Brussels, 15 April 2019
Note for the attention of Günther OETTINGER, Commissioner for Budget and Human Resources
Subject: Reform of the procedures for appointment to senior management positions in the European institutions – your participation at the meeting on Monday 15 April 2019 organised by EP CONT Committee
On 15 April, you will participate in the exchange of views organized by the EP CONT Committee on the reform of the procedures for appointment to senior management positions in the European institutions.
On this occasion, R&D, the leading union at the European Civil Service, hopes that our institution will abandon its defensive attitude and will contribute effectively to these discussions in order to enhance the competence and independence of the candidates selected through objective selection procedures, and thus put an end to the increasing politicization of these appointments.
It is to be reminded that the aim of the reform of the appointment procedures goes far beyond the concern of protecting staff career prospects, even though staff concerns regarding this matter are of relevance.
The Commission must reiterate loud and clear that only the individual independence of European civil servants can guarantee the independence of their respective administrations.
It must reaffirm that the essential characteristics of any public service are particularly necessary for the European civil service.
Indeed, the pressures suffered by the civil service have multiplied at the European level. It is thus crucial to keep in mind that the appointments to management positions in the European civil service must remain immune to pressures of all kinds, whether they come from political forces, economic interests, Member States’ demands or internal sources.
1. The Commission must be in the lead and not lagging behind in discussions to reform these procedures
The European Parliament’s study on the appointment procedures of senior-level officials in the EU institutions confirms the positions defended by R&D for a long time.
We invite the Commission to take into account the findings, analyses and conclusions included in this study (link).
Indeed, this study entrusted to Blomeyer & Sanz takes into account the legal and ethical aspects of the appointment procedures of senior officials. It is based on in-depth analyses and comparative law. In the first place, it observes, on the basis of figures and statistics, that politicization has increased over the years in this area. This is an indisputable finding.
This is why the establishment of more transparent and independent structures is necessary.
Furthermore, the study recommends a whole series of measures, including adopting a special procedure for the appointment of the Secretary-General of the Commission given his position at the highest level and his specific role combining both the political dimension and the administrative and management role.
Among the other necessary measures, we especially want to emphasise the one that recommends the improvement of clarity and the limitation of the risks of misapplication or even maladministration (Articles 7 and 29 of the Staff Regulations) by confirming that the publication of a vacancy notice is and must remain the rule.
It is also necessary to simplify the management of the appointment procedure with regard to the criteria and justifications for the choice of internal or external (open) procedure, to strengthen the supervision and the independent control, to address problems of expertise of members of the selection committees, to add to the current provisions on conflicts of interest provisions on the management of the development phase of appointment.
Additional steps are also recommended as concerns judicial review, proposing that the Ombudsman have the capacity to initiate proceedings in order to have the Court of Justice confirm or reject alleged maladministration.
We back these proposals with conviction and hope that they can finally be welcomed by the Commission.
2. The Commission must abandon its denial of reality and finally recognize that the current politicization of these appointments is no longer tolerable
As the European Ombudsman rightly recalled: “(…) it is urgent to avoid the politicization of our public service, to reassure citizens of its ability to defend the general interest and the independence of political pressure, as well as to defend legitimate expectations of our staff and the transparency and credibility of our appointment procedures.”
In our various notes (12/03/2019, 22/02/2019, 19/02/2019, 01/06/2018, 26/04/2018, 23/03/2018, 28/02/2018) and positions (see our dossier on parachuting), we have repeatedly drawn attention to the unacceptability of the many practices that are examples of the politicization of these appointments. “Parachuting” is the first but not the only symptom of this politicization.
2.1) “Parachuting” people into jobs i.e. control by cabinet members of the management posts of the Commission; to ban or to liberalize them?
We would like to confirm that for R&D there has never been any question of casting doubt on the merits of our colleagues in the cabinets without forgetting that they are already enjoying much faster promotions compared to other colleagues.
Above all, it is to oppose the politicization of appointments and defend the independence and credibility of our public service, our institution, its recruitment and appointment procedures, and to take into account the devastating effects of these practices on the motivation of the rest of the staff.
As Ms Graessle rightly recalled: “(…) The big losers of these parachuting practices are therefore the civil servants with a ‘normal’ career, without political proximity (…). These practices give rise to the frustration of the staff that feels that careers depend more on arbitrariness than rationality”.
In order to understand the magnitude of this problem, as Ms Graessle reminded you during the round table held on 25 September (link) based on statistics provided by the Commission, it appears that: “Since 2013, it is mainly former cabinet members who have been appointed to senior management positions”
In response to these objections you indicated that the Commission has adopted instructions: “Prohibiting that a member of cabinet is appointed to a senior management post dependant on his or her responsibilities”.
It is worth recalling the “evolution” of these instructions.
The « hesitation waltz» of the positions taken by the Commission regarding the instructions on “parachuting”
1) “One step forward”: first statements of Mr M. Selmayr and Mr Italianer at the meeting of the Heads of Cabinet on 30 January 2017 (see paragraph 7.12).
On this occasion, he confirmed that: “Shall not be allowed”:
– “the appointment of Cabinet members to management positions in the Directorate-General operating under their portfolio and placed under their direct supervision.”
– “as well as appointments of Cabinet members in a Directorate-General to get promotion and reintegration in a Cabinet as soon as this promotion is obtained.”
In support of these instructions, it was finally recognized that, as R&D had always said: “These practices are demotivating for the rest of the staff who does not get promoted as fast as the Cabinet members.”
Despite the skepticism of the staff who let us know that they did not believe that these instructions would be taken into account, we were pleased to note that, for the first time, the Commission recognized the problem that the administration had always denied and its adverse effects on staff motivation.
