BREAKING NEWS : The EP decides to postpone the 2020 discharge to the EESC and asks for an EXTERNAL AND INDEPENDENT INVESTIGATION to determine the responsibility of the Committee’s administrative hierarchy
Brussels, 13 June 2022
Note for the attention of
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
“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results ”1
In my note of 24 March 2022, I drew your attention, as Presidents of the three EESC groups, on the decision of the CONT to propose ONCE AGAIN to the EP plenary that the Secretary General be denied discharge, this time for the 2020 budget.
This was an unusually significant position, but, from our perspective, completely justified also in view ONCE AGAIN of the Secretary General’s absolutely disastrous handling of the discharge procedure.
Despite the efforts made to convince MEPs of the malicious nature of our positions and the lack of justification for the CONT’s proposal, at its plenary session of 4 May 2022, the EP decided ONCE AGAIN, by an overwhelming majority, to deny so far the Secretary General the 2020 discharge to the EESC.
Given the seriousness of these findings, the EP asks for an EXTERNAL AND INDEPENDENT INVESTIGATION to determine the responsibility of the Committee’s administrative hierarchy and, where appropriate, to apply Article 22 of the Staff Regulations2 allowing to make good any damage suffered by the Union as a result of serious misconduct on their part in the course of or in connection with the performance of their duties.
So as to avoid being accused of disseminating malicious information ONCE AGAIN, we leave the floor to the EP, whose decision under points 37 and 47 of the resolution outlined as follows:
« (…) Regrets that the Committee still does not accept responsibility or conduct an external investigation to examine the seriousness of the abuses, and urges the Committee to conduct such an investigation and to publicly apologise to all victims of misconduct and bullying by the former Group I President, as promised by the Committee’s senior management (…)
(…) Regrets that its unambiguous calls for an internal exercise of responsibility have been systematically ignored and insists on the need for an external and independent enquiry to determine the responsibility of the Committee’s administrative hierarchy and, where appropriate, to apply Article 22 of the Staff Regulations; calls for an external enquiry to review the Committee’s human resources procedures and its effectiveness, with a particular focus on dealing with complaints of harassment and ensuring staff well-being (…) »
“One is always responsible for what one does not try to prevent.”
Dear Presidents of the three groups of the EESC,
We are looking forward to hearing your voice!
Time has come for you, as members of the EESC Bureau, to acknowledge that the “old regime” is over.
Your deafening silence regarding these series of political disasters, the absence of any visible stance on your part, the image of the EESC Bureau which spends its time meekly congratulating the President and her Secretary-General for the positive results announced in the scope of every discharge exercise, except for having to take note of the EP’s bloody criticisms and refusals to grant discharge,… the same charade being repeated in each exercise, this without the Bureau ever asking the President and the Secretary-General to finally account for it…. This can no longer last!
Your responsibility is all the more significant as the President and her Secretary General have given up hope that things might finally change at the EESC!
A President who has not kept her promises…
Indeed, as soon as she took office, Ms Schweng confirmed that she was perfectly aware of the need and urgency to finally assist the victims of the cases of harassment reported by R&D and confirmed by OLAF, and of the necessity to put an end to the shortcomings in the functioning of the EESC’s administration which we had denounced and which had been confirmed on several occasions by the EP.
We took her commitments to heart, especially since, as a long-standing member of the EESC, Ms Schweng had witnessed first-hand the seriousness of the problems identified.
It was disappointing to see that, contrary to her promises, to our expectations and to the request of the EP, Ms Schweng thought it was possible to completely bow down to the approach of her Secretary General and her HR Director and carry on with the same disastrous scenario without real change.
A President who failed to bring about the reforms and changes the EESC needs …
The EP decision on 2020 discharge confirms once more that Ms Schweng has not been able to restore the credibility and reputation of the EESC by implementing the necessary reforms and far-reaching changes that the EESC staff so deserve, that are so urgent and that with the EP we have repeatedly called for.
