Brussels, 24 January 2024

Note for the attention of Mrs Kadri Simpson,

Commissioner for Energy


Mr. Johannes Hahn,

Commissioner for Budget and Administration

Subject: Urgent need of Commission’s increased support to Fusion for Energy (F4E), inter alia, for its reorganisation

Ref: Reinforced governance of the Commission towards Agencies and other external bodies

1. Reminder of the facts

We cannot stress enough that in May 2021 a member of F4E staff – a brilliant young Italian engineer – took his own life, denouncing, in his last letter to his family, the work pressure and unhealthy working environment at F4E.

Following a General Assembly, F4E staff calling for a strike action expressed their deep disappointment about the fact that preliminary assessment of the inquiry concerning the suicide of our colleague did not take duly into account the continuous degradation of F4E’s working conditions, expressing their concern that this situation will continue and may affect more of the staff.

On the one hand, I’ve very much appreciated that our requests and initiatives for OLAF to open formal investigations have been successful and we eagerly look forward to their findings.

On the other hand, faced with F4E’s inability to redress the situation, the staff decided on the same occasion to ask the trade union representatives “to bring F4E’s concerns to the attention of the political authorities in Brussels and to discuss with them how to improve the situation within the organisation”.

By message  of 17 January 2022, the trade unions drew your attention to the extent of F4E’s concerns, underlining that: “While F4E has implemented actions plans, apparently “ticking” all the right boxes, the real situation in the organisation has been constantly deteriorating as confirmed by successive management assessments in 2019 and 2020 and several internal surveys highlighted repeatedly the enormous workload and pressure on staff the lack of trust in the Senior Management, the dysfunctional and non-transparent internal decision-making, and the overall weak management practices”.

We particularly appreciated that, in your reply of 24 February 2022, you have confirmed that the Commission will have spared no effort to ensure the improvement of the overall working climate within F4E, committing itself to building a healthy environment for all staff and ensuring that their concerns are adequately addressed by their management. You have also underlined that DG ENER will have provided regular assistance and support to the HR department of F4E.

The hearing at the CONT Committee (Video)

It is worth recalling that given the seriousness of the problems detected, the Budget Control Committee of the European Parliament called a special meeting in relation to the detrimental management of F4E staff asking staff representatives to keep the Committee informed if the crisis situation at F4E was not duly resolved.

On this occasion, in addition to passing on the staff’s complaints about the toxic management, I defended the necessity and urgency for the budgetary authority to provide F4E with the necessary resources to carry out its missions.

Indeed, it was important to underline that while it is essential and urgent to re-establish exemplary management of F4E, the problems observed must not become a pretext for failing to provide adequate resources, in terms of both quantity and quality. By further penalising F4E staff who have constantly denounced their excessive workload.

The concerns underlined by the Governing Board of F4E

For its part, the Governing Board of F4E pointed out that: Since 2020, the Staff Engagement Survey shows a most significant decrease in the area of leadership (the lowest scoring dimension of the survey), while also being 20 percentage points lower than the average of EU Agencies that participated in this Staff Engagement Survey. The Survey shows significant decrease in staff’s perception of top management having a long-term vision for the organization, as well as in the area of top management’s commitment to the development of F4E, and in terms of leading by example.”

2. The reinforced governance of the Commission towards the Agencies and other external bodies: F4E must set the benchmark! 

Indeed, after your first above-mentioned reaction, we want to thank you warmly for having responded favourably to our follow-up request aiming at making F4E the benchmark of the reinforced governance decided by Commissioner Hahn, which we have been calling for a long time and which we support with the greatest conviction.

We have rightly appreciated that your commitments have been fully honored with a reinforced involvement of the Commission’s central services. 

In this respect, we would also like to sincerely thank your cabinets and Mr Leardini as Deputy Secretary General for always being sensitive and attentive to our requests and for listening to our concerns.

Likewise, we particularly wish to thank Mr Garribba as Deputy Director General of DG ENER and Mr Coppola as DG ENER HR Correspondent for their tireless commitment and for coordinating the Commission services’ interventions for F4E.

Increased support of DG HR is above all needed in order to reestablish trust in the legality and fairness of the decisions taken

We have especially appreciated that you have confirmed that, as we have requested, DG HR will support DG ENER in assisting F4E’s administration in any staff management issue and especially in the most sensitive ones, notably by sharing HR management best practices applicable to the Commission, and we greatly appreciated the fact that Mr Roques, as Deputy Director General of DG HR immediately confirmed that he was personally available for providing this enhanced assistance. 