2) “Hundred steps back”: new statements of Messrs Selmayr and Italianer (see item 7.5) at the meeting of the heads of cabinets on 23 November 2017
On this occasion, drastically reducing the scope of first declarations, it was made clear that these instructions do not concern; “The members of the cabinets of the president and the vice-presidents as they do not have the direct responsibility of a general direction but a horizontal responsibility of coordination covering several portfolios and general directorates”.
And for the other cabinets that “As a general rule, members should not be promoted to senior management positions in the general directorate under the direct authority of their supervisory commissioner (the so-called ‘parachuting’ case)”
On the one hand, we had noted from the outset that it was surprising that the very broad nature of the Vice-Presidents’ skills had been invoked to remove the members of their cabinets from the instructions on “parachuting”, whereas this was not taken into account in the proposal for the new code of good practice for the members of the College, in order to address the increased risk of conflict of interest after the end of their mandate, by applying to the Vice-Presidents the same coolingoff period of 3 years, as requested by the European Ombudsman and the Parliament, which will be limited to the President alone.
On the other hand, we drew attention to the fact that, based on the evolution of these instructions, dozens of other cabinet members, who were subject to the restrictions stemming from the initial declarations of 30 January 2017, became freely “parachutable”.
The useful effect of these evolving instructions would be to ensure “free area” for “parachutists”?
In view of the foregoing, we would like to be reassured that this hesitation waltz organized around these instructions would not result in:
? “Parachuting” to intermediate management positions: ?
- becoming free without any restriction and for all cabinet members
? “Parachuting” to senior management positions: ?
- becoming free for cabinet members of the President and Vice Presidents ?
- becoming also free for the members of the other cabinets except on the positions “dependant on their responsibilities”, and considering the eligibility criteria for these positions and the profile of the cabinet members concerned, this prohibition potentially concerning a mere ten or so colleagues.
“Change everything so that nothing changes1” … even doing worse?
Thus, the real useful effect of these declarations, which finally recognised the devastating effects of parachuting on the motivation of the rest of the staff, has been that of “liberalizing” and recognizing the acceptability of appointments that until then had always been considered – also through the January 2017 instructions – as indisputable cases of ‘parachuting’.
In view of the foregoing, it is unnecessary to point out that the instructions you mentioned in response to Ms Graessle’s finding are in no way likely to constitute even a very early response to the abuse of “parachuting” and therefore much more stringent measures are required.
And these measures are urgently needed in this final phase of the Juncker Commission. With 22 Commissioners who will probably not be part of the new College and our President who announced that he would not seek a second term, a real invasion of parachutists has already been organised!
2.2) Member States’ claims to interfere in the organization of services
Worse yet, parachuting is not the only example of interference and politicization of appointments that staff are disgusted with.
Indeed, some representatives of Member States seem to become more and more intrusive by pretending to interfere in the internal organization of our services.
Under the pretext of defending the career expectations of officials of the same nationality, they seem to forget that priority must always be given to the professional qualities of candidates and that nationality should remain a secondary factor to be taken into account.
By rightly and wrongly invoking the geographical balance in the sharing of management positions and claiming to apply it also on the smallest scale, by fiercely defending certain candidates to the detriment of others, sometimes even of the same nationality, they come to claim a fixed quota of their nationals in the organizational chart of each Directorate-General.
Quota that, in all cases, must also be ensured during a major reorganization of a Directorate General. As if the profiles and skills sought were perfectly fungible even in case of change of missions of a service.
By way of example, during the ongoing reorganization of a Commission Directorate-General, after the publication of the draft organisational chart, we learned that a permanent representation has come to dictate a “magic formula” to be respected in all cases, that is, a quota of the positions expected in the organization chart for civil servants of this nationality by types of functions, the calculations going as far as the level of deputy head of unit.
Some now imagine that such a claim, clearly unacceptable, would not be firmly dismissed by our institution, but on the contrary would probably call into question the adoption of the DG’s organizational chart, if not modified, in order to honour the most “noble” part of the so-called “magic formula”!
Such practices do not fail to increase the demotivation of the other staff members who very naively, but being proud of being that, still remain faithful to their mission of officials of the EU and flatly refuse to give up their independence by being reduced to the role of mere representatives of their Member State to whom they should owe their appointment, in order to preserve their career prospects.
Conclusion: “Commission of the last chance” or last chance of the Commission?
In conclusion, we ask once again that the Commission finally abandons its unsustainable bunkerization strategy coupled with a totally mistaken communication adopted in its forceful defense of the appointment procedure of the Secretary-General, which fuels Eurosceptic sentiments and increases the anger of the European Parliament, the press and all observers.
We hope that from your intervention during this exchange of views our institution will finally show common sense by accepting the recommendations of the Ombudsman and the European Parliament, the results of the study concerning the need to reform these procedures in order to end the current politicization of these appointments.
Our institution must put all its competences at the service of such a reform by claiming credit for it rather than having it imposed in a few months when your successor will have to obtain the confidence vote of the EP in the context of the appointment of the next Commission.
Copy: Mr J-C Juncker, President of the European Commission (EC)
Mr A. Tajani, President of the European Parliament (EP)
The members of the College Mr Selmayr, Secretary General of the EC
Ms E. O’Reilly, European Ombudsman
Directors-General of the EC
Members of the EP Committee on Budgetary Control
Members of the EP Committee on Legal Affairs
Members of the EP Committee on Petitions
Central Staff Committee
Staff of the European institutions
1 Le Guépard, by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa