Note for the attention of Ms Christa Schweng
President of the European Economic and Social Committee
Subject: 2020 EESC discharge, nothing has been done and nothing has changed: Harassment cases even increased in 2020!
Ref : My note of 7 July 2021 (https://www.renouveau-democratie.eu/2020/09/ harassment-of-the-european-economic-and-social-committee-the-belgian-public-prosecutor-refers-the-matter-to-the-criminal-court-in-brussels/ )
My note of 14 October 2020 (https://www.renouveau-democratie.eu/2020/10/ breaking-news-harassment-cases-at-the-eesc-the-cont-committee/ )
My note of 21 September 2020 (https://www.renouveau-democratie.eu/2020/09/ harassment-at-the-eesc-withdrawal-of-mr-krawczyks-candidacy/)
My note of 15 May 2020 ( https://www.renouveau-democratie.eu/fr/2020/05/ Harassment at the EESC : R&D has denounced it – OLAF has confirmed it – EP refuses the 2018 discharge to the EESC! Never seen before ! )
My note of 11 February 2020 (https://www.renouveau-democratie.eu/2020/02/ harassment-at-the-eesc/ )
My note of 12 April 2019 (https://www.renouveau-democratie.eu/fr/2019/04/note-a-lattention-de-m-luca-jahier/ )
My note of 12 February 2019 (https://www.renouveau-democratie.eu/2019/02/note-to-the-attention-of-mr-jahier-and-mr-brunetti-harassment-in-the-eesc/ )
My note of 17 December 2018 (http://www.renouveau-democratie.eu/2018/12/note-for-the-attention-of-mr-brunetti-management-of-harassment-cases-in-eesc-2/ )
I. Reminder of the facts
In our repeated communications, we expressed our wish that, under your presidency, the EESC could finally emerge from the deep political and credibility-crisis that had affected your institution for too long.
We had taken seriously and had sincerely welcomed your initial statements, in particular in your interview with Politico in March 2021 (https://www.politico.eu/newsletter/eu-confidential/ politico-eu-confidential-german-election-journey-eesc-in-spotlight/) which was raising the question “Is this institution doomed to remain a relic of a bygone era, or will necessary reforms help the EESC to regain relevance in Brussels and beyond?”.
We especially appreciated your determination to change both the practices and the culture of the institution, finally bringing the facts into line with the promises, empty slogans and so-called zero tolerance-approach proclaimed by your Secretary-General and your administration.
We had taken your commitments seriously, all the more because, by having been a member of the EESC for very long years, you had been a direct witness to the severity of the problems identified.
As such, you did not need much time to grasp these difficulties before implementing the profound changes that the European Parliament, the press, and your staff (who clearly expressed themselves in the last EESC Staff Committee elections supporting in full our request of change) had asked you to put in place, without further delay.
What was our disappointment in noting that, contrary to your promises and our expectations, you thought possible to continue playing the same scenario without any real change.
This is all the more unacceptable and regrettable as you have had the time and opportunity to finally solve the difficulties reported during the 2019 discharge exercise by finally turning this sad page once and for all.
It is true that this would have required for you to clearly distance yourself from the management carried out by your Secretary-General and your administration, the shortcomings of which no longer have to be demonstrated, and which have been so clearly highlighted by the European Parliament in its various resolutions.
Unfortunately, it is exactly this distancing that you do not seem able or willing to adopt, and we can only deeply regret this.
Your attitude only continues to dip the EESC into a state of deep crisis which seriously undermines the reputation and credibility of this institution, and whose staff are the first victims.
II. The 2020 EESC discharge exercise… we continue as if nothing was… and still playing the same scenario… everything is fine, just fine! …
In full consistency with this more than unfortunate approach, the EESC is in the process of addressing the 2020 discharge by making the same gestures vis-à-vis the CONT committee and the EP, promising anything and everything, if it gets the budget discharge and immediately passes its good intentions through losses and profits in the fullest disengagement.
By continuing to deny what EESC believes can still be denied, to trivialise what can still be trivialised, to “forget” to mention certain details… and to recognise only what has become impossible to deny.
