Going on business travel soon? Beware, it could become Mission: Impossible!
Generation 2004 is currently negotiating the new draft mission guide tabled by the administration, and we believe that the proposed changes to mission rules create additional burden for the mission performer that is simply unacceptable.
The revision of the mission guide rests on two laudable principles: greening and ethics. So far so good: who would be against a greener and more ethical approach?
However, as we often note, the devil is in the detail, and it is rather easy to see that this new guide hides additional cost cutting and new burdens for the mission performer under a thick layer of greenwashing!
Additionally, we question its inclusiveness: as conditions for travelling degrade, only the young and the fit will dare to travel for work, and in practice all the others will be excluded: senior colleagues, people with medical conditions, pregnant women, etc.
Just an example: the new guide promotes the use of e-scooters (‘trottinette’) during missions. It is well-known that e-scooters are among the most dangerous means of transport, given the high number of accidents – including fatal ones -, and rental e-scooters have already banned in some cities – such as Paris – for this reason. Brussels is also considering a ban. The e-scooter regulations change in almost every Member State and are frequently modified, presenting an additional layer of complexity to navigate.
How realistic is it to push staff to use an e-scooter when carrying luggage or their laptop  etc., in a city they most probably don’t know? What if colleagues have an accident? What if one or more colleagues on the same mission refuse to use an e-scooter (as they have every right to do), will they have to justify their choices?
So far, 6 social-dialogue meetings (HR and staff representatives) were held to discuss the draft guide. We are still waiting to receive a revised version and see what the administration has retained from our constructive comments.
Here are some of the critical points we highlighted during these meetings:
- Any ethical and environmental consideration must always be balanced with duty of care and responsibility of the employer to protect the health and safety of staff and to promote staff well-being.
- The new mission policy aims to reduce greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions caused by business travel by 50% compared to the 2019 figures. We stress the importance of taking into account the specific needs of our administration in terms of outreach to national and local authorities and the general public, without forgetting that the most important part of negotiation is often done on the edges of formal meetings, and the importance of establishing personal connections for the good development of projects and negotiations. Is it not the case that at Council meetings (at all levels) swiftly restarted in person as soon as the Covid crisis eased?
- It seems that the elements mentioned above are left behind, while the new mission guide often goes far beyond what is needed and reasonable in terms of environmental concerns, and finally results in greenwashing while lowering productivity. It may indeed be demonstrable that air travel in economy class really is more environment-friendly than in business class, nevertheless we believe that the highest priority target is to cut costs and that this might be a false economy. The same goes for second class in rail travel: in many peak-hour Brussels-Luxembourg trains you will stand for part of the way. We don’t see how this could be more productive, even if you do find a seat in second class: it is unlikely you will have space to work or prepare for your meetings. You might not even have a seat for the whole journey in order to arrive at destination fresh enough to undertake those negotiations.
- We notice that conditions for mission performers are degrading, just as is the case in other areas that also affect staff health and their well-being, such as the office environment (hot-desking in open spaces in a building with no canteen?)
- As a whole, decisions that degrade working conditions also negatively affect the Commission’s attractiveness as an employer (e.g. the long-standing issues in Luxembourg and the newly implemented ‘prison’ clause).
- In general, greening has a cost that needs to be factored into the budgets and some adverse effect on people, all of which must be mitigated and compensated. Where is the assessment of the impact of these new rules on the budgets and on staff health and well-being? How are the negative effects going to be managed/compensated?
- For example, travelling by train is considered greener that flying but: A) it is usually more expensive; B) it often takes considerably more time (longer mission); C) therefore creates additional stress and fatigue. As a consequence, the effects of this shift on staff health and on the costs (and length) of mission must be duly considered: not only for the tickets price but also because it might imply more days of mission (e.g. one extra day for the outbound journey and one extra day for the inbound journey: which may or may not be spent working, depending on the space available). How does the mission budget of DGs take this into account? And what about staff productivity?
- This must also be set within the context of high inflation and rising prices, both of which create additional pressure on mission budgets that are, at the same time, being sharply cut.
- In general, the new mission guide is shifting responsibilities onto staff, who for example are asked to demonstrate environmental awareness. Generation 2004 wonders what this implies in concrete terms: how can we demonstrate this awareness? What is being asked of us?
- Among the important responsibilities shifted onto mission performers is the obtaining of visas and other documents for travelling. Additionally, we understand that PMO will no longer provide assistance during missions in case of disruptions (cancellations, delays, other issues) and individuals will have to fend for themselves, hoping to get the rules right while in a far-away country.
- More restrictive rules are also more likely to lead to situations of different treatment at different hierarchical levels and feelings of discrimination (e.g. manager travelling in business while the “normal” staff member is travelling on the same flight in economy class). Many studies on the psychology of the workplace conducted by specialists demonstrate how similar situations increase job dissatisfaction, conflicts and reduce psychological well-being.
- Some of the new rules mean more red tape and administrative procedures, while an efficiency-oriented administration should aim to reduce red tape (e.g. DG required to approve a mission if more than 3 people going from the same DG)
- Teleworking from anywhere (TWA) and missions: currently the new guide states that TWA should not be authorized if the staff members might have to go on a mission. Generation 2004 believes that the two could be reconciled if generating no additional cost for the Commission.
- While we appreciate the increase of the kilometric distance reimbursement to 30 cents/km, we are convinced that this amount should be revised regularly, at least every other year.
- Hotel deals should be negotiated to obtain discounted prices at least in Luxembourg and Brussels: given that other EU institutions have deals, that allow to protect the budget and make the best use of taxpayers’ money, Generation 2004 asked data about the number of missions and related hotel nights and costs in Brussels and Luxembourg (for purely political decisions some DG and even departments are divided between Brussels and Luxembourg, artificially increasing the number of missions).
- Generation 2004 also requested data on mission budgets per DG and their use.
- Ceilings for hotel prices should be urgently reviewed, as they are not realistic any longer. This revision is long overdue and is even more urgent in the current high inflation environment, where hotel prices have increased steadily and in some cases more that doubled since the Covid crisis. The current price ceilings can mean that colleagues are 4-5 km away from the meeting venue and in ‘less-friendly’ areas of an unfamiliar city.
Let us know what you think: all your comments and proposal will feed our preparation work for the second round of negotiations on the revised draft!
If you appreciate our work, please consider becoming a member of Generation 2004.
 Plus charger, headphones, security lock, additional layers for cold buildings, food (in case there’s no canteen) and water (fountains are getting harder to find in some buildings). Note that laptops were delivered in a shoulder bag, while the more-practical backpack has to be requested.
 Communication to the Commission C(2022)2230 on Greening the Commission
 Note that the Commission also went above and beyond what was originally asked for with the 2014 staff regulations reform, so much so that the European Court of Auditors (ECA) cautioned against further changes without doing the necessary groundwork and impact assessments.