Brussels, 3 November 2020
Note for the attention of M. Gianluca Brunetti
Secretary General of the European Economic and Social Committee
To understand the extreme gravity of this decision and to illustrate the reasons behind it, it is appropriate to give the floor to Tomáš Zdechovský rapporteur for the 2018 discharge procedure of the EESC:
“Clearly when communicating with us regarding its various mistakes the EESC was not able to answer our questions and it was not able to take measures which would make us believe that this particular institution is able to protect the interests of European citizens” ( link):
And confirming that the refusal of the discharge to EESC was:
“a ‘clear signal’ that the Parliament would not tolerate institutions that fail to “treat European funds correctly.”
And as another member of the CONT Committee, Mikuláš Peksa (link), clarified:
“Harassment, whatever its type, cannot be accepted and certainly cannot be covered by a European institution”.
“…ignoring needs of victims and refusing any organizational changes to prevent harassment cases in future, the EESC goes further behind the red line of what can be tolerated in the European institutions. The organization needs a major reform”
The EP’s decision confirms in every point and almost word for word the validity of the facts denounced by R&D and mentioned in all my aforementioned notes to your attention; and, lastly, in those of September 21 and October 14 ( link) that I had sent to you on the eve of the meeting of the CONT Committee and of the plenary of the EP in which the 2018 discharge has been refused to you!
We have already expressed our thanks to OLAF; today, we would like to express our sincere thanks to the CONT Commission and the EP for their decisions showing once again the sensitivity and seriousness reserved to the financial consequences of harassment within EU institutions.
“There is none as blind as those who will not see. There are none as deaf as those who will not listen”
On each of these occasions, I had notably denounced the omissions, the denials of reality and truth which the EESC administration was held responsible for.
Thus, from the report of the OLAF investigation to the decisions of the CONT Committee and ending with the EP plenary suspending and then definitively refusing the 2018 discharge to the EESC, everything proves to what extent your assurances, those of former President Jahier and those of the new EESC HR Director, at a downright surreal and caricatured hearing before the CONT Commission on last 3 September, are all steps in a real strategy by the EESC administration determined to deny with all its might everything that can be denied before trivialising what had become impossible to deny.
This already outrageous attitude becomes all the more unbearable, since it is also based on questioning and intimidating any interlocutor who dares to break the law of silence.
Thus, within the framework of this deplorable public masquerade in poor taste:
- denouncements from R&D– first union of the European civil service – become malicious speculation by an external union “brutalizing EESC members”, and responsible for “disinformation, unfounded, inaccurate and unfair allegations, false information ...”; the whole process accompanied by usual and repeated announcements of legal action … which I imagine would be at the expense of the European taxpayer as the Parliament so wisely pointed out in its first resolution deciding to postpone the discharge!
- victims’ complaints are at best ignored, at worst mocked, and their suffering disregarded;
- the EP is in turn the object of allegations that are best laughed at, lest we be forced to cry in consternation: here it is at the head of a political-institutional conspiracy, which seems to be transforming itself before your very eyes into a “big bad wolf” (sic!) who wants “to eat the poor sheep, namely, the EESC”.
As colleagues have told us, never before in the management of such serious cases of harassment, and in a procedure as sensitive as the annual budget discharge by the EP, has a European institution come to such a level of contempt and baseness.
« Quousque tandem abutere patientia nostra? » (For how long will you still abuse our patience?)
Under these conditions, in view of your responsibilities as Director of Human Resources of the EESC from 2010 to 2018 and as Secretary General since 2018, we invite you to draw, without any further evasiveness, the only necessary consequences before the official decision of the budgetary authority to refuse you, by unanimity minus one vote, the 2018 discharge.
For it is indeed through your self-referential perseverance, totally disconnected from reality, even after OLAF’s implacable findings, that you and President Jahier have:
· contributed to tarnishing the reputation and credibility of an entire institution which is now undergoing the ultimate humiliation of the refusal of discharge, thus playing into the hands of all the worst populist impulses that you regret so much with President Jahier
· justified the fears of many colleagues and all external observers, who rightfully consider that “with the current EESC administration things will never change”.
The EESC must stop once and for all being the stage of a painful parody of “The Leopard”. “Se vogliamo che tutto rimanga come è, bisogna che tutto cambi.”
