Newsletter from U4U : March 2016 – n°47
In 2013, with the adoption of the financial perspectives for 2014-2020, the European Parliament and the Commission obtained a promise from the Council of a mid-term review of the European budget. In fact, this European budget, down for the first time, mainly at the insistence of the British Prime Minister, was considered to be insufficient to deal with the issues that the EU was about to face.
The facts support those who fought at the time to wrest the promise of a review, for example:
And yet, those primarily responsible are afraid to ask for an EU budget increase to, for example, the level suggested by the European Parliament in 2013: 1,200 billion Euros instead of the current 940 billion. The reason given: the British referendum.
The compromise agreed with the United Kingdom in February 2016 has already injected the poison into our Union. We must not yield on the issue of the budget, as the support of the public for the Union depends on meeting their basic needs: environment, security, jobs, education and health.
That is why, after supporting the citizens' initiative New Deal For Europe (ND4E), U4U supports the petition sent to the European Parliament on 15 March by a significant number of associations, journals and organisations.
It's not the role of a trade union such as ours to interfere in the national debate in the UK on whether the country should stay in the EU or leave. The case for or against will be made most eloquently we are sure for both camps over the coming weeks and months.
From a European viewpoint, we at U4U are convinced that what unites us all as Europeans engaged in this common endeavour is much more important than what divides us. Over the past decades we have built together a Community of values and interests. We have gone from confrontation and war to competition and cooperation and that is a huge step forward, the greatest geo-political achievement in Europe in the second half of the XXth century.
We sincerely hope that when all is said and done, we'll be able to stay united, UNITED WE STAND. U4U for its part considers that our UK colleagues should remain our UK colleagues whatever the outcome on 23 June and will always stand ready to assist them.
The Vice-President launched the idea that the Commission's Civil Service should do better with the same thing, in other words with the same budget.
Although U4U is in favour of increasing the European budget during the "mid-term review" requested by the European Parliament, U4U nevertheless took her comment seriously. We have put to some simple ideas to a staff vote, that would be easy to implement if the political will is there, without changing the Staff Regulations or the budget.
We have already released three series of five measures, each submitted to staff for their approval and comments. Our approach has been to invite votes for or against each measure and comments on all of them. Many have taken the trouble to reply, and reading their comments is particularly interesting.
· The first series is now closed. It resulted in a letter to Commissioner Georgieva, summarising the replies. You can see the detailed results of this consultation at this link. The first question concerned the approach to be taken in regard to restructuring, a matter on which we have already written to President Juncker.
· The second series of proposals is also closed. You can see the detailed results at this link.
· We have now launched a third series of proposals concerning the Joint Sickness Insurance Scheme [JSIS]. Please vote and comment on our proposals, which are aimed at improving risk cover by exploiting the renewed financial health of our Insurance Scheme.
We intend to use the next social dialogue meetings to put these topics on the agenda:
Improving our capacity to listen to staff enables our union to become more reactive. The staff have ideas to improve the way the institution functions, to provide a better service, be more efficient, within the same budget. Involving our colleagues in our strategy and decisions restores meaning to their membership of the U4U community.
Partial results as of 04/03/2016, as the consultation is ongoing. Vote now!
Will forced mobility and the new appointment rules make it possible to use talents and guarantee the independence of the heads of unit? (Document for the debate)
The Commission is preparing a decision on middle management that concerns its 1,126 heads of unit, including all grades. The reasons stated by the Commission are based on two considerations:
· The quality of the heads of unit must be improved and this requires professional support.
· Mobility is necessary to ensure the proper use of talent. Although it exists within the DGs (on average for three and a half years), on the other hand, there is very little mobility between the Directorates General.
This decision on middle management is clearly crucial because, as well as the future of these heads of unit, it is the daily lives of thousands of officials, temporary workers and contract agents that will be affected by it. With this in mind, we can only welcome the fact that this decision, which was to have been implemented rather hastily on 1 January 2016, has been postponed thanks to our action. For the Commission, yet again, to conduct rapid negotiations with the DGs and staff representative, in just a few hurried meetings, without analysing the "problems" needing to be resolved or even the number of heads of unit actually concerned (150, 200, more?). That was not enough information to understand all the ins and outs of this reform properly! These measures are still not ready to be implemented.
What is proposed by the Commission could have a huge impact on the culture of the organisation. We must avoid the mechanical and impersonal application of compulsory and authoritarian mobility systems inspired by optimistic theories that are not in touch with what is needed. We need mobility that promotes the potential of the heads of unit or the candidates for these posts, rather than a system that penalises them or forces them to live in constant anxiety about irrational and uncontrolled change. We need to prioritise an organisational culture based on trust and recognition aimed at developing the potential of every member of staff.
Two important elements of this draft decision are definitely worthy of greater consideration. At the same time, we are in favour of a two-year pilot phase after which an evaluation will be prepared allowing us to consider this experiment.
Tit for tat at DG BUDG: Further cuts of 550 additional posts at the Commission in 2016, because "salaries appropriations have become insufficient" according to DG BUDG
In a recent communication on "Allocation of human resources and decentralised administrative appropriations for 2016" published without announcement on 9 December 2015, DG BUDG found it difficult to justify why "by the end of 2016 additional 550 posts financed under Heading 5 will have to be made vacant".
According to DG BUDG, salaries appropriations as approved by the Parliament and the Council for the 2016 budget on 25 November 2015 have become "insufficient".