We can only deeply regret that F4E did not always give the impression of wanting to take advantage of this invaluable support.

This is all the more regrettable given that as soon as the Director of F4E was appointed, we recalled again that the results of all the staff surveys had clearly shown that colleagues had denounced the lack of transparency in the decision-making process, thus jeopardising trust in the fairness of the decisions taken” (link)  and that is why we invited F4E to verify with DG HR before its adoption each important administrative decision in order to ensure its compatibility with the Staff Regulations and its implementing rules.

In this respect, we warmly thank DG HR for reminding F4E of the rules to be applied whenever we request its intervention.

3. We are, unfortunately, obliged to acknowledge that all the above-mentioned efforts made to date HAVE NOT BEEN ENOUGH to enable F4E to overcome the problems identified, as indisputably confirmed by the fact that: 

The results of the 2022 F4E staff survey were again dramatically below the EU average and, in terms of total lack of trust in senior management, probably the worst result ever recorded in a European institution! To illustrate the extent to which these results are disastrous, it is sufficient to note that only 15% of F4E staff think that the Senior Management team “leads by example”, a drop of 12 points compared to 2020, and only 16% of F4E staff think that the members of the Senior Management team cooperate adequately with each other and that they encourage interdepartmental cooperation, a drop of 6 points compared to 2020.

As if that wasn’t enough, the two psychosocial risk assessment surveys carried out by F4E after our colleague’s suicide (the results of the last one carried out in June 2023 and these results having just been published) confirm that the psychosocial work environment at F4E has not really improved; worse still, some services are experiencing a new negative trend.

Among the most worrying results of the last risk assessment survey it should be noted that 12.7% of F4E staff declare that situations of physical violence are occurring, that only 40.8% of F4E staff declare that psychological violence does not occur, that 43,2% of the staff feel discriminated against, that 25% of the cases of workplace conflicts between colleagues do not receive any kind of intervention, and that the colleagues involved are let to solve the problem on their own. Four major high-risk factors should also be highlighted: participation/supervision (73,3%), workload (71,2%), role performance (61,4%) and relationships and social support (42,4%).

In the light of these more than worrying results, one of the shocking conclusions of the external experts’ report is that F4E should:

review the processes implemented for harassment, violence at work and discrimination, and the particularities highlighted in the report to improve the performance of F4E in these situations and the results obtained”.

The fact that, MORE THAN TWO YEARS after the suicide of our colleague, such a recommendation still has to be issued in the framework of the survey organised as a legal obligation after such a dramatic event, is an unacceptable and devastating finding which requires an immediate change in management culture and strategy.

Unsurprisingly, the solution proposed seems to be to implement … the umpteenth action plan… so as to keep “ticking the boxes”…

It is important to emphasise that these more than worrying results were established by an external and independent organisation entrusted by the Spanish Ministry of Labour and Health to carry out these psychosocial risk assessment surveys, using questions and a scientific methodology for analysing the answers, internationally recognised and used by the Member States implementing the EU legislation on safety and protection of the physical and mental health of staff.

4. “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got1”, “if you are not part of the solution, then you are part of the problem2

We start believing that the results of the Staff consultations  seemed to have become for F4E, as the new Ethan Hunt, the legendary message “that will self-destruct in three minutes” entrusting him with a truly impossible mission to convince anyone that everything is now was going well, even very well….until the next consultations of the staff…and there we go again for another episode of the same sad movie with the obvious aim of discouraging and disgusting colleagues in the hope that they will no longer respond when they are consulted or that they will stop making critical comments.

In this respect, we must all pay tribute to the resilience, determination and patience of F4E colleagues who, despite everything, have continued for many years to respond to a wide range of staff consultations, always clearly expressing their deep discontent and their burning demand for real change, without being discouraged by the lack of real and tangible consequences drawn from the very critical results of these consultations.  

Indeed, despite all our requests to establish at F4E a value-based leadership culture leading by example, a culture of trust by sweeping away management by fear and putting in place effective procedures against all forms of harassment and conflict at work, reestablishing trust in the fairness of the procedures…no significant consequences have been drawn to date.

Apart from trying to hold the former Director solely responsible for the whole panoply of problems encountered… even if the above-mentioned last psychosocial risk assessment survey was carried out more than one year after the former Director was no longer in charge.