Inspired by the Prince of Salina in the famous novel “Il gattopardo” (The Leopard), the EESC administration seems to have struggled for years to … “change things so that things stay as they are.“1
And to back up our argument on the culpable inaction of the EESC administration denounced by us and now so clearly acknowledged by the Parliament, let us give the floor to Mr Krawczyk himself:
“The OLAF investigation struck me and the members of the Group like a thunderclap in a blue sky”
By confirming that:
“During all these years, the Secretary-General, HR and the administration of the EESC never signalled that my personnel management or my behaviour towards the members of the Group and of the EESC were perhaps inappropriate” ( link)
“One is always responsible for what one does not try to prevent ” (Jean-Paul Sartre)
These statements by Mr Krawczyk fully contradict your own assurances of having:
“Always treated this subject with the utmost importance, both as Secretary-General and as Director of Human Resources, with a zero tolerance approach.”
The results of the OLAF investigation showed that, as we had denounced, your so-called “zero tolerance” approach has actually resulted in the policy of “eyes wide shut”, the “100% tolerance for slippage” and, alas, the “0% protection for victims” policy…
In view of the preceding, and faithful to our “constructive spirit”, we hereby submit for your consideration two non-exclusive suggestions:
1) To immediately publish a detailed corrigendum of the section “Dignity at work” of the 2019 annual report to the Secretariat-General of the EESC on Human Resources Policies.
Indeed, it is now becoming really untenable to claim without giving in to the ridicule that “The EESC continues to demonstrate a firm commitment to preventing and combating harassment and promoting a respectful workplace at all levels; therefore, it has put in place a network of confidential counsellors already in 2015… In 2019, the administration opened two administrative enquiries on harassment related issues, following whistleblowing reports. Appropriate measures have been taken, where necessary to protect potential victims and whistle-blowers. “;
2) To convene without delay a meeting with the EESC staff in which, just as at the meeting organised last February, you could, from the top of your podium and in your usual solemn tone, explain again the marvellous results of your now legendary “zero tolerance” strategy against all forms of harassment, then denounce the malicious nature of R&D initiatives, try in passing to intimidate our representative and reassure everyone about the discharge procedure which would be under control while revealing the EP’s perfidy.
Detailed analysis of the EP decision ( read )
For all intents and purposes, I would like to submit to your attention the most salient aspects of this historical EP decision that lead to definitively refusing you the 2018 discharge. You are free to continue denying what has been written for eternity by the near unanimity of the honourable members of this institution which represents the peoples of Europe.
In particular, the EP, by its decision adopted during the plenary on 19 October 2020 with 608 FOR and ONLY 1 AGAINST:
“Refuses to grant the Secretary-General of the European Economic and Social Committee discharge in respect of the implementation of the budget of the European Economic and Social Committee for the financial year 2018″.
The reasons for supporting the EP’s decision are as follows:
Regarding the conclusions of the OLAF report, the EP :
“Recalls that in its report of January 2020, OLAF concludes that the then president of Group I of the Committee was responsible for acts of harassment towards two members of staff, of inappropriate behaviour (serious misconduct) towards a Committee member and a staff member, and of misconduct towards other staff members working in the Group I Secretariat;
(…) Recalls that OLAF concludes that the then president of Group I committed breaches of the obligations deriving from the Committee’s rules of procedure and its code of conduct; recalls that OLAF recommends that the Committee initiates the appropriate procedures with respect to the member concerned, as provided for in rule 8, part four, of the Committee’s rules of procedure, and takes all necessary steps to prevent any further cases of harassment by the member concerned at the workplace;”.
Regarding the failure of the preventative measures put in place by the EESC administration, NAMELY WHAT WE HAVE DENOUNCED AND WHAT YOU HAVE ALWAYS DENIED, that EP :
“Deplores that several members of staff have suffered acts of psychological harassment by the then president of Group I for an unjustifiably long period of time; regrets that the anti-harassment measures in place in the Committee failed to tackle and to remedy this case sooner because of the senior position of the member concerned”.
