05/06/2011

The EU requires a strong Civil Service

The European Union is not optional, but an obligation.

It requires a competent, independent and permanent Civil Service.

 

 

We, the staff of the European Institutions, are conscious that to work within European institutions signifies that we are participating in the realisation of a unique political project: the construction of a Union which brings together 27 States and five hundred million citizens. Only a few decades ago, before the Treaty of Rome, these states tore one another apart to affirm their economic and cultural superiority.

 

This Union, which has come about through the greatest peaceful revolution ever seen in the history of the world, should be founded on multi-culturalism. All cultures, and in consequence all languages, deserve the same respect. As multi-culturalism is not a difficulty but is to be cherished, it is recognised as such in the Treaty of Lisbon[1].

 

Nonetheless, there are very strong differences of interpretation in the concept of the Union among the Member States. Put simply, some see only a simple free-trade zone, while others see it as a project which should end in a true European Union with powers of decision, increasingly represented by the European Parliament and with more and more areas of competence.

 

It is clear that the European Civil Service needs to be structured according to the political choice to be made. A simple free-trade zone does not require a competent, independent and permanent Civil Service. On the other hand, in a true European Union, this Civil Service will be indispensable to ensure the general good. This is true also for the “community method”[2], which ensures the general good for all Member States independently of their economic weight, and opposes inter-governmental methods which risks benefitting the bigger Member States and powerful economic lobbies.

 

A first big attack on the functioning of the European institutions came from partisans of the free-trade zone, and was led by the then Vice-President of the Commission, Neil Kinnock.

 

As he was unable to declare himself opposed the the European construction, as that would be politically incorrect, Vice-President Kinnock put forward reforms supposed to “improve” transparency and efficiency in the services and tried to imposed a “single culture”.

 

It was in effect sufficient to slow down and finally block the European construction, that the driving force behind that construction, the Commission, no longer functions.

 

So we can see that with the introduction of management rules which were so onerous, the Commission almost works only for its own internal procedures. Only a small proportion of staff “produces” for the outside. In these conditions, the EU is getting more and more remote from the real needs of its citizens.

 

The other big “innovation” introduced by the Kinnock reform is obligatory mobility at all levels. This has made the senior management quite fragile; it is no longer technically competent and provides no more than service management. While in the past, young Civil Servants “organised their mobility”, and at the same time trained themselves. Thus during their career progression they enlarged their competencies and diversified their knowledge to be able to take on responsibilities in their area of competence. In this way, the Commission had highly qualified staff available. Today, we observe that the forced mobility of Civil Servants, whatever their grade, has very often led to loss of organisational memory and has contributed to demotivation within the services.

 

But yet more demotivating “innovations” have come along:  stretching of careers towards a lower level and the introduction of a new type of staff member (contractual agents, AC).

 

First of all, the new career starting grade, particularly for university graduates (AD5), is not really attractive for young recruits. Some nationalities are now absent from the general competitions.  The risk is that soon there will be only certain nationalities among the new recruits.

 

In addition, the other big problem is that internal replacement of senior management is all but impossible for Civil Servants recruited at the basic grade (AD5). The young Civil Servants entering at AD5 at age 30, will need, in order to qualify for a senior management post (AD14, AD 15), benefit from at least 9 promotions. We need to allow three or four years on average per promotion, so a rise to a senior management grade take a good 30 years; he might be ready to take on these responsibilities when he reaches age 60! In this way, the “non-management” staff would be recruited by competition or selection, and the senior management by being parachuted in from national capitals and external lobbies. This will be the end of the European Civil Service’s independence. And, in this situation, it is certain that the “large” member states will be able to “help themselves” and impose their “larger will”.

 

The contract of the AC is a true discrimination and exploitation. These members of staff carry out the same work as Civil Servants, but are paid far less and have uncertain employment (being able to work only 3 years in the Commission’s services).

 

In contrast to the attacks made against a European Civil Service which is reckoned to be too expensive, we should know that the administrative costs for this Civil Service represent only 5.7% of the EU budget, and of that only 2.6% comprises salaries!!!

 

In the end, we discover that the true motivation for these reductions was not significant budgetary improvements, but rather the will to discourage the best performing candidates from entering the European Civil Servants, and to “nationalise” notably the senior management posts.

 

The Kinnock reforms have already “generated” economies of 3 billion Euro, and will bring about another 5 billion Euro between now and 2020. But they have just about blocked the Commission’s functioning, thus preventing this Institution from fully playing its role. The Commission is increasingly becoming the secretariat of the Member States, or more precisely, of certain Member States. The Commission is thus in the process of losing it proposing role, of driving force behind the European construction.

 

However, in a world characterised by rampant globalisation and by financial crises which are wilfully unchecked, the only way to safeguard the European social model is the realisation of a democratic and stable European Union. In order to do this, certain conditions need to be met:

 

-        an active and conscious participation by its citizens;

-        working for the general good;

-        an enhanced sense of solidarity.

 

These days, European citizens, particularly the young ones, take for granted everything that has been achieved since the signature of the Treaty of Rome on 25th March 1957. And as far as they are concerned, Europe is borne as a constraint rather than as an opportunity.

 

How have we come to this? The European Union has neglected its relationship with its citizens.

 

Europe speaks very often in a language which citizens do not understand. But yet more seriously, national politicians place the blame for their own failures on Europe, which seems to be so far away as seen by its citizens:  “Brussels has decided…”. Citizens are ignorant of the fact that final decisions are taken by their own ministers and that “Brussels” can only propose!

 

No one explains that a lot of progress has been made because of the fact that our Member States decided to work together: the Euro, Erasmus, the reduction in prices of certain services: flights, telecommunications, free circulation between EU states, etc.

 

And above all, no one explains that a true European Union is not an option, but an obligation if we want to face up to current challenges (rampant globalisation, uncontrollable financial crises, to cite only the most important) without losing our model of way of life. No Member State, whether large or small, will be able to face up to these challengers by itself!

 

Citizens need to be aware of this and ask their political representatives to work for the realisation as soon as possible of a strong, democratic and stable European Union. For their part, the European Institutions, particularly the Commission, should get involved in informing citizens widely of policies and actions conducted at the European level, and to let them know, in a clear and accessible way, the outcomes of these actions on their daily lives and their futures.

 

Three principles point to a true European Union:

 

        The institutional balance needs to be respected, and the roles of the European Parliament and the Commission strengthened.

 

        The Civil Service should continue to be competent, independent and permanent.

 

        The “Community method” needs to be renewed and reinforced.

 

If the European Union is not capable of strengthening itself, national self-interests will come to the surface again and the modest construction achieved since the Treaty of Rome risks collapse: there won’t be any winners among Europeans, we will all be the losers.

 

We, the staff of the European Institutions, are ready to fight to safeguard the European social and economic model, and thus doing, our cultural differences and the future of our society.

 

Franco Ianniello



[1]    The Treaty of Lisbon states in its first article: "The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, of liberty, democracy, equality, the rule of law, as well as of respect for human rights, including the rights of people belonging to minorities. These vaues are common to all Member States in a society characterised by pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men”

[2]   OPINION of the European Economic and Social Committee “Renewal of the Community Method (Guidelines)” Malosse-Dassis

 

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