This is not in any way to deny the efforts made with countless initiatives, presentations and slides, every possible action plans, change agenda, root cause analysis… implemented by F4E.  Rather, it is simply a question of certifying the ineffectiveness of all these initiatives and the lack of any effective follow-up drawing all the consequences from the highly critical results of these consultations.

This lack of any effective follow-up is not entirely surprising and was even to be expected given the context in which all these initiatives were launched. As experts in the field point out in situations of this type, such an attitude is also a natural and understandable reflex on the part of a management which sees itself so deeply called into question by the results of these consultations, a management which, in the hope of defending itself, can naturally only try to diminish their importance and impact. Trying “to turn the page” as quickly as possible, trying to make people believe that the problems are now a “thing of the past”, trying to deny the problem and when that is no longer possible, trying to pass the blame on to those who are no longer there, as if the rest of the management team had just landed from another planet. Worse still, trying to exploit any negative result in the context of a more than painful competition to rank the worst among the various departments. 

In response to the culture of considering it sufficient to constantly “tick boxes” without worrying about the results, we have spared no effort to recall the general obligation of safety and result which is incumbent on each employer according to Directive 89/391 of 12 June 1989, transposed in art. 1sexies §2 of the Staff Regulations, and in particular their responsibility to first assess the risks, including psychosocial risks, then to take the necessary measures to ensure the safety and protect the physical and mental health of their staff, and finally to verify the effectiveness of the measures adopted and the results achieved

5. The indisputable conclusion to be drawn is that the Commission must INCREASE ITS EFFORTS in order to assist F4E to implement the profound changes urgently needed and finally resolve the problems colleagues have endured for far too long.

Indisputably, as certified by, but not only, the above-mentioned results of all staff surveys and consultations, F4E is clearly not capable, on its own, first, to grasp the scale and nature of the problems and then to put in place credible and effective measures to overcome them.

Indeed, without reinforced assistance and support from the Commission, F4E will not be able to emerge from its crisis that has lasted for too long and of which our colleagues are the first victims.

First, it is important to refute all fake arguments aiming at presenting the Commission’s action as an abusive and inacceptable interference in F4E’s internal affairs.

We must acknowledge and firmly refute these fake arguments aiming at presenting an unfounded “conflict” between the Commission’s action and the interests of F4E, fake arguments put forward to refuse any real change, keeping thinks as they are…believing that it is possible to act in a “splendid isolation” without having to be accountable to anyone.

It is important to clarify once and for all that is in no way a matter of questioning the autonomy of F4E or undermining the personal responsibilities and the full accountability of F4E’s Director.

It is simply a matter of implementing the reinforced governance requested also by the European Parliament, that we support with the greatest conviction, that arises from the legal framework in force, concerning Commission’s responsibilities towards all Agencies and external bodies. Commission’s responsibilities also concerning the safety and protection of the physical and mental health of their staff, first and foremost when it appears that the minimum conditions are not met.

A reinforced governance and support that are all the more necessary towards F4E given that it is clearly not capable of solving the problems on its own.

The first opportunity to start implementing this Commission reinforced support lies in the announced F4E reorganisation.

6. F4E’s announced reorganisation cannot be purely cosmetic and must be the start of a completely new era!

As a matter of fact, this reorganisation must finally ensure a more rational, understandable, and coherent structure of the organisation chart, starting with the size and rationale of all the functional entities.

Indeed, this reorganisation should finally put an end to the irrational and indefensible aspects of the current structure and to unequitable distribution of responsibilities and workloads among services and colleagues denounced for far too long by, but not only, the results of all the staff consultations organised.

The F4E Governing Board decision

In this respect, we were pleased that, concerning the Director’s proposal for a new organisational structure at departmental level, at its last meeting in December 2023, following the suggestion of the Commission representative, the F4E Governing Board has confirmed that the proposal was not considered sufficiently mature and asked to receive the full picture of the proposed new structure and asked the Director to elaborate the new organisational structure, including Unit level, demonstrating a clear discontinuity with the past, the link with the ongoing integration with ITER Organisation and also showing a transfer of functions from administrative to operational parts of the organisation.

The full new organisation structure must be presented for approval by the GB by April 2024.

And we were pleased to note that the Director of F4E confirmed his willingness to work in very close coordination with the Commission, first for establishing the new proposal to be submitted to the Governing Board and then to implement the new organisation finally approved.