A President who has not even been able to assist the victims to finally obtain the fair settlement, the due compensation and the public apology they so rightly deserve…
As the EP recalls under point 42 of its resolution:
“The Parliament had asked the president of the Committee, in the context of the 2019 discharge, to play an active role in negotiating a settlement with the victims, with the aim of reaching a fair and satisfactory agreement between all parties, and preventing any conflicts of interest and for the Committee to publicly apologise to the victims, something that, unfortunately, did not happen”
Even worse: a President playing lawyer pro deo for her Secretary General
Since taking office, Ms Schweng has repeatedly confirmed her total confidence in her Secretary General with such zeal that it has become almost grotesque… so much so that we have already taken the initiative of inviting her to propose him to the European Ombudsman for the prize for the best administration among the European institutions…
This incomprehensible and, in our view, absolutely irresponsible attitude has only worsened the total loss of trust in the EESC and the political crisis with the European Parliament, which has thus seen all its criticisms, requests for explanations and proposals for action to be taken with regard to our colleagues who are victims of the very serious acts of harassment and other inappropriate behaviors concerning the victims assisted by R&D and noted by OLAF in its report… swept aside in a single stroke.
“You either have to be part of the solution, or you’re going to be part of the problem ”
Nearing the end of her mandate it is time to take stock: we must resign ourselves unhappily to the fact that the President’s willingness to simply “turn the page”, “look only towards the future” has not allowed to shed light on the mistakes and responsibilities of the past, which is no guarantee that they will not be repeated in the future.
This is the same sad fact that the CONT and the EP concluded.
“You cannot solve problems with the same thinking that created them”.
A Secretary General with “le Guépard ”3 as a bedside book :
Not being able to expect anything more from the President, this was the reason why, in my above-mentioned note, I drew your attention as Presidents of the three EESC’s groups to the fact that, within the context of the 2020 discharge, the Secretary-General of the EESC, in perfect consistency with the disastrous approach that has already led to the EP’s refusal to grant discharge in the past, was ONCE MORE denying what the EESC believes can still be denied, trivialising what can still be trivialised, “forgetting” to mention certain details… and finally recognising only what has become impossible to deny…
Keeping in promising to set up new procedures… “to change everything so that nothing changes”… Le Guépard definitely being his favourite bedside book…
Likewise despite all the efforts of the staff representatives, nothing is expected of social dialogue, which the Secretary General seems to regard as a purely self-referential social treating the EESC’s staff as mere chess pawns.
Indeed, the Secretary General had repeatedly reported to the EP “requests, very fruitful consultations and even agreements reached” with the EESC staff representation… requests, consultations and agreements that the EP has subsequently had to systematically deny, as most recently under point 54 of its resolution for the 2020 discharge procedure, concerning the alleged agreement on the setting up an “internal ombudsman”… of course devoid of any real independence… with the EP forced to recall:
“… points out that the decision to create an internal ombudsman was presented as an agreement that had been welcomed by the staff when, in fact the Staff Committee had issued a negative opinion on it…”
The same truth denials are applied to the internal “self-referential social monologue” organised by the Secretary General.
Indeed, in his message of 24 May, it was this time all the EESC staff trade Unions who had to firmly deny the Secretary General who, in his message to staff on the subject of the cooperation agreement, had claimed to have duly involved and consulted staff representatives, whereas this had not been the case at all…. with the EESC trade Unions inviting the Secretary General to finally take note of the fact that “Your staff deserve better than to be used simply as chess pawns“.
Dear Presidents of the three groups of the EESC,
We are looking forward to hearing your voice!
The EESC bureau must no longer be perceived as a simple registration chamber that endorses any decision without flinching!
It is in this context that, by my note of 22 March, I have drawn your attention to the fact that the EESC Bureau, which you are members of, is now perceived as a mere recording chamber and a systematic and critical support for the decisions taken by the Secretary-General, particularly but not only in the context of the discharge procedure. At that same time, I took the opportunity to address to you the six most urgent questions that required a response from you.
My note seems to have at least had the effect of awakening attention to the disastrous outcome of the discussion in the CONT by denying for the umpteenth time the assurances given that “as usual” this time the discharge process was “under control”.
As a matter of fact, in the desperate and hopeless attempt to avoid the refusal of the discharge by the EP plenary, frenzied lobbying activities were carried out in order to convince the MEPs of the unfoundedness of the criticisms contained in the CONT’s report, with the aim of getting the EP plenary to finally grant the discharge.
