The 2015 Promotion Exercise

It’s almost done. After thousands of hours spent on writing and discussing appraisal reports, holding endless meetings to allegedly ‘compare’ merits and going through thousands of individual files, the 2015 promotion exercise is nearly over and the results will soon appear in Sysper – only a few months before the whole work starts again. The number of working days required, carrying out all steps of the evaluation and promotion exercise – now theoretically separated, but in fact strictly interlinked, since the report is the main element taken into account – is likely to be several thousand.

And of course, several thousand colleagues will be told: “Sorry, we have not been able to give you a promotion this year. Many of them may have guessed that from the lists published by their DGs earlier this year. But those who have filed an appeal, can only be sure about their fate once the final list will be published. Most of them will be wondering why their appeals did not bear fruit and why they did not get any explanation for the rejection of their appeal either. Again nothing new!

But that is exactly where the problem is. The key deficiencies of the system have not been resolved, only reaffirmed. In fact, based on their reading of current court rulings, HR wants us to believe that we live in the best of all possible worlds and apart from some minor issues that to them are inherent to any evaluation system there is no need to change anything.

That attitude is worrying!

To begin with, it is still unclear, not to say completely opaque, how promotion possibilities have been distributed across DGs. This lack of transparency reinforces our concerns that the probability of getting a promotion differs significantly from one DG to the other. In many instances, one DG will have benefited from generous quotas for a given grade this year while the DG next door will have received grossly insufficient quotas and thus will have left out highly deserving officials. Unfortunately, HR has shown no willingness whatsoever to shed light on the problem and even less to resolve it. But how can a promotion system be based on merit, if your chances of being promoted strongly depend on the DG you are working in?

However, the biggest issue remains the comparison of merit. Although being the central pillar of the whole promotion exercise, its design is wanting and its foundations are shaky. Let’s begin with the design. While the architects surely had something grand in mind – after all, who could be against the idea of promoting only those who have demonstrated their merits? – They forgot to put in the plumbing and the grid.

For instance reporting offices do not receive any tools for, or guidance on how, quantifying merit in a way that allows for a meaningful and reproducible comparison across colleagues. For instance, the Statute leaves no doubt that your responsibilities should matter. But how do you know how they are compared with those of other officials in your grade, or whether and to what extent they exceed those of all compared officials? There are no job descriptions which differentiate between grades and make possible such a comparison, no classifications of tasks, no grids indeed. Under the 2004 statute at least, the administration was still obliged to produce something like that but (to our knowledge) never did. In the 2014 reform the obligation was conveniently scrapped.

As to the foundations, it’s worth remembering that the current system calls for an institution-wide comparison of merit. What it does in practice is to relegate the task to DGs. However, even at DG level there is no evidence of any real comparison of merit including the three criteria included in Art. 45 of the Staff Regulations, which reports, use of languages and level of responsibilities. At the best of times, the language of the appraisal report does not contradict the promotion proposal. Whether and how the above criteria have really been assessed, evaluated and compared across colleagues remains everybody’s guess.

Some sort of global comparison takes place only once colleagues appeal against their non-promotion. And that is precisely where Generation 2004 has invested a lot of monitoring effort. We have been heavily involved in the work of the Joint Promotion Committee and its working groups. We have pointed to weaknesses of the system, made concrete proposals to the other staff organisations on how to improve the system and address at least some of the shortcomings mentioned above during the appeal phase and we will continue doing so.

The elephant in the room is the comparison of merits of those who have not appealed. Did anyone bother looking at their merits compared to those who have been promoted? Most probably not. Ironically, the only option left to these colleagues is to file an article 90 complaint in which they argue that their merits have not sufficiently been compared with those of colleagues which have been promoted this year, and eventually go to Court. Once again, it is left to the Court to sort out a problem that should have been resolved in-house.

But let’s not forget one thing. Even the Court will not tell us how a better promotion system should look like in the end. Generation 2004 will therefore table soon some ideas for improving the system, making it more transparent and accountable to all involved and less prone to individual whims. In doing so, we count on your input and your ideas. Tell us how in your view a fair and transparent merit-based system should look like. If you are aware of best practice examples in your home country, let us know.

If you want to help us developing ideas into concrete proposals, come and join us!

Best regards,

YOUR Generation 2004 Team

20 October 2015