Modernisation of HR: the experiment goes on

Once upon a time, there was an administration which struggled to reform and modernise…

Let us take a trip back in time. The main character of our story is the EU Commission. The year is 2002. The drive for administrative reform after the resignation of the Santer Commission has already given birth to the Kinnock Reform programme enshrined in the White paper of 2000. Put aside the well-known dramatic consequences for the new recruits and the fragmentation of the workforce, this reform also suggested a decentralisation for the administrative and financial services of the Commission. The underlying idea was that such a decentralisation would lead to modernisation and more efficient use of resources.

Coming back from our trip in time and reading a document from 2015 announcing the so-called HR modernisation process, we read that the Commission administrative (HR) services will be centralised to achieve modernisation and more efficient use of resources!

Well, yes, a U-turn in policy based… on the same arguments 15 years later!

From the onset Generation 2004 reacted, with a letter to Mrs Georgieva, the Commissioner for Human resources at the time. We expressed our fear that the project was badly prepared and that we expected it to lead to the opposite effect: less efficient use of resources. What followed was … nothing. Put aside the fact that the Commission demonstrated once again its notorious approach of “Hear me what I say, don’t look at what I do“, it now appears that we were right. Once again, the Commission let a long-term policy fall victim of the needs for short term financial savings.

At this stage, the main result of the project is irritation for colleagues who do not know anymore who is responsible for what and an unbearable workload for the members of the AMC teams. Indeed, there is still ambiguity about the distribution of responsibilities between AMCs, business correspondents and corporate HR. There is a multiplication of communication chains and increased complexity of procedures. There is a lack of internal guidance, manuals and coaching. The proximity and specialisation of the service is lost, etc., etc…

On the positive side, DG HR still accepts to regularly discuss the project with staff representatives. One of the latest events of this kind was a series of bilateral meeting at the end of 2017 between Mr Magenhann, DDG of HR and representative trade unions/associations, including Generation 2004. Generation 2004 used the opportunity to explain all its concerns and arguments to Mr Magenhann. We conveyed to him that we considered the justification for the current exercise rather slim and bearing a hidden agenda for cutting posts, in particular in the AST category. Further on, we presented the main problematic issues based on first-hand feedback from staff (both users of HR services and AMC teams). We were positively surprised to find out that Mr Magenhann was well aware of the main problematic issues. There was an apparent willingness to search for workable solutions such as: cutting the length of some procedures and limiting the number of actors involved as well as putting in place clear guidelines and competence distinction. It seems that we can allow ourselves some careful optimism, at least as far as the AMCs are concerned.

On the negative side, things are not improving in terms of application of HR policies across the DGs. For example: vacancy notices for AST/SC whose job descriptions assume university degree and AD9 responsibility levels, recruitment procedures in which candidates do not receive any feedback, consecutive interimaire contracts for the same job and person for years… and many more examples that show that DG HR lacks information or energy or mandate to impose a uniform application of rules across the house.

On 23 January, DG HR met staff representatives for the 6th time for an update on the process. All pending issues communicated many times by all stakeholders were raised once again before the Director General of HR, Mrs Souka, and her deputy Mr Magenhann. The main message from the meeting remains the promise to fine-tune the process. The learning & development and Time management fields still need to be analysed and included in the new system, and before summer the Corporate part will also be launched. The position of Business Correspondents close to Director-Generals was presented as determining the good outcome of certain activities within a matrix-structure (read between the lines: nobody is responsible for anything, this is what DGs have decided). There was one thing that surprised us: the praise expressed by some staff representatives on the staff cuts resulting from the centralisation.

The experiment will continue in the foreseeable future. After all, our institution was never capable of openly admitting a wrong step even in presence of ample evidence. So, the best we can expect is to manage having the machine partially fixed while in motion…


Aiming to get the full picture and to listen to everyone concerned, at the end of 2017 G2004 initiated a blitz survey for AMC team members, asking them to point at the most prominent problems they faced. The replies were pretty consistent and confirmed all our points! 

Because our colleagues in the AMC teams act as service providers but – as all of us – are just officials acting under instructions from the hierarchy, we decided to give them a voice and pass the conclusions of the survey to those of you sending a request to the AMCs:

  • AMCs colleagues are HR professionals honestly dedicated to deliver a good client oriented service but currently working under very challenging circumstances.
  • As a consequence of HR Modernisation, AMCs are currently understaffed and undergoing continuous changes in staffing and procedures, which makes time to reply longer than in the past.
  • While confirming their commitment to effective HR service, AMC colleagues ask us all to send our requests well in time, to make sure the request is sent to the right team, and to be patient and indulgent when sending e-mail reminders to FMBs or to the person in charge.

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