On the one hand, it is vital that the reorganisation presents a clear idea, consistent with the vision for the future, fair to the staff, with a structure that takes into account the needs of F4E and ITER, and not only aiming at balancing staff numbers.

As strongly requested by F4E staff, this far-reaching reorganisation should finally ensure transparency, fairness and coherence and be inspired by the preparatory work already done.  

The accurate analysis produced by the F4E Governing Board led by the EC [Report of the Working Group for the optimisation of F4E’s organisational structure] identified in February 2023 the need to provide F4E with an IO-compatible structure for the areas of in-kind procurement and a structure fit to support a broader and long-term vision of F4E, not limited to ITER. This aspect is very sensitive for staff as confirmed by several staff surveys and by the GB approved document on the Vision [F4E Vision Dec. 2023]. Such structure would also respond to the need for a Technology Development Element, as suggested in the [ 2023 F4E Report of the Industrial Policy Working Group] and the recommendation of the [Report of the Working Group for the optimisation of F4E’s organisational structure] for areas not directly contributing to ITER.

On the other hand, it is essential that the profound and urgent radical changes that are needed and that the staff and the so crucial ITER project deserve, are presented and discussed with the staff and in the framework of a genuine social dialogue with the staff representation.

What social dialogue is not and cannot be!

As far as the social dialogue is concerned, F4E must absolutely avoid giving any indication of choosing its interlocutors according to its own convenience and even less so indulging in more than painful attempts to divide the staff representation.

It is worth pointing out that, in the context of a genuine social dialogue, any critical remark cannot be presented as a “personal attack” and almost as a “crime of lèse majesté”, which can lead to consequences for the person making it.  This attitude is all the more unacceptable given the precarious situation of many colleagues at F4E.

In fact, I’ve had to formally clarify that I am solely responsible for any position I take and any communication I sign.

I have pointed out that R&D federal as the leading trade union in the European civil service, which I have the honour to coordinate, provides staff of all institutions and Agencies with assistance of the highest quality standards, also with the help of a specialised team composed of several lawyers and experts who have already successfully dealt with cases of harassment, violence at the workplace, toxic management also in the context of OLAF and IDOC investigations, and before various jurisdictions, including at national level. For example, in the successful management of several harassment cases at the European Economic and Social Committee (link).

And it’s in this context and with this team of experts that at the central level I am dealing with F4E’s concerns, that the results of the staff consultations are analysed, that victims are assisted…etc


Having regard to the foregoing, we appeal to you to give your impetus and political support in order to assist further F4E to implement all the measures and changes commensurate with the seriousness of the problems we are denouncing, and which have been certified, inter alia, by the results of all the staff consultations organised. 

Commission’s support is essential for implementing ALL the urgent and radical changes that are needed and that F4E staff and the ITER project do deserve.

If the new Director of F4E ever shares this need for an urgent, real, visible and effective change, he knows that he can count on our full and loyal collaboration. 

In any case, it is crucial that the Commission services, under your respective responsibility, provide even greater support to F4E to ensure that the reorganisation is carried out in accordance with the political and operational objectives and implemented in full compliance with all applicable procedures.

In order to finally ensure the trust of staff in the transparency and fairness of the decision-making process, the support of the central services will also be crucial concerning the organisation of the procedures related to the appointment of F4E managers following the adoption of the new organisation chart, thus by ruling out any risk of favouritism.

Cristiano Sebastiani,



Mr S. Grassi, Head of cabinet Simpson

Mr D. Muller, Head of cabinet and Ms S. Bikar, deputy head of cabinet Hahn

Ms D. Juul Jørgensen, Director General DG ENER

Mr M. Garribba, Deputy Director General DG ENER

Mr M. Coppola, HR Correspondent DG ENER

Mr P. Leardini, Deputy Secretary General

Mr Ch. Roques, Director General DG HR (acting)

Mr V. Itala, Director General OLAF

Mr Carlos Alejaldre, Chair of F4E Governing Board

Mr M. Lachaise, Director F4E

Mr P. Barabaschi, Director ITER Organisation 

Mr G. Gathem, Chair F4E Staff Committee

Mr G. Vlandas, U4U

Mr N. Mavraganis, Chair USF

Ms A. Verpont, EPSU



1 Henry Ford

2 Eldridge Cleaver