In the EESC’s internal communication, the message continues to be different, denying the problems and the need for any reform, and even accusing the same EP, in which so many hypocritical genuflexions are made, to be at the forefront of a political conspiracy and to be the “bad wolf who wants to eat the poor lost sheep”, namely the EESC, as was the case at a meeting of your Secretary-General with the staff.
For the picture to be complete and for the full continuity with the previous management to be certified, all you need to do is join the despicable and risible efforts of the former president and your Secretary-General, to deny our arguments and to declare, shamelessly, in a threatening and disastrous tone, that I would have “brutalised the members of the EESC”, making me responsible for “misinformation, unsubstantiated untrue and unfair allegations, false information…” all accompanied by intimidation by lawsuits… we can imagine… at the expense of the European taxpayer…
III. The remaining and still pending issues in the context of the 2020 discharge
As an example of the decisions you have not adopted, of the management that you seem to want at all costs to be endorsed, of the files that are still the subject of the 2020 discharge, we would like to mention in particular:
1) Your refusal to comply with the EP’s request to carry out an EXTERNAL INVESTIGATION into the reason and responsibilities of the blatant breaches of the duty of care and of the administration’s inaction which made possible the cases of harassment and other inappropriate behaviour identified by the OLAF investigation.
As you understand, it is inevitable that your claim to simply “turn the page”, “look only towards the future”… is perceived as evidence of a lack of willingness on your part to shed light on the mistakes of the past, which gives no guarantee that they cannot repeat themselves in the future.
This is very much in line with your messages about YOUR FULL CONFIDENCE in your Secretary-General and his administration which you continue to show… with too much zeal that has become almost grotesque… so that we would like to invite you to propose them to the European Ombudsman for the Best Administration Award among the European Institutions…
By disguising you as a pro deo lawyer and by proclaiming your unwavering trust in your Secretary-General and administration, you are likely to cross a new step in denying the reality that has been affecting the EESC for too long, and that you seem to have decided to perpetuate by causing deep disappointment to those who had hoped that, with your presidency, things could finally change.
Indeed, in order to avoid succumbing to the political schizophrenia or to give in to the temptation to use the double languageto which nobody might think for a moment that you are in turn curtailed, in order to show yourself enough consistent with your position of 2 June, you have little option but to address you to the EP plenary to solemnly ask it to withdraw, in the near future, its unfettered criticisms and disgraceful demands, completely incompatible with your unwavering support to your Secretary-General, former human resources Director, etc.
In order to help you in this process, we will confine ourselves to recalling here a small sample of the criticisms made, which, in your view, are completely unfair and unjustified, and in order to remain credible you must ask the EP to withdraw:
With regard to your Secretary-General and administration, the EP:
“(…) recalls that Parliament refused to grant discharge to the Secretary-General of the Committee for the financial year 2018, in particular on account of a blatant breach of duty of care and inaction on the part of the administration, as well as the financial consequences; Reminds the Committee that refusal of discharge is a serious matter requiring immediate action”;
“deeply regrets the lack of decisive action, in particular preventive and remedial measures, by the then Director for Human Resources and Finance, now Secretary-General, until the refusal of the 2018 discharge”;
And, as if these were not already enough:
“during the 2018 discharge procedure and part of the 2019 discharge procedure, the Secretary-General was unable to provide sufficient, transparent and reliable information to Parliament’s Committee on Budgetary Control, as shown by the number of times the information provided was refuted by reporting persons, the committee’s trade unions, the victim’s defence team or the author himself”.
With regard to the serious consequences resulting from faults committed by the EESC and its administration, the EP:
“stresses that the failings of the Committee in this case have resulted in a material loss of public funds in terms of legal fees, sick leave, 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;”.
In this respect, we note that the EESC confirms to CONT committee that, at this stage, the financial loss resulting from misconduct already amounts to € 146,508 for 2020 only while there are still victims to compensate.
Do you believe that it is compatible with the basic principles of sound financial management and with the duty of any EU institutions accountability for their decisions and omissions, that the EU budget bears such expenditure while carefully avoiding a credible analysis of the responsibilities involved?