Regarding the lack of any real assistance offered to victims, NAMELY WHAT WE HAVE DENOUNCED AND WHAT YOU HAVE ALWAYS DENIED, the EP:
“regrets that the measures taken to protect the victims until the end of the investigation by OLAF were arguably improvised and insufficient, especially in light of the judgement in Case F-50/15 1a, FS v European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), which should have served as a lesson for the Committee”. 3
Regarding the ineffectiveness of the EESC’s internal procedures, NAMELY WHAT WE HAVE DENOUNCED AND WHAT YOU HAVE ALWAYS DENIED, the EP:
“notes with concern that shortcomings in the internal proceedings resulted in the inaction by the Committee’s administration.”
Regarding the breach of the duty of care and the obligation to report to OLAF on the part of the EESC administration, NAMELY WHAT WE HAVE DENOUNCED AND WHAT YOU HAVE ALWAYS DENIED, the EP adds :
“which translated into a breach of the duty of care and of the obligation to report to OLAF; calls on the Committee to take notice of this in the framework of the undertaken revision of the relevant decisions”.
Regarding the need to ensure the full independence of the Legal Service, NAMELY WHAT WE HAVE DENOUNCED AND WHAT YOU HAVE ALWAYS DENIED, the EP :
“Notes that the Committee’s new structure, in place since 1 January 2020, attached the legal service directly to the secretary-general with the declared objectives of increasing the visibility and impact of the legal service and enabling it to provide legal support on a horizontal basis; takes note of the justification provided by the Committee but is concerned that the autonomy and full independence of the legal service might be affected; calls on the Committee to ensure that the legal service is officially and systematically involved in the most important matters of the Committee without leaving the decision on whether to consult it up to the different services; welcomes that the legal capacity was reinforced in the members’ working conditions unit to allow for the treatment of specific issues in relation to the statute of members; notes the reflections on exempting specialised staff, including staff belonging to the legal service, from the Committee’s mobility policy and calls on the Committee to report on the conclusions of this process to the discharge authority”.
Regarding the serious consequences resulting from faults committed by the EESC and its administration, NAMELY WHAT WE HAVE DENOUNCED AND WHAT YOU HAVE ALWAYS DENIED, the EP:
“Points out that the Committee’s wrongdoings in this case have resulted in a material loss of public funds with respect to legal services, sick leave, victim protection, reduced productivity, meetings of the bureau and other bodies, etc.; considers it thus a case of concern regarding accountability, budgetary control and good governance of human resources in the Union institutions, bodies, offices and agencies; in that sense recalls that the Court of Auditors states in its Special Report 13/2019, The ethical frameworks of the audited EU institutions: scope for improvement, that ethical conduct in public affairs contributes to sounder financial management and increased public trust, and that any unethical behaviour by staff and members of the European Union institutions and bodies attracts high levels of public interest and reduces trust in EU institutions;”.
Regarding the ineffectiveness of EESC’s code of conduct, NAMELY WHAT WE HAVE DENOUNCED AND WHAT YOU HAVE ALWAYS DENIED, the EP:
“Notes that the provisions of the Staff Regulation are not applicable to the Committee’s members, as they are not employees, but appointed as members of the Committee; observes that this circumstance has not prevent other Union institutions, bodies, offices and agencies from having specific, adequate and useful rules applicable to their members; in this sense recalls for example that Article 8, part 4, of the code of conduct of the Committee of the Regions prohibits the infringing member from being elected as office holder of the Committee and, if the member already holds such posts, entails dismissal from them; welcomes that the Committee is ready to consider further improvements to its system after a reflection that has now lasted more than two years; considers this to be an unreasonably long period; regrets that after the aforementioned period the Committee can only suggest awareness raising and training measures for members despite the clear need for further measures as set out in the report of the European Ombudsman on dignity at work in the EU institutions and agencies (SI/2/2018/AMF) and Parliament’s recommendations”.
Regarding the misuse of EESC’s website, NAMELY WHAT WE HAVE DENOUNCED AND WHAT YOU HAVE PERMITTED, the EP:
“Is astonished that the Committee’s website features a statement by the member concerned in his capacity as president of Group I that is in reality a personal self-defense testimony and with the aggravating factor that cases are either already pending or expected before the Union judicial authorities and the Belgian authorities; deeply regrets that the disagreement between the presidency of the Committee and the presidency of Group I has been made public in this fashion at a great cost for the reputation and credibility of the Union institutions, bodies, offices and agencies” .
