Meeting the Head of Cabinet: it’s all about the money

*Update 09.10.2023 please participate in the Commission survey on the environmental impact of teleworking: deadline 11.10.2023. These emmissions must also be counted in greening the Commission!* Original article: Here are the issues we  raised at the OSPs meeting with David Mueller, the Head of Commissioner Hahn’s (budget and administration) Cabinet (15.03.2023). We are all aware that we are reasonably consistently in a series of difficult situations which require additional financial resources and which put the EU Budget under pressure. But we did get an earworm during that meeting:

It’s all ’bout the money
It’s all ’bout the dum dum da dum dum
I don’t think It’s funny
To see us fade away
It’s all ’bout the money
It’s all ’bout the dum dum da dum dum
And I think we got it all wrong anyway (Meja, 1998)

In 2020 it was largely due to the fallout from the pandemic, and since February 2022 the war in Ukraine is augmenting that pressure. We’re currently facing a high inflation environment, exacerbated by Council requests to reduce spending on staff within the EU. However, most of the replies we received were using the budget (or lack thereof) as an argument. Though we have some doubts about whether we really are saving money or building a new cheap airline “EUnionAir”.  Are these perceived savings a false economy? Note that the time was limited and we tried to avoid repeating what was already said.

social dialogue

Generation 2004 raised its concerns about the fact that the social dialogue has become a social monologue: we are informed of change rather than collaborating. OSPs would like to be a real partner, receiving all documents in a timely manner with an opportunity to discuss and not just to be given information in an information session.

New EPSO model and issues with the AST/154/22 competition

We also questioned the new EPSO model and particularly the issues that appeared during competition AST/154/22[1]. Problems raised were related to data protection and privacy handled by a US-based company. Moreover, equal treatment and technical aspects were the subject of many complaints we received from internal and external candidates, potentially damaging the reputation of the European Public Service.

We requested that EPSO remain fully in charge of the external competitions as we fear additional pressure put on the services that are already doing more with less staff. It is still unclear how the second phase of the new model will look and the OSPs and staff committees should be involved in this process (and ostensibly we will be).

We asked that the new model be in line with the New Competency Framework. We urged that all candidates have equal chances, fair opportunities and not to be discriminated against during the selection process, which should take place in the assessment centres or at home. Importantly, the rules should not change once a notice of competition is published, otherwise we do not have any more credibility and integrity. We requested a financial assessment of the new EPSO model, which is supposed to save the EU budget money but, which will  has in fact, already cost some 600 000 EUR. Bear in mind that this does not yet include the costs for several software systems and tests which are not yet purchased/created. We also stated that the interview phase should be reintroduced.

Internal competitions

Generation 2004 stressed that some staff categories are permanently excluded from the internal competitions[2] such as Contract Agents (CAs) function group (FG)I since the Commission insists that staff already be in the FG of the internal competition. This means that e.g. Secretaries and Clerks (AST-SCs) cannot do Assistant (AST) or Administrator (AD) competitions, even where they meet all the education and experience criteria (this is not true in other EU institutions (e.g. the European Parliament, the Court of Justice, and the Committee of the Regions).

ASTs from AST5 and higher grades have no internal competitions, they have only the certification. The certification is a very time-consuming and labour-intensive exercise for everyone involved[3]  – not mentioning the low success rate given that DGs might have a quota of only 1-2 people to go on forward to the joint committee interview. How can we still justify such an admin-heavy procedure, while we are simplifying the external competitions and shortening the time? This does not make any sense.

Thus, we requested that a better means be found to utilise the internal talents and to open the AD competitions to other categories of staff who meet all other criteria. The comparative lack of career prospects in relation to other institutions is demotivating. We also asked to have an internal competition for the CAs this year and to set it up as an annual process. Also, for colleagues with work experience of 10-15 years (or more!) there should a similar programme to the Junior Professionals Programme (JPP: currently limited to those with less than 3 years of professional experience) called Senior Professionals Programme that would allow colleagues in different staff categories to advance in their careers through this scheme.

Contract Agents

We urged that the Commission be more transparent in terms of publication of Temporary Agent positions and that the CA 3b in their final years of contract be given a chance and a priority. Generation 2004 requires that the quota for the CA promotion (‘reclassification’) be at least doubled every year. We also asked in case the staff regulations be reopened to ensure that the CAs 3b be extended for 9 years contact (understanding the budgetary constraints and the pension scheme aspect). The CAs 3a should also be give the possibility to be reclassified faster, meaning to reduce the years provided by the Staff Regulations.