In view of the above, since the same causes have the same effect, it was inevitable that the EP in the context of the 2020 discharge would again send you the same request to open an external investigation… receiving the same empty answer, which would only prolong a difficult deafening dialogue…
Questions that still require a clear answer from you:
For what reasons and on the basis of which justifications (in our view absolutely incomprehensible) do you continue to strongly oppose an external investigation?
This, while ensuring clarity should be, first and foremost, your request to defend the credibility and reputation of the EESC, which you have the honour and responsibility to chair, by showing that you want in practice and once and for all to turn the page against the mistakes of the past?
It is too easy to say “look towards the future” by putting all the dust from the past under the carpet, gleefully wiping the feet on it, ignoring the victims who are still waiting for compensation.
While a fundamental principle of any harassment is that it must be reported and sanctioned, it is the same, logically, for proven shortcomings in the handling of harassment complaints: such failures must be verified through an independent investigation and, where appropriate, the consequences must be drawn from them.
Otherwise, trust will not be restored and harassment will be repeated.
According EESC’s responses to CONT Committee, in 2020 there are no less than seven cases of harassment at the EESC. This is a worrying number and higher than in previous years, which should also make you worry and make you realise that the external investigation is essential.
2) Your unacceptable inaction towards the victims
We can only regret once again that since taking up your duties you have decided not to take charge of the personal management of the measures to put in place for victims, considering it possible and acceptable to entrust this to your Secretary-General and your administration.
Forgetting that they had shown a clear lack of listening and care towards the victims, you seem willing to continue to confuse the problem with the solution…
The obvious aim of this strategy seems to be to push our colleagues to the limits of their emotional resistance, pressing them to accept any solution and any compromise, if not simply to leave the EESC, weary and sometimes devastated by feelings of disgust, injustice and betrayal on the part of an administration from which they were entitled to expect protection.
Of course, it would have been difficult for you to, at the same time, express your full confidence in your Secretary-General and your administration and ensure genuine support for the victims.
Nonetheless, as the EP rightly points out, our colleagues were also victims of the “blatant failure of the administration to act with due diligence and of its inaction”, without forgetting “the lack of decisive action, in particular prevention and compensation measures, on the part of the then Director of human resources and finance, now Secretary-General…”, the same administration and the same Secretary-General to whom you show full support…
However, be aware that your Secretary-General is not the person who is most in need of your support.
Those who need it are the cohort of colleagues who have been suffering at work since the law of the strongest and the feeling of impunity reign at the EESC, which made it possible for the serious facts found by OLAF to occur without the EESC having been able first to prevent them and then to put an end to them, and the victims assisted by R&D had to turn to OLAF for their reasons to be finally recognised.
In order to know when this deleterious and toxic spirit has emerged at the EESC, it is enough to correlate with a simple timetable the significant increase in the number of cases of harassment, the striking increase in sick leave, cases of departure on grounds of invalidity, transfers of officials to other institutions, the number of reports made to the institution’s socio-medical service, and other serious symptoms of the striking deterioration in working conditions at the EESC in terms of exhaustion, depression, demotivation, and other reductions in working hours.
If you have not seen this, have you heard the victims at least?
Your fierce silence on the victims is even more worrying as the EP had stressed the need and urgency for YOUR personal involvement instead of continuing to leave this matter in the hands of your administration with the consequences that the EP rightly regrets.
Because by putting the victims very legitimately at the heart of its concerns, the EP had asked you to:
“rapidly reach a settlement agreement with victims of harassment and misconduct; Believes that the new Directorate should play an active role in negotiating a settlement with the victims, with the aim of reaching a fair and satisfactory agreement agreed by all parties, as well as to avoid any conflict of interest;
to be aware of the damage caused to victims and reporting persons, both materially and in moral terms, due to insufficient support and the lack of legitimate reintegration and compensation; is deeply concerned that the victims had to lodge a complaint due to the inaction of the Committee’s administration in the context of the reintegration procedure; reminds the Committee of its obligation to protect victims and reporting persons”.