Regarding the urgent need for reforms of the EESC in terms of procedures against all forms of harassment, NAMELY WHAT WE HAVE DENOUNCED AND WHAT YOU HAVE ALWAYS DENIED, the EP:
“notes that this process aims to identify potential gaps and searches for further improvements in the interest of its staff and members;”
“welcomes the Committee’s reflections, which will result in a detailed action plan to strengthen the zero-tolerance policy towards harassment at the Committee to ensure that such behaviour can never be tolerated; welcomes and supports the current revision package concerning harassment, whistleblowing and disciplinary procedures that will further improve the mechanisms allowing staff to make formal harassment complaints and improve the robustness of the relevant legal structures”.
Regarding the empty promises that EESC’s administration has made for years despite the specific recommendations of the EP, NAMELY WHAT WE HAVE DENOUNCED AND WHAT YOU HAVE ALWAYS DENIED, the EP:
“recalls, however, that this process has been reported by the Committee to Parliament for years and that only now concrete measures seem to be taken; welcomes the setting-up of a working group that includes representatives from the administration and the staff committee with the aim of collecting the widest possible input for improvements; is disappointed that the Committee has achieved minimal progress over the last years despite the precise recommendations of Parliament urging the Committee to introduce rules and procedures concerning members involved in harassment cases”.
Concerning the obligation of the EESC to inform the EP of any OLAF investigation that is already underway or which may be opened in the future for cases of harassment, or for any other reason, the EP :
“Asks the Committee to keep the discharge authority informed about any currently ongoing OLAF investigations and the opening of new OLAF investigations concerning the Committee’s members or staff with respect to harassment or any other concern”.
This is an absolutely justified reminder because it should not be forgotten that, given the deafening silence reserved by the EESC administration, following their request to forward their complaints to OLAF, with the support of R&D, the victims had been obliged to refer the matter to OLAF on their own initiative!
In conclusion, the EP:
“Asks the Committee to inform the discharge authority on the procedures and processes the Committee has rolled out or intends to roll out on how cases of harassment or similar issues concerning staff will be avoided in the future so as to ensure that comparable regrettable developments which have caused negative publicity and damaged the reputation of the Committee will not be repeated”
In the light of the above, and in order to take stock of this affair, it is clear that the EESC is the ONLY European institution in history:
· having been the subject of 13 findings of workplace abuse included in the OLAF report, including proven cases of harassment, seriously inappropriate behaviour and other inappropriate behaviour … which have taken place over a number of years;
· having to its credit files relating to cases of harassment transmitted to the judicial authority of the host Member State, so many cases so serious that they led the Belgian Public Prosecutor to immediately open legal proceedings;
· to be first suspended and finally refused the 2018 discharge by the European Parliament for acts of harassment for having shown itself to be first incapable of preventing these faulty situations and then incapable of assisting the recognised victims.
Finally, I would like to remind you that only the active and tireless union support from R&D to the victims, who were obliged to report to OLAF by themselves, would finally bring to light the situation, now unanimously recognized as being extremely serious … but that the administration of the EESC has always denied it with all its might.
This stubbornness to deny everything despite the exceptional seriousness of these findings gives rise to the fear, felt by our colleagues, that with the current administration, things will never really change and that the harm inflicted on the victims will never be voluntarily repaired.
THE EESC NEEDS URGENT REFORMS
For R&D, there can be no question of “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” by making an entire institution and its staff pay for the unforgivable mistakes of the administration, the former president and former bureau of the EESC!
And, it must never be forgotten that it was these unforgivable mistakes, the arrogant pretention to never be accountable to anyone – and certainly not the well-founded criticisms of R&D, OLAF and the European Parliament – that brought the EESC into disrepute by playing into the hands of the enemies of the European project and our civil service.
The first message to the staff of the new President and Vice-Presidents of the EESC is an excellent start, but one that must be followed by equally clear decisions!
Indeed, while we can no longer hope for anything from the current EESC administration, we warmly welcome the first message to the staff of the new EESC President and Vice-Presidents acknowledging at last the seriousness of the political crisis, the damage to the EESC’s credibility, reputation and image, and therefore the scale of the efforts that will have to be made.
