New HR Strategy – Modernisation or opportunism? The European Green Deal and the multi-annual financial framework (MFF)

Contrary to what we might expect during the COVID-19 health crisis, DG HR is moving forward with its “new HR strategy” regardless. Although for Generation 2004 it is unclear what the concrete improvements of the previous HR reform launched by Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva were: the most visible outcome was the creation of centralised AMCs. According to DG HR, the past staff surveys should provide quite a good understanding of that HR reform: now that is an innovative way to do an assessment of a policy, one could say. With this new reform, combined with the special circumstances we are now going through, what is already clear is that we will not be returning to the “old normal”.

During the meeting between DH HR and the Staff Representation on the new HR strategy, Director-General Gertrud Ingestad referred to a “very inclusive process”, in which around 3000 staff members participated, including senior managers (directors-general), as well as experts from Member States, from other international institutions and from private companies such as Gartner. It was further added that DG HR had already received approximately 320 proposals and ideas. Yet, the staff representation was consulted only after the consultation of staff had already been announced and was already ongoing. Therefore, in that meeting Generation 2004 stressed that for reasons of transparency and inclusiveness, the staff representation needs to be fully involved at all stages of the process as well as receive all information and all relevant documents available.

On these issues, we sent two notes  (Note on new HR strategy and Note on raised points) to HR Director-General Gertrud Ingestad to ask that the consultation phase, launched during the vacation period, be extended beyond summer and at least until the end of September to allow for the maximum number of staff to participate. We stressed also our belief that the staff representation should play a vital role in the whole process which aims to design a new HR strategy in order to represent the colleagues, as it is the stated purpose of having a staff representation.

In her reply , the HR Director General reassured us that “(t)he consultation process on the new HR Strategy will continue throughout October.” She also underlined that she shares our belief that “Staff Representation should play a vital role in the consultation process”.

Generation 2004 is also of the opinion that the HR Strategy of the European Commission cannot be solely based on savings and economic criteria, but should instead be based on the added value the European public administration brings to the European Union project. Comparisons should therefore be made with other EU institutions and international organisations.

Furthermore, a large part of the staff expressed a need to bring the HUMAN factor back into human resources management. The digital transformation of HR should not remove HR further from the people it serves, making it more difficult to find solutions to practical problems.

The basic principles that the Commission preaches to the Member States should also apply to its own HR policies: equal pay for equal work across staff categories (contract agents (CAs), temporary agents (TAs), etc.) and fair chances for all staff, instead of pushing forward policies that are effectively the opposite of this: internal competitions tailored to members of Commissioners’ private offices (‘cabinets’), the Junior Professionals Programme and the recent internal competition which excluded the CA and AST staff categories, etc.

In our understanding, DG HR is already anticipating many measures and reforms, but what seems to be already very clear is that the impact of budgetary aspects (the next MFF Council’s proposal cuts the administrative budget by EUR 1.5 billion) and environmental aspects (see the ambitious plan of the European Green Deal and the findings of a recent study on how to become a climate neutral institution by 2030) on the future of work in the Commission will be huge.

Regarding the greening of the Commission, Generation 2004 believes that the aforementioned published study – which will ultimately be the basis for a legally binding Commission Communication, should be discussed with staff and their representatives. The study proposes among other things the following measures which will definitely affect our working conditions and will condition the outcome of the ongoing HR strategy exercise.

  • Halving the amount of office space in 70% of all Commission office buildings and 50% of the remaining surface is to be redesigned as collaborative spaces (hot-desking, open-plan offices) made possible by increased teleworking.
  • Relocating 20% of staff to highly energy-efficient and low-carbon buildings.
  • Using sustainable biogas for all heating.
  • Reducing business trips by 75% (missions replaced by videoconferences).
  • Reducing the physical attendance of external participants at meetings and events by 35% (replaced by videoconferences and web streaming).

This raises a legitimate question: to what extent will the results of this HR strategy consultation be taken into consideration if the communication is already ready to be published. We all understand the importance of reducing the Commission’s environmental footprint. However, at this stage, the environment seems to be taking precedence over the social consequences on the functioning and sustainability of the European Public Service, and its role with regards to the Member States.

Generation 2004 believes that physical meetings, business trips, events and networking are crucial, not just to continuing our mission in the Member States, but also to promoting a united Europe and strengthen cooperation. For all these reasons, it is our firm belief that we need to analyse the impact of the proposals before they are implemented.

  • How will the “meetings and missions online by default” principle affect our efficiency, networking, productivity?
  • What are the effects of hub-style office space on those people doing jobs requiring concentration or treating sensitive information?
  • The psychological aspects and impact on the physical health and well-being of working mainly remotely should also be carefully assessed.
  • How will the environmental footprint be measured when teleworking? What will be the savings and what will be the losses? Will the Commission contribute to the costs assumed by staff trying to ensure the same quality as in the office e.g. office equipment, supplies, ergonomics, internet access, heating, electricity, etc.? The Commission cannot just offset these extra costs to its staff without any compensation when many organisations are already offering some kind of compensation allowance.

The “new HR strategy” must be regarded as a complex matter and must take all of the different aspects into consideration. It would be unfair if the Commission made a big effort to decrease its ecological footprint and made huge budgetary savings while other institutions continued to waste money, such as the European Parliament with its annual monetary costs of EUR 114 million and annual environmental costs of 20 000 tonnes of CO2 generated through its missions to Strasbourg. In light of the EU Green Deal, this can no longer be accepted, however politically sensitive it may be. The budget covers all the institutions, not just one. Thus, its actions should also be harmonised.

The long-lasting pressure from the Member States to further cut the budget, combined with the ambitious environmental plan, could come at a heavy price – worsening the working conditions of our staff. The coronavirus health emergency might also be used to accelerate some long-time-planned changes under the “new HR strategy” label. However, Generation 2004 will continue to put pressure on DG HR in order to guarantee that working conditions do not deteriorate any further. The European Commission as an international organisation cannot fulfil its mission from behind its screens, with staff in living rooms or kitchens. It is our duty to make sure the European Public Service continues its work and outreach towards EU citizens, whose trust in the Union has increased during the coronavirus pandemic but whose trust in national governments has dropped according to a recent study.

We would like to hear from you on this matter, so please do not hesitate to get in touch.

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