The infinite depths of (Commission) space. The final frontier: the Joint Research Centre (JRC). Its mission: to boldly go where noone (Commission official) has gone before: research, innovation, digitalisation, green deal … Really? Also at the JRC Karlsruhe and Geel?
What happened there?
On 20 May 2021, the general assemblies (GAs) of JRC staff took place in Karlsruhe and Geel, with the aim to plan the upcoming elections to the local staff committees (LSCs). Prior that, the members of Generation 2004 attempted to get the necessary information on how to submit amendments to the electoral rules. What we encountered was resistance, misleading information and the complete opposite what we could call transparency in the entire process. These multiple, related situations that we experienced seemed to be coordinated. No wonder, both are under the rule of one single trade union, which does not want anything to change regarding its position of power and any independent member of the LSC has little room for manoeuvre or opportunity to impact anything. 
What did we request?
Under current rules, a physical presence is required for voting by paper ballots. At both sites a request was made to the LSC chairs to enable voting by electronic means as an additional option. In both cases, the motions for such a change were justified in detail within the current COVID situation, which could prevent many colleagues from voting. Although the current electoral procedure also provides for voting by letter, we feared that, mainly due to the pandemic, the 2/3 quorum might not be reached.
How did we justify our request?
Some colleagues reside in neighbouring countries and thus might face pandemic-related travel restrictions to the sites. Currently only a limited number of JRC colleagues can access the site, and even then only with a preauthorisation from site management. Additionally, the Commission is pushing for an increase in digitalisation. Consequently, we can no longer justify using outdated voting methods. E-voting has already been used in other sites such as Brussels, Luxembourg and outside the Union. Moreover, another JRC site – Ispra/Seville is moving towards an adoption of the e-Vote system for the upcoming elections, which was highly welcome by DG HR ().
What exactly happened in Karlsruhe?
The GA was announced on 10 May 2021. The announcement included neither an invitation nor a deadline to submit additional agenda points.
On 19 May 2021 (morning), a request was sent to the LSC chair asking for an amendment to the local electoral rules in order to permit electronic voting as an additional option. This request was rejected by the chair of the LSC, claiming that DG HR had ‘stated very clearly that there will be no electronic vote in Karlsruhe’.
This obstructive attitude of the chair continued as well during the GA. As there was no formal approval of the agenda and consequently no voting on it, we requested to include the amendment of the electoral rules as a separate point for the meeting.
What followed was a prime example of desperate attempts to prevent any change of the status quo. We ‘learned’ from the LSC chair that:
- participants of the GA were not eligible to add additional agenda points during the GA;
- LSC has the sole right to draft agenda points;
- GA participants were not eligible to propose any amendments to the electoral rules, as this had to be decided by the LSC only;
- motions to amend the election rules made before or during the GA are considered as not in time.
Despite several requests, the chair could not plausibly justify his arguments by referring to any legal provisions.
Consequently, Generation 2004 did not get the chance to explain its proposal and to present the existing technical voting options because the meeting had a sole purpose to elect the electoral committee. That means elections like those held 100 years ago: still on paper only: an envelope, international stamp and visit to the post office for many. Welcome in the year 2021!
And what happened in Geel?
After we pointed out that the GA was planned during European School holidays, it was moved to 20 May 2021. On 11 May, a staff member asked the LSC Geel chair to share the electoral procedure, but the electoral procedure was communicated to staff only on 18 May. The chair did not answer the request to provide information on how to amend the electoral procedure.
With the approval of the (at the time) other 12 candidates of Generation 2004, on 19 May 2021, the staff member requested that the LSC add two amendments to the election procedure on the GA agenda.
The first amendment concerned a transparency measure to include the candidates’ affiliation on the ballot paper. This change would resolve the existing confusion and unawareness of the LSC members and staff on the implications of the affiliation and the calculation of the representatively. After the 2017 elections, a possibly incorrect representatively might have been communicated to DG HR.
The second amendment was exactly as in Karlsruhe to allow e-voting for the LSC elections.
The chair argued against any change to the electoral rules because of their late arrival and because it would need a discussion in the LSC, which would considerably delay the elections.
At the opening of the GA, the LSC chair presented the agenda, mentioned the request for an amendment and repeated his arguments. He proposed to include the discussion under ‘any other business’ (AOB), which would have been after the approval of the electoral procedure. Only after strongly insisting, the topic was added.
During a lengthy discussion, the chair repeated the arguments and proposed to discuss the amendments within the next LSC. Another LSC member also stated that changes to the electoral procedure would need to be approved by DG HR. We referred to Article 1 of the rules. Furthermore, the chair claimed that there had never been organised any electronic voting for any LSC. In addition, the chair stated that DG HR is the business owner of the elections, and that they have to provide and approve the e-voting system. He also stressed that e-voting was discussed on several occasions in the LSC.
Finally, a vote was held in Teams with two options:
- Option 1: Proceed with the current validated electoral procedure;
- Option 2: Postpone the elections, requesting an input of all staff on the amendment for the procedure.
The chair drafted and presented the second option in such a way, which, per se, had the potential to discourage staff from voting for it: giving the false impression that not accepting the current electoral procedure would delay the elections.
As expected, the voting appears to have been strongly influenced by the comments from the chair on the arguments provided in support of the amendments. In addition, most staff were unaware of the issues addressed by the proposed amendments. The intention of the amendments were not to replace existing voting options, but to add an additional means to vote due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and to indicate the affiliation of the candidates on the ballot paper.
The chair was clearly unprepared to organise democratic voting during the GA. Staff had to ‘like’ option 1 or 2 but technically it was possible to like both. A check for double votes had to be done manually. The vote of one non-eligible external staff member had to be subtracted. Staff expressed in the chat that ‘liking’ did not work for them. There was quite some confusion on what would happen if you were to ‘like’ the same option twice.
The discussion on the appointment of the electoral office was short. The chair informed that there was already one person appointed by the administration, and another one who volunteered before the meeting but could not be present. 4 persons replied to the chair’s call for candidates. Realising that there are now two volunteers too many, the chair asked: “Who of the four withdraws?” There were voices that this was not a democratic approach: the first volunteer was absent and no vote was held. Two of the four volunteers stepped back and the meeting was concluded.
What do the electoral rules say?
The electoral rules for both Karlsruhe and Geel state that the general assembly can amend those rules by virtue of Article 1.
Following the abovementioned events, Generation 2004 requested in a note to DG HR a clarification on the preparation, organisation and legal aspects of actions that took place during those general assemblies (GAs).
We believe that the procedures during the GAs in both Geel and Karlsruhe were conducted unlawfully and against the current rules. Why? Obviously Generation 2004 is perceived as a threat for the old established staff representatives and might change the representatively in both JRC sites. Additionally, newly elected members could alter the game and even the positions of chairs that were in these roles for ages. It is important to bring new people that have fresh ideas and represent the new generation of staff.
‘We are not trying to change the future or the past, we are trying to change the present!’ (Star Trek IV: The voyage home)
If you have any comments or questions, or you wish to share your experience with us, please do contact us or add a comment below!
 One of the many reasons we support there being the same electoral rules for all instead of the current patchwork of site-by-site rules, traditions and opacity.