Unbridled lobbying efforts… with the result that is now known… but that will undoubtedly not discourage our apprentice lobbyists….
« Fere libenter homines id quod volunt credunt »
It is indeed easier and more pleasant for those responsible for the governance of the EESC to believe the promises of the Secretary General, to take seriously his assurances given on the occasion of each discharge, and to believe that the deep political crisis in which this institution has been immersed for a long time is totally unjustified and solely the result of the malicious intentions of external trade unionists, of the EP’s desire to “swallow the EESC”, of the victims’ lawyers… the justifications evolving over time and according to the circumstances…
« Ridicule does not kill, but it does make you feel uncomfortable… »
Faced with this new failure, the “everything’s fine, move along, there’s nothing to see” orchestra resumed its exhibitions, explaining that everything would be resolved… next time…
“Usque tandem abutere patientia nostra …”
It is totally irresponsible, as well as pathetic, to continue to try to trivialise an unprecedented political crisis of such gravity and magnitude!
Indeed, in the context of the 2020 discharge, the EESC is setting a new record that further tarnishes what little reputation the EESC has left and of which its staff is the first victim!
We let a few days pass by after the EP’s decision to allow the above-mentioned orchestra to be discharged in an attempt to trivialise the scope of and reasons for this umpteenth discharge refusal.
We have admired the audacity of the explanations given and, in order to assist the lobbyists in their efforts, we would like to underline here the results achieved by grouping them by chapter so that the work can be distributed among the different teams of “apprentice specialist lobbyists”.
Indeed, in its resolution in addition to the above-mentioned points, the EP confirms in toto the analysis of the CONT and particularly highlights:
1) Internal failures in financial and HR management and independence of Legal Service
In point 8: The EP pointed out that 2.2 million euros were used to reimburse members for their remote participation during the pandemic underling that this decision damages the reputation of the Committee in the eyes of the citizens. What will the EESC do to restore its credibility when it reimburses members?
I do not even need to remind you that I already had to draw the attention of the President and her Secretary General to the unacceptable nature of such decision, which gives the EESC a disgraceful image.
In points 13-14: The EP reiterates its request to the Secretary General to reconsider its decision to transfer the Legal Service under its responsibility because it is concerned that this reorganisation does not provide the Legal Service with the independence it needs to work effectively.
The EP calls on the EESC to finally guarantee the full independence of the Legal Service by also ensuring that the Legal Service is able to independently assess all decisions taken by the Committee’s management and that it has sufficient resources and the necessary prerogatives to carry out its tasks in the interests of the Committee.
Let us remind that one of the first measures of the Secretary General in 2019 was to try to make the Legal Service disappear from the organisation chart and to disperse its members in other services (see our notes of 12 April and 13 May 2019). The Secretary General can repeat endlessly that the reorganisation aims at giving a horizontal vision to the legal service but it is clear that the EP is not fooled.
And how could a service of 5 lawyers, the smallest unit in the EESC, review all the decisions of the EESC management? As long as the draft decisions are submitted to it… The procedure put in place by the Secretary General concerning the referral to the Legal Service being, as the EP rightly denounces, “weak and imprecise”.
In point 21: asks the Secretary General to carry out a full assessment of the HR situation at the EESC due to, among other things, long-term vacancies, many managers occupying ad interim posts, a complaint to the European Ombudsman for closing a selection procedure without appointment, mobility decisions not respected for 23 posts, many posts created as “equivalents” lacking transparency.
There is no need to recall here the damning observation concerning the lack of applications for published posts and mobility to other institutions of EESC colleagues.
“It is impossible to solve problems with the same persons that have created them”.
The situation has become so disastrous that the need to make the EESC an attractive place to work has become one of the five objectives of the General Secretariat’s work programme for 2022… Without, of course, first addressing the question of who is responsible for the current disaster… analyzing the root causes and responsibilities of problems is obviously an absolutely forbidden activity within the EESC…
2) Lack of assistance to victims of harassment, lack of any credible and effective measures to combat all forms of harassment: harassment cases increase in 2020
In point 32: The EP denounces that inacceptable inaction of the EESC’s administration and deeply regrets that the Secretary General still refuses to admit the internal shortcomings which lead to the violation of the duty of care towards staff victims of harassment.