In particular, it is more than appreciable that in their message they confirmed that their first priority is to “strengthen confidence and credibility, both outside and inside” the EESC.
Confirming that they are aiming for “a Committee that is united and meets the highest ethical and professional standards, a Committee with an excellent image“.
And in these efforts they count “on the valuable cooperation, advice and support of the exceptional staff of the EESC“.
More than ever: FACTA NON VERBA !
The new President and the new Bureau must be able to allow the EESC to DEFINITELY move on, making the necessary internal changes and reforms, demonstrating that the EESC IS NOT BY NO MEANS “ a zombie committee that lost its purpose but still lives on” and “an expensive relic of a bygone era”described by the many external observers.
It is therefore urgent and indispensable that the political commitments of the new EESC President and the new Bureau be immediately implemented through very clear reforms and decisions, particularly with regard to the protection and full rehabilitation of victims.
In this context, we appreciated that the internal minutes from the first EESC new leadership meeting on Wednesday acted the fact that there was agreed to respond to criticism “with measures that confirmed the Committee’s commitment to strict criteria of legality and by reaffirming the quality of its contribution to legislative work”.
The announcement of “swift action to avoid future cases of harassment” and “the reform of the EESC’s code of conduct” is already a first step in the right direction!
In this context, we welcome even more the commitment already made by the President to immediately carry out “swift action to avoid future cases of harassment” and a “thorough reform of the Code of Conduct”
Reforming the code of conduct by providing for sanctions that are at last credible was our request from the outset, as well as that of the European Parliament, inviting the EESC to take into account the recommendations of the European Ombudsman as well as the best practices of the other institutions.
Reforming the code of conduct by providing for sanctions that are at last credible is also what the former President and the EESC’s administration have always refused, hiding behind pseudo-legal arguments with the obvious aim of not “disturbing” members, pretending to turn them into real legibus soluti, which has provoked fully justified outraged reactions from the European Parliament and external observers.
Proceeding immediately with all the other far-reaching reforms that are needed, this is the ONLY way for the EESC to:
· overcome the ethical, administrative and political rout into which it is now immersed and for which its administration is undoubtedly primarily responsible,
· restore its reputation, credibility and image, as its new President and Vice-Presidents rightly wish.
“Quisque parat sibi fortunam”: The EESC is the sole architect of its fate!
Otherwise, if the political commitments will once again turn out to be empty slogans and remain on paper once again without being followed by concrete effects, if the reforms will simply continue to be announced in order to “cool things down” with the European Parliament, if, over and over again, they will continue to be announced, it will be a question of … “changing everything so that nothing changes” … we will not then have to shout scandal, denounce alleged political plots, see populists and enemies everywhere … and then be surprised if more and more political actors also at the highest level will question the usefulness and even the survival of the EESC.
And, in such a case, we are not going to accept that the staff once again pay the consequences of the mistakes of the EESC’s leaders!
We must never forget that Presidents, Secretaries-General and Human Resources Directors change, but the staff remain.
The new President and the new Bureau of the EESC will be able to count on our full support and cooperation in this process of renewal and far-reaching reforms, which we all hope and pray for.
In any case, R&D will continue, as it has always done, to assist victims so that their rights are finally recognized and the damage suffered is finally repaired.
Mrs C. Schweng, President of the EESC
Mr S. Mallia, President of group I of the EESC
Mr O. Röpke, President of group II of the EESC
Mr S. Boland, President of group III of the EESC
Mr Guillard Director HR of the EESC
Members of the EESC
Mr Sassoli, President of the EP
Mrs Hohlmeier, President and Vice-Presidents and Members of the Budgetary Control Committee of the European Parliament
Mrs O’Reilly, European Ombudsman
Mr Tranholm-Mikkelsen, Secretary-General of the Council of the EU
Mrs Juhansone, Secretary-General of the European Commission
Mr Itälä, Director General of OLAF
Mrs Nicolaie, Director of IDOC
Staff of the Institutions
2 Jean Paul Sartre
3 31a Judgment of the Civil Service Tribunal (Third Chamber) of 12 May 2016, FS / European Economic and Social Committee (CESE), F-50/15, ECLI: EU: F: 2016: 119.