Open letter to the Members
of the European Economic and Social Committee
Brussels, 14 March 2019
Following the Report on Discharge in respect of the implementation of the general budget of the European Union for the financial year 2017, you will be asked to sign a new version of the Code of Conduct of the European Economic and Social Committee.
R&D wishes to draw your attention to several points concerning Committee’s Members ethics and related procedures in case of breach, which deserve to be addressed, as they cannot be overlooked anymore.
1. The European Ombudswoman’s Recommendations
Last December the European Ombudswoman issued a Report on Dignity at Work identifying best practices across the EU civil service in preventing and dealing with harassment (https://www.ombudsman.europa.eu/en/correspondence/en/107799).
The report lists actions for preventing harassment (awareness raising, staff training, risk assessment, online harassment, gender balance) and dealing with harassment (informal procedure, counsellors, formal complaints, effective procedures, independent investigators, high-ranking personnel, rehabilitation measures).
As R&D already mentioned it in its note sent to Mr Jahier, President of the EESC, and Mr Brunetti, Secretary General of the EESC, on 12th February (link), the European Ombudsman reported that “individuals are particularly vulnerable to harassment in situations where there is a significant power imbalance between the parties involved. There is therefore arguably a need for consideration to be given to more demanding rules for high-ranking personnel, such as commissioners, judges, members of the Court of Auditors, members of the European Economic Social Committee and so on. Best practices identified among the EU institutions include aggravated disciplinary measures such as compulsory retirement or being denied the right to pension when a high-ranking member of the institution has committed harassment.”
2. A Culture of Zero Tolerance Policy with regard to harassment required by the European Parliament
The Committee on Budgetary Control joined observations forming an integral part of the decision on discharge in respect of the implantation of the general budget of the European Union for the financial year 2017 concerning the EESC.
Points 32 and 33 of the Report on Discharge of the European Parliament dated 27th February 2019 stipulate:
The European Parliament
32. Notes that members if the EESC have different professional backgrounds and may be used to different management cultures; notes that the political activities of the Members also imply certain management tasks, as their work is supported by their own staff and staff from the Secretariat; underlines the necessity of familiarising Members with the principles of the administrative culture of Union institutions to ensure dignity and respect at work;
33. Welcomes the work of the network of confidential counsellors to actively prevent and tackle harassment in the working environment; notes that in 2017, 25 staff members were given informal advice by the network; encourages the Committee to closely monitor the efficiency of its policy in this regard, to continue raising awareness about harassment at the work place and to continue fostering a culture of zero tolerance policy with regard to harassment; takes note of the ongoing reflection on procedures and sanctions concerning Members involved in harassment cases and urges the Committee to introduce rules and procedures in this regard by the next discharge procedure.
3. The necessity of introducing new rules and procedures in the Code of Conduct
Having regard to the recommendations of the European Ombudswoman and the requirements of the European Parliament, the Code of Conduct should:
– provide for fundamental ethical principles in Members’ conduct towards third parties and the Committee’s Staff;
– provide for efficient procedures in case of suspected breach, including when any member of the Committee may be a target of the suspicion;
As to procedure, it is essential that review of alleged breaches be triggered not only by the President of the Committee but by any presumed victim filling a formal complaint or by any member of the Committee bringing his/her situation to the attention of an advisory committee.
In addition the procedure has to allow for independent investigators. “For investigations to be effective, investigators need not only to be impartial and fair, but also perceived as such by everyone concerned in the investigation” (Point 29 of the Recommendations of the European Ombudswoman).
Finally the spectrum of sanctions must be widen to include compulsory retirement or withdraw the pension rights according to the best practices existing within the institution as mentioned by the European Ombudswoman who mentions, as a best practice, the Court of Auditor´s anti-harassment policy: “If the alleged perpetrator is a Member the Court must invoke article 4 of its rules of procedure… which involves compulsory retirement and deprival of the right to a pension or other benefits in its stead” (Point 34 of the Recommendations of the European Ombudswoman).
Before signing a new version of the Code of Conduct, R&D wishes to draw your attention on these fundamental aspects that should be inserted in the new text.
CC. Ms Emily O’Reilly, European Ombudswoman
Ms Ingeborg Graessle, President of the Committee on Budgetary Control
Mr. Gianluca Brunetti, Secretary General of the EESC
Staff of the EESC