In points 35-37: The EP deplores the delay follow-up by the EESC to compensate the 4 victims of harassment mentioned in the OLAF report of January 2020. In particular, one victim has still not received any follow-up and “strongly condemns the statement by the secretary-general indicating that the delay of the settlement was the fault of the victim”.
In point 38 the EP strongly disapproves that in breach of all applicable rules EESC failed to protect the identity of whistleblower, and strongly disapproves “that both the former president of the Committee and the former director of human and financial resources, now the secretary-general of the Committee, attempted to take legal action against the whistleblower”.
Indeed, to spread the rumors of legal action to intimidate anyone who dares to criticize is a privilege that has also been reserved to myself…
In point 40: the EUR 150.000 lost by the EESC in 2020 for compensation and legal costs related to the 2018 harassment case by one of its members is deplored by the EP as it could be much higher if you count the previous years that the EESC has not been able to estimate! The EP asks the EESC to recover the funds from the perpetrator.
In point 43, 44 and 46: EP regrets that that there were six requests for assistance related to possible cases of harassment in 2020, which proves that the preventive measures in place need to be reinforced. Thus proving once more the total lack of substance of the assurances so generously provided by the SG concerning the irreproachable and exemplary nature of the procedures in place.
In point 47: the EP reiterates that any unethical behaviour by staff and members of the Union institutions and bodies hinders the sound management of the Union’s funds and negatively impacts citizens’ trust in the Union as a whole and regrets the impunity and repressive management style within the EESC and “that its unambiguous calls for an internal exercise of accountability have been consistently ignored and insists on the need for an external and independent investigation to determine the responsibility of the administrative hierarchy of the Committee; and, where applicable, apply Article 22 of the Staff Regulations.”
Carrying out without delay the INDIPENDENT AND EXTERNAL INVESTIGATION requested by the EP is the ONLY WAY for the EESC to exit from the dramatic political crisis into which it has been plunged for too long.
Dear Presidents of the three groups of the EESC,
We are looking forward to hearing your voice!
Finally coming out of your reserve and expressing yourself openly in favour of launching this independent and external investigation you will demonstrate that you do want to defend the reputation and credibility of the EESC and that you have fully understood both the extent of the political crisis affecting the EESC and the urgency of finally implementing the required measures.
Indeed, contrary to what the President and the Secretary General seem to believe, the issue at stake is not to finally obtain the discharge from the EP, at any cost and under any condition, promising whatever they can by making empty promises that are systematically contradicted by the facts…and then “turn the page”…”looking only towards the future”…
The issue at stake and your responsibility is also to openly request to put in place without any additional delay the required measures that can enable to re-establish the credibility and reputation of the EESC which has been totally destroyed by an absolutely disastrous management.
The issue at stake is to make 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.
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 unforgettable mistakes of which colleagues are the first victims.
Indeed, we must never forget that it is these mistakes, which have become unforgettable because of the arrogant claim of some to never be accountable to anyone for their actions, which have damaged the reputation of the EESC, playing into the hands of the enemies of the European project and of our civil service.
And certainly not the criticisms made in unison by R&D, OLAF, the European Parliament, the Court, the press…
We must never forget that Presidents, Secretaries-General and Human Resources Directors change, but the staff remain and must not pay the heavy consequences of others’ mistakes.
Ms Schweng, President of the EESC
Mr Brunetti, Secretary General of the EESC
Mr Guillard, Human Resources Director of the EESC
Ms Metzola, President of the EP
Ms Hohlmeier, Chair, Vice-Chair, and members of the EP Committee on Budgetary Control
Ms García Muñoz rapporteur of the EESC 2020 discharge
Members of the European Parliament
Ms O’Reilly, European Ombudsman
Mr Itälä, Director General of OLAF
Ms Nicolaie, Director of IDOC
Staff of the Institutions
1 Albert Einstein
2 Article 22 of the Staff Regulations: “An official may be required to make good, in whole or in part, any damage suffered by the Union as a result of serious misconduct on his part in the course of or in connection with the performance of his duties. A reasoned decision shall be given by the appointing authority in accordance with the procedure laid down in regard to disciplinary matters. The Court of Justice of the European Union shall have unlimited jurisdiction in disputes arising under this provision”.