And the EP had rightly stated:
“deeply concerned that in April 2021 the EESC continues to be in breach of its duty of care towards victims of harassment and serious misconduct, as it has concluded amicable settlement agreements with only two of the four victims and has not yet published the public apologies promised and reiterates its call for clear and strong protection and support measures for victims of harassment”
And the EP expected:
“that the settlement with victims is based on the principles of transparency and decency and include public excuses, fair conditions for settlement, the full reintegration of victims into their working environment and the guarantee of protection against the adverse consequences of the case; strongly opposes any pressure on victims to sign non-disclosure clauses and prevent them from providing information on the Rules of Procedure in full confidentiality to Parliament’s Committee on Budgetary Control; Calls on the Committee to present a detailed report on the proposed protection and compensation measures; calls on the Committee to report on the current situation of the identified victims”.
However, the fact is that several years after the facts established by the OLAF investigation, several victims are still awaiting a response from the EESC, commensurate with the seriousness of the damage they have suffered, and no public excuse has been sent to them by you on behalf of the EESC…
Under these circumstances, it was inevitable that the EP would make the same request to you again in the context of the 2020 discharge, receiving the same empty response and continuing a difficult and deafening dialogue…
Questions that still require a clear answer from you:
For which reasons, and on the basis of which justifications, absolutely incomprehensible in our view, do you continue to entrust your Secretary-General and your administration with the management of victim assistance?
For which reasons, and on the basis of which justifications, absolutely incomprehensible in our view, do you continue to wish to play the pro deo lawyer of your Secretary-General and your administration, failing to respond appropriately to the EP’s invitation, refusing to “personally take charge of the negotiation of a settlement with the victims, with the aim of reaching a fair and satisfactory agreement agreed by all parties, as well as to avoid any conflict of interest”?
Is it true that most recently you even refused to take any action on complaints made to you by other victims, confirming that it is solely for your Secretary-General and your administration to deal with them?
If so, how can you display yourself publicly as the new champion of the zero-tolerance policy about harassment and wash your hands as soon as a victim goes to you to get at least some start of consideration and protection?
If so, do you think you can help build a new climate of trust within the EESC?
While showing all the care that the victims deserve, you should decide, first and foremost, to defend the credibility and reputation of the EESC, which you have the honour and responsibility to chair, by demonstrating willingness, in practice and once and for all, to turn the page against the mistakes of the past.
Under these circumstances, and in line with what has been done to finally give a satisfactory response to our whistle-blower colleagues in the Committee of the Regions, we can only request that the CONT Committee appoint one of its members as a mediator to ensure that victims FINALLY have their rights recognised.
3) Regarding the new procedures announced to ensure a genuine “zero tolerance” against any form of harassment or other inappropriate behaviour.
It must be borne in mind that, given the seriousness of the findings made by OLAF in its report and the indisputable inadequacy of the procedures put in place within the EESC, the EP had repeatedly requested that:
“The EESC shall 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”.
However, even after the publication of the OLAF report, your predecessor and your Secretary-General had continued to try to convince everyone… or maybe just themselves… that at the EESC everything is fine and that the EESC was still “the spearhead in promoting a respectful working environment” and that it would only have been a question of “maintaining their current efforts”.
Adding, without blushing, that the EESC was a pioneer (sic!) on which all the other institutions should have inspired when it comes to fighting any form of harassment !
These assurances and positions had become merely ridiculous and insulting to the victims since, following the results of the OLAF investigation, your predecessor and your Secretary-General obstinately continued repeating the same refrain concerning the effectiveness of the measures put in place to prevent… exactly the same serious facts that OLAF had just found.
As part of the same purely and simply inacceptable approach put in place under your Presidency concerning the follow-up of victims’ cases, you believed that it was possible and credible to instruct your Secretary-General and your administration to announce the introduction of a range of new procedures requested by the EP in order to prevent the mistakes of the past from recurring.
Questions that still require a clear answer from you:
For what reasons, and based on which justifications, that we consider to be absolutely incomprehensible, do you continue to entrust your Secretary-General and your administration with the task of handling this matter, even though they have always argued that the procedures in place are exemplary… daring to keep on confirming that, even after the results of the OLAF investigation?
