Wind in our sails, but in what condition is our ship?

A wind of optimism is blowing in the EU institutions. Some are beginning to argue that the added-value of the EU has become clearer following the events of the past 18 months. Indeed, recent electoral rounds in France and in the Netherlands have been less negative than expected with respect to the future of the EU. The outcome of the elections in Germany is perceived by some observers as less encouraging. However, it is clear that the eurosceptics will not prevail there any time soon. Unfortunately, the main issues that affect the staff are still very unclear and may be affected by a number of events.

Obviously colleagues who happen to be British citizen are worried by the lack of clarity on their future. The only consolation at the moment is that the Belgian authorities are beginning to realise that EU officials of UK citizenship need assistance. The Brussels Commissioner (not one of our Commissioners but an official appointed by the Brussels region to provide administrative assistance to the expat community in Brussels) organised an info session last June and provides some advice on its website. It is useful to go through this advice if you are a UK citizen working in Brussels.

A more general area of concern is the pensions of EU officials: those who are British citizens do not know who will pick up the bill, in particular those who already are retired and cannot easily switch to a new EU citizenship if they have moved back to the UK. Those who are not British should not forget that the UK participates in the collective guarantee by all MS to pay our pensions. The EU officials’ pension liability has grown to several ten billion euros (over €60billion according to recent estimates). The UK might try to offload its share of the liability onto the remaining 27 MS (12% of €60 billion, which one could argue is the UK’s share of the liability, amounts to €5billion, which is not a negligible amount!). Other Brexit- related problems could become unmanageable in the coming years; in particular the English sections of the EU schools. We need clarity, all of us, not just those of us who happen to be British citizens.

Another issue for which there is a lack of clarity is the next reform of the Staff Regulations. Some MS have called for reform, in particular to ensure the sustainability of our pension scheme, and Commissioner Oettinger seems to have heard the message, at least as far as the pensions are concerned. However, there is no indication that the Commissioner is preparing a new reform before the end of his mandate (2019); all that seems to be taking place is some brainstorming in the management of DG HR, behind closed doors.

A third area of uncertainty, which affects in a structural manner close to 7000 employees of the Commission and even more employees in the EU agencies (both decentralised and executive agencies) is the negotiations of the General Implementing Rules for CAs. For once the staff representation has mobilised to protest against the treatment of CAs in the Commission (and as a consequence in the agencies). The Central Staff Committee and the “Comité du Statut” in particular protested against the lack of positive measures in favour of CA3bs (the precarious CAs whose contracts are limited to a duration of a maximum of 6 years in the Commission). However DG HR, pressured by DG BUDG, does not seem to be willing to redress the situation. Last but not least, the Commission has been caught using precarious CAs to carry out tasks that should have been done by permanent officials (see below the invitation to a lunch debate organised by Generation 2004). As most of these CAs are too scared to take the Commission to court, the Commission gets away with it. A network of CA3bs has called for a reform of the Staff Regulations as the only option to redress their situation. Most staff organisations, in particular those that are well-established, are reluctant to support their plea. At Generation 2004, we think that the current situation is not sustainable and that if Commissioner Oettinger does not intervene, budgetary constraints will lead to the gradual replacement of permanent officials by precarious and underpaid CA staff.

What’s next?

With respect to Brexit, this is not under our control. All we can ask for is transparency on the part of the Barnier team. We understand that a certain level of confidentiality is needed, but at the same time it would be unacceptable if the staff was informed via the newspapers about the decisions that affect them. Some level of consultation is needed, the same kind of consultation that the EU requires of private companies when they cut costs on the back of their workers. As mentioned above, we should know more by Spring 2018 since this is the deadline to prepare the draft budget proposal for 2019 and the next MFF.

With respect to any future reform of the SR, it is difficult to have a clear opinion. This is always a risky endeavour, especially when our administration fails to consult staff when preparing reforms and focuses on preserving the acquired rights of its senior staff at the expense of the others. Only a committed Commissioner could conduct a decent reform. No signs that this will happen. The danger of course is that by postponing decisions, even worse reforms might be imposed on us if the future of the EU does not turn to be as bright as we hope. Moreover, the atmosphere that has prevailed ever since the 2004 reform: “winter is coming” is not necessarily the kind of atmosphere we want to live in for ever. Better to get on with a decent reform and get guarantees that the MS will stop fiddling with the SR for the foreseeable future.

With respect to CAs, the Commissioner being German is fully aware of the loss of attractiveness of the EU institutions for citizens of the richest MS. Primarily recruiting CAs at the expense of functionaries is not the best way to restore geographical balance. The Commissioner must act before it is too late, i.e. before the end of his mandate.

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