DG TRANSLATION: Kids of a lesser god or just the preview of the EC of the future?

Since 2004 the European Union has massively increased in population, number of Member States and languages, and has further expanded its activities in various domains too. In order to cope with this new challenge, the Commission’s administration has increased its staff albeit not in direct proportion to the population increase, thus striking a wise balance between new duties and the budgetary possibilities.

The budgetary effort, though, took a very heavy toll on all newcomers, those who now must sadly bear the labels Generation 2004 and Generation 2014 staff. Our salary conditions, pension perspectives, career structure, precariousness of working status and very reasonable fringe pre-2004 benefits were affected adversely by two subsequent reforms of the Staff Regulations in 2004 and 2014.

Against a backdrop of rising discontent with the EU all over Europe, the Institutions have the ambition to underline and promote our many positive achievements. For that purpose, what counts is the clarity and the celerity of the message. We are all expected to participate in this communication effort but are we ready and well equipped for this demanding task?

Let’s take the example of DGT that together with SCIC ensures a big chunk of the EC communication work in the 24 official languages of the EU.

After the big bang staff increase that followed the enlargement, in recent years DGT has had to contribute to the 5% staff cuts decided by the Commission. However, the redeployment tax applied took there a much higher toll (like in several other DGs) and the cuts have reached over 12 % according to Commissioner Oettinger. Moreover, they have been applied in a chaotic way:

  • Gradual rise of outsourcing to 40 % entailing many quality issues and without properly taking into account the administrative and revision costs.  These days many colleagues spend more time on revising and quoting Free Lance translations than on doing their own translation work.
  • To increase the gap between pre and post-2004 a number of senior experts were appointed on the basis of a “confidential” procedure and with doubtful added value for DGT, but at a heavy budgetary cost.
  • Staff was cut by 12 % but without any cuts in senior management.  In parallel, units have been inflated from 50 to 60 people and mid-management tasks have been passed on to translators with unofficial titles such as “workflow manager”, etc.

Recent declarations by both Mr Juncker, the first ever President of the Commission to intervene at the DGT General Assembly, and the new DGT Commissioner, Mr Oettinger, also responsible for human and budgetary resources, gave the impression that the message was well understood and that the downsizing of DGT resources was to end. However, feedback from staff contradict this optimistic impression and gives the impression that the Commission doesn’t intend to practice what they preach: contract agents keep being hired for core translation tasks that should by definition be carried-out by officials, outsourcing of sometimes confidential documents keeps being common practice, staff initially recruited for secretarial tasks are still being asked to translate, not speaking of ever-lasting and recurring IT issues and questionable management decisions. This should be a worry for all EC staff. In the end, it is our work that is being penalised if translation is not done properly.

In this context, it is interesting to review the budgetary impact of imposing very high operational costs to DGT in order to maintain more than 50% of staff and other resources in costly Luxembourg. This would be the only domain where further savings could be achieved in a DG that has suffered unethical segregation practices at the expense of the 9 languages that joined back in 2004. Reviewing the heavy hierarchical structure of DGT would also be a good option.

On a larger scale, we wonder if – like DGT – the Commission of the future is really bound to become a working place with plethoric management, with reduced working staff, against a backdrop of endless social dumping and precariousness, with intermittingly functioning IT tools, and vast amounts of money being spent to cater for activities split over different geographical locations.

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