Executive Agencies: Time for action

We call for the mobilisation of all staff to show our solidarity with our colleagues in the agencies who must be treated with dignity and respect.

Let’s all gather at the Berlaymont on Tuesday 6 June 2023 from 12.30 to 13.30!

Dear colleagues,

The staff of the European Commission’s Executive Agencies are seeing their working conditions deteriorate systematically over the years. They are faced with a reduction in their number of posts, while the budgets for which they are responsible are ever increasing. All the staff express their dissatisfaction with the precariousness of their status, in particular the limited possibilities of career and mobility, as well as the unfavourable salary conditions compared to colleagues working in the central services.

We have constantly denounced this difficult situation, including through mobilisations which brought together several hundred colleagues at Covent Garden on 13 December and 31 January.

We regret the absence of genuine social dialogue that takes into account the real aspirations of agency staff, despite numerous information and consultation sessions that have not led to lasting solutions.

Instead, the policy of the fait accompli has prevailed throughout the discussions held over the last few months – backtracking:

  • The forced move of agencies to North Light: “The tree that hides the forest”

In a joint Common Front initiative (letter of 29 November 2022), we raised objections to the forced move of the staff of the agencies concerned to the North Light building, and to the justification for such a choice. It is this erratic and short-term policy of the OIB (Office for Infrastructure and Logistics) that is now being questioned, and the North Light building is indicative of this in view of the opacity of the financial conditions that surrounded its negotiation.

In this respect, the financial regulation is clear: European taxpayers’ money must be used according to criteria of economy, efficiency and effectiveness. The OIB took this decision without proper consultation of the staff and without having demonstrated the economic and financial rationality of such a choice, not to mention the legitimate security concerns in this area. Despite the assurances given by Commissioner Hahn (31 January) and then by the Director of the OIB in a note of 10 March, the fact remains that such a decision cannot be justified solely by arguments of financial savings and greening of buildings without taking into account the well-being and working conditions of the staff of the executive agencies.

In reality, the move to North Light is part of the Commission’s new buildings policy, which aims to compress workspaces and gradually transform them into Dynamic Collaborative Spaces (DCS), thus limiting the functioning of work groups and increasing psycho-social risks linked to noise and isolation, among other things. Thus, the surface area of the buildings planned for this new way of working means that the Commission is withdrawing from its own buildings, which will be sold at a lower value than the market price.

We must not give in to the blackmail of the Secretary of State for Urban Planning and European Relations of the Brussels Capital Region, Pascal Smet, who also made insulting remarks about all the staff of the European institutions at a meeting on 23 January organised at the initiative of the OIB. The latter wants to carry out its major plan to revitalise the northern district of Brussels in exchange for being sympathetic to the Commission’s initiatives to sell off its “family jewels” (see article in Le Soir 30.03.2023 : Immobilier: la Belgique veut acheter un milliard d’euros de bureaux à la Commission européenne ).

  • An increasingly chaotic governance, but who is really in charge?

Today, after several delays, three agencies (REA, EACEA and EISMEA) are concerned by the move. There is no plan B. In early May 2023, the preparation envisaged for this transfer is, to say the least, erratic and even incipient for some agencies.

Thanks to our mobilisation, the issue of the relocation of the agencies is taking on a whole new dimension, covering aspects of internal governance (role of the management committees with the supervisory Directorates-General and the Directors of the agencies) and the legality and regularity of the procedures which will be examined by the budgetary authority. 

Concerning the building procedure for the move to North Light, we were amazed to see a true lottery being organised by the OIB. Throughout the procedure, the OIB acted as if it was solely responsible for the choice of the building as well as for all aspects of the procedure. Faced with the remarks received from the central services pointing out the absence of prior information of the Budgetary Authority, as required by the legal basis invoked, the OIB did not hesitate to change the initial legal basis by indicating that the responsibility would be, under Article 50(a)2 of the Common Financial Regulation for the Executive Agencies, with the parent Directorates-General and that the Directors of the Agencies would be “fully responsible for the building procedure submitted to the Budgetary Authority“.

As the parent Directorates-General were unwilling to take on this role and assume responsibility for the building procedure, the OIB had to revert to the original legal basis and belatedly inform the Budgetary Authority. However, as in any administration, our institutions are governed by an obligation to account for budgetary expenditure to the Budgetary Authority and therefore to European taxpayers. This principle of trust has been undermined and is doing great harm to the image of our institutions.

This episode shows the extent to which the division of responsibilities between the Agencies, the supervisory DGs and the central services of our institution must be clarified once and for all.

Yet this is essential to establish with clarity and certainty who is responsible and who is accountable, but also what cannot be managed on the basis of “à la carte” approaches and personal interpretations.

  • The restructuring of agencies is underway

Today, some executive agencies are being targeted for job cuts. Within the single EISMEA agency, responsible for the flagship programme of the research and innovation policy, namely the European Innovation Council (EIC) worth €10 billion, as presented in the initial Cost-Benefit Analysis, will require the loss of about 90 posts, i.e. about 20% of staff by 2027. It was promised that new programmes would be delegated to the agency, but despite the efforts of the hierarchy such programmes were never delivered. Furthermore, it was suddenly decided to transfer a unit of 13 colleagues to DG Research on 16 May, following the results of the very critical IAS audit report.

As a consequence, posts that had been opened are now frozen, and therefore so many opportunities for career development are disappearing. We are also worried about the increasing number of colleagues departing. All of this is detrimental to the proper functioning of the services concerned, which are less able to carry out their tasks effectively.

This situation, which we have been denouncing for several years, has caused intense stress among the 400 or so colleagues concerned, from the top to the bottom of the agency. They will have to carry out their tasks with fewer staff and are wondering about their professional future and that of their agency.  The staff is thus divided and powerless in the face of unilateral decisions motivated solely by the quest for savings. It is to be feared that this will be followed by other, more important restructurings that could affect other agencies. 

  • On these different issues, we consider that the situation is very worrying because:
  • The OIB has not met the reasonable expectations in terms of engagement or social dialogue with staff or their representatives (Joint Staff Committee – CSC, CPPT, Agency Staff Committees, etc.)
  • In the case of EISMEA, colleagues who will be transferred to DG RTD, even on a voluntary basis, will not be able to keep the same status;
  • In the face of staff cuts at EISMEA, we have not been informed of any concrete steps to create a de facto and lasting solidarity between the agencies with concerted mobility processes; 
  • In general, there is no willingness to discuss seriously with the unions and staff committees the future of the Executive Agencies.
  • In the absence of constructive social dialogue, we must rely more on our own strength to make our demands heard:
  • For more transparency on building policy and in particular on the North Light building
  • For a genuine global negotiation on working conditions and their essential corollary: career development
  • For the legitimate interests and expectations of staff transferred to DG RTD to be taken into account, and for concrete prospects for agency staff, for example by giving them the opportunity to take internal competitions
  • For a policy of mobility and solidarity between agencies and against the net job cuts foreseen in EISMEA in particular.

We need everyone’s support!

We call for the mobilisation of all staff to show our solidarity with

our colleagues in the agencies

who must be treated with dignity and respect.

Let’s all gather at the Berlaymont on Tuesday 6 June 2023 from 12.30 to 13.30!

A staff representative delegation will ask for a meeting with Commissioner Johannes Hahn

Sandwiches and drinks will be provided by the trade unions.