Due to many complaints received regarding the reduction in available parking spaces and the requirement, in some buildings, to reserve a space (COBRACE). We asked the Cabinet to clarify the situation. This is particularly important where public-transport links are poor or in work.

Response from the cabinet members

Mr Mueller stressed that we are going from one crisis to another and effectively we are in a semi-permanent crisis management. He also mentioned that staff costs (European public administration ‘Heading 7’) is under constant pressure. The priority of Commissioner Hahn to avoid (re)opening the Staff Regulations. It has been a sensitive issue since the beginning of March last year. However, they can reassure us that the Commission will fulfil its legal obligation towards its staff in terms of salaries. Indeed, there is a lot of pressure and issue of attractiveness in some places of employment such as Geel and Luxembourg. They committed to give us an answer in this matter.


Furthermore, the Commission have committed under the New HR Strategy to speed up the recruitment process.  There is no perfect solution. Apparently the EPSO working group highlighted the assessment centre as the main obstacle for recruitment.

In terms of so-called parachutage, they are aware of it; however, there is no rule as such preventing this to happen. Competitions by nationality could be organised to address the geographic imbalance in case it is necessary and no other options work. The cabinet is in direct contact with the Member States.

Mr Mueller committed to investigate the options organising internal competitions for AST-SC and ASTs. He will also check the certification procedure. The JPP will become permanent (this was announced in October 2020 (see footnote 1 in our JPP article).

Building policy/parking

Given the current pressure on budgets, the Commission had to rethink its building policy together with the directors, management boards (OIB/OIL and PMO) and the College of Commissioners took a decision. A justification was given that we will save several millions of EUR. Thus, the building policy is unfortunately here to stay.

Parking reduction is in line with the COBRACE greening rules, and they are aware of the complaints.

Staff rights/pensions/Picard case

Additionally, the Legal Service is working on the practicalities related to the Picard court judgement (change in pension age and accrual rate with change of contract).


The budget is a very sensitive topic. The Member States do not want to increase their contributions, which poses a lot of constraints while support for Ukraine, migration and neighbourhood and the world (‘Heading 6’) must continue.

The future: our expectations

In conclusion, the budget will remain a decisive element in the EU institutions as long as we are in the ‘crisis mode’. Our fear is what will happen once the difficult times are over. It’s looking like we will never go back to working conditions, quality and rights comparable with what we had before. Hot-desking and budget management instead of the human factor will play a more important role.

Despite feeling a bit disappointed (but not surprised) at this short-term thinking, we continue to defend your rights. Not all is lost, and we will not stop making noise and asking difficult questions on your behalf.

Of course, this was an informal meeting without the presence of DG HR, which cannot give us any guarantees, but it is important for us to continue discussing your issues on all fronts, including with the Cabinet and its Members.

Generation 2004 is here to support you, do not hesitate to contact us, whether you need help with an issue or even just to share your thoughts.

If you appreciate our work, please consider becoming a member of Generation 2004.

The Generation 2004 team


[1] Note that at this was pre-cancellation. At this point the AST/154/22 issues were still solvable. The following day (16.03.2023) in the Central Staff Committee plenary, the Director HR.B Recruitment & Mobility stated that of 4600 tests done, 4400 candidates were not unhappy with the process. Of the remaining 200, EPSO went through the complaints individually. 100 complaints were upheld and the candidates allowed to resit the test. 100 were not upheld: the issues were largely to do with connectivity and EPSO noted that 60 of those candidates had not done the pre-test connection. Nine working days later EPSO cancelled the competition.

[2] Colleagues in delegation were also (unintentionally) excluded by technology. The support offered was contradictory (which IT support EEAS or the Commission?) and difficult to access (international phone calls?). We understand that the staff committee is highlighting this lack of provision/foresight to HR with examples.

[3] All those who want to be able to participate in the certification exercise (AST5 step 2 and above only) have to fill in an additional section in their appraisal and their line manager must do the same. The colleagues must formally apply in the autumn with a motivation letter which cannot be in their first languages.  See 2022/23 exercise for example of how it goes afterwards. Of all colleagues who applied, 294 were considered eligible. DGs then made their selection according to their quota, mostly via panel interviews. Of the 104 chosen, all were then interviewed by the Joint Certification Committee. Only 50 colleagues are allowed to follow the training in each annual process and some 8.5% on average will not be successful in passing the exams (January 2023 figures).

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