and productivity at the system level.

To illustrate this point in an entertaining but scientifically sound way, we would suggest looking at this TED presentation by Dutch primatologist Frans de Waal on two monkeys being paid unequally for their services. We suggest making this compulsory for management training seminars :-).

To sum up: DG HR should use the current promotion exercise as a window of golden opportunity to start tackling a problem that has been consistently pointed out by Generation 2004 and the increasing democratic endorsement by colleagues thereof, and by now also recognised to some measure by the Commission itself as well as most of the existing staff unions. Generation 2004 calls upon DG HR to give priority to the cascade mechanism thereby compensating for persistent and widening career inequalities created by the 2004 reform and its botched implementation. Promotions are an essential key to do this legally within the framework of the new staff regulation. This before it is too late and the system becomes so lopsided that it cannot be fixed anymore with all the short- and long-term consequences which that would entail.

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