And in particular, why in its replies which the EESC has just sent to CONT, it has been omitted to mention that on 22 October 2021 the EESC Staff Committee has issued a negative opinion on the proposal to set up an internal ombudsman service, denouncing inter alia the lack of any independence of such a service with regard to the proposal submitted by your Secretary-General?
4) Regarding the need to ensure full independence of the Legal Service
It should be recalled that in several discharge procedures the EP had to remind the EESC that:
“…the Legal Service of the Committee was greatly weakened for four years from March 2010 when the head of the Legal Service was dismissed with immediate effect from his duties after having denounced serious irregularities and illicit pressures by the Secretary General at the time; also recalls that this position was vacant for three and a half years, that the European Civil Service Tribunal condemned the Committee for this case (judgment F-41/10 RENV Bermejo Garde v EESC), that the Committee had to pay more than EUR 100 000 and that only in 2014 a new head of the Legal Service was finally appointed and the service reinforced with five lawyers;”
And the EP expressed its deep concern about:
“…recent changes which may again weaken the Legal Service of the Committee,, in particular by the fact that, since 1st January 2020, it has been the only legal service of the institutions of the Union to be directly attached to the Secretary-General…’
And the EP had invited the EESC to:
“…to eliminate all measures that could weaken it in the exercise of its corresponding activities and functions; also reminds the Committee of the importance of consulting the Legal Service on the Committee’s decisions in order to assure they comply with the law and to avoid making serious mistakes and subsequent legal, long and onerous proceedings.”
Contrary to the assurances that the EESC has just given to the CONT committee, it appears that the Legal Service is not consulted in all cases that could have legal implications for the Committee.
EESC claims that the Legal Service is consulted or informed of all important Committee cases, but how could such a small service be involved in all these cases?
And how can EESC say that the Legal Service is involved in negotiations with victims when the victims themselves say that it is not?
Under these circumstances, it was inevitable that the EP would again send you the same request in the context of the 2020 discharge, receiving the same empty answer by maintaining a difficult deafening dialogue…
Question that still requires a clear answer from you:
For what reasons, and on the basis of what reasons, which, in our view, are absolutely incomprehensible, do you continue not to propose a clear and definitive internal reform that FINALLY guarantees the independence of the EESC’s Legal Service?
Finally, how can EESC decently speak of the independence of the Legal Service when in practice it is almost taken hostage and placed under the control of your Secretary-General?
How can EESC talk about the independence of the Legal Service if, upstream, its access to information is filtered by the Secretary-General, while, downstream, its opinions are hidden from or refused to the Staff Committee, or even to the members?
The time has come for you too, to FINALLY recognise that the “old regime” has died, to prove by clear acts and credible reforms and not by empty slogans that the EESC IS NOT “the Zombie, who has lost his mission but who still lives” or“an expensive relic of a bygone era”, described by many outside observers.
For R&D, there can be no question of “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” by making the whole institution and its staff pay for unforgivable mistakes of which colleagues are the first victims.
In this effort of renewal, we appeal again only to you, expecting nothing more from your administration.
Indeed, we must never forget that it is these mistakes, which have become unforgivable because of the arrogant claim of some to never be accountable to anyone for their actions, that have brought the EESC into disrepute, thus playing into the hands of the enemies of the European project and of our civil service.
And certainly not the criticisms sung in unison by R&D, OLAF, the European Parliament, the Council of the Union, the Court…
Mr G. Brunetti, Secretary General of the EESC
Mr S. Mallia, President of Group I at the EESC
Mr O. Röpke, President of Group II at the EESC
Mr S. Boland, President of Group III at the EESC
Mr Guillard, EESC HR Director
Members of the EESC
Mr Sassoli, President of the EP
Ms Hohlmeier, Chair, Vice-Chairs, and Members of the EP Committee on Budgetary Control
Mr Olivier Chastel, rapporteur for the 2019 EESC discharge
Ms O’Reilly, European Ombudsman
Mr Tranholm-Mikkelsen, Secretary General of the Council of the EU
Ms Juhansone, Secretary General of the European Commission
Mr Itälä, Director General of OLAF
Ms Nicolaie, Director IDOC
Staff of the Institutions