The question is thus: why is it that the budget authorities did not allow sufficient budget to cover salaries appropriations, a calculation one could deem fairly easy to make given the detailed level of staff data within DG BUDG budget control? The staggering answer is that "the approved 2016 budget does not include any additional appropriations for the higher than originally estimated salary update (2.4% instead of 1.2%) applicable as from 1 July". In other words, the Commission forgot to check the application of the new salary method as integrated in the new Staff regulations in 2014 and as a result, the Commission staff will now have to pay the cost of its legitimate salaries increases of 2015 through harsher staff cuts in 2016. As if salaries increases for its staff were unjustified and undue and should be automatically counterbalanced by immediate extra savings.
It remains to be seen how such a mistake could be made within the Commission services. Is it that DG BUDG has internalised so much the idea of no or marginal salary progress that it failed to consult other DGs like DG HR and EUROSTAT in charge of checking the implementation of the salary method? Is it that a bad coordination between these three DGs turned out into a bureaucratic mistake? Or were there political instructions coming from above which temporarily blocked the implementation of the staff regulations?
The consequence of this strange saga on staff morale could be disastrous but also telling of the continuous weakness of the Commission. While there is much brave talk about "the staff as our best asset" or "our key resource" and while the staff supported salary freezes for several consecutive years, the current messy management of the salaries increase of 2015 immediately followed by staff cuts in 2016, shows that the Commission does not dare and has not enough political will to correct its mistakes and prefers to make its staff pay them.
U4U writes regularly to keep you informed of the issues related to the Joint Sickness Insurance Scheme (JSIS). Let's recall briefly that this is an inter-institutional scheme, that it is comprised of our contributions and those of the employer (deferred salary), and that it belongs to us.
Jointly managed by staff representatives from all the institutions and by representatives of these administrations, it is based on the principle of solidarity between staff of all grades and pay levels, as well as between staff in post and retired staff, as this scheme obviously also applies to retired agents who continue to pay their contributions.
To say that "the Commission reimburses me for so much..." is therefore inappropriate. It is our JSIS, whose rules are set jointly by the Sickness Insurance Management Committee (SIMC), that reimburses our healthcare costs. It is the institutions' Settlement Offices (the PMO for the Commission) that are responsible for the tasks of management (reimbursement of expenses incurred) and control of these expenses.
If U4U reminds you of these essential truths in article after article, it is to ensure that everyone is aware that the long-term future of this scheme depends on each of them, on the way in which they make their choices as users of the medical services, as well as on the quality of the representatives they send to represent them on the SIMC, and of the importance of preserving this unique, united and open-handed scheme.
A TEMPORARY AND CYCLICAL DEFICIT:
The JSIS has experienced several years of deficit: the money paid out was more than that received in contributions. The fact is that while the index-linking of salaries was frozen – completely unlawfully – the cost of healthcare continued to rise. Many were tempted to qualify this deficit as "structural" and wanted to revise the cover, including some staff representatives. U4U has always opposed this analysis and the consequences it would inevitably lead to: the course of events has proved us right. Since the freeze was ended, the accounts have restabilised. The index-linking of salaries in 2014, limited to 0.8%, has enabled the scheme to achieve an operating surplus of €0.8 million. In 2014, the JSIS did not need to deduct funds from the reserve to pay into its account. While 2015 the balance sheet has not yet been consolidated, with the present indexation of salaries at 2.4% we already know that the operational income will be positive, enabling the reserve to grow again. In other words, not only was there nothing structural about the deficit, it was undoubtedly a temporary situation, and what is more, it was essentially the result of the indexation.
FIGHTING RECEIVED OPINION:
During the consecutive years of deficit, many people, including some of our OSP colleagues, were unable to stop themselves playing the staff categories against each other, to the detriment of this scheme's founding concept of solidarity, which it is now more important than ever to protect. Rumours spread in a friendly manner claimed that some staff contributed less because of their low salaries but benefited more, and certain people played with fire by offering proposals to reverse that. The statistics provided by the PMO generally belie that claim that low salaries consume proportionally more. These statistics show that the increased expenditure is more closely related to the age of members than to their category or grade. If we compare the ratio between average income and expenditure by age group, in 2014 we can see that, up to the age of 65, only the 31-35 age group pays out more than the incoming contributions (probably due to births), while the contributions of all other age categories are greater than the sums paid out, up to the 61-65 age group whose outgoings and income are equal. Above that age, the average expenditure exceeds (by some distance!) the average income for all higher age groups. In other words, contrary to what retired staff might think, intergenerational solidarity plays its part well, as staff in post, by paying out less than they contribute, finance the retirees whose contributions no longer cover the costs. And because of the recommenced indexation, the present generation of staff in post has, since 2014, been able once again to contribute to maintaining, and even increasing, the reserve built up by their seniors.
 Since it was created in the 1960s, the scheme has experienced consecutive decades of surplus that have enabled it to build up a reserve of approximately €270 million in a portfolio managed by the DG ECFIN. The interest from the invested reserve (and sometimes the funds themselves) make it possible to clear the operating deficits of previous years.
When we began our service as regular staff, many of us felt reassured, even "privileged", to have been taken on by a service of the European Commission that issued us with a supposedly "special" identity card.
We are often not at all sure how this card constitutes a privilege, but if the administration encourages us to believe that, it is because it has to show us the advantages, beginning with the relatively simple issuing process and, in particular, the VAT exemption during the first twelve months of our establishing ourselves in Belgium. This is due to the fact that Belgium requires the official's name to be included on the list that the Protocol Department of the Federal Public Service (FPS) Foreign Affairs provides to the relevant services of the FPS Finance.
However, what the administration does not tell us, despite being aware of it, is that this card could one day be prejudicial to us and affect members of our family. This can range from a simple administrative inconvenience to, in theory, expulsion from Belgian territory. Some of our colleagues realised too late, and to their cost, that the visit to the "Privileges Office" was a sham to separate them from Belgian civil life and deprive them of certain rights.
The kindergarten and primary sections will open their doors in September 2016, initially in English, with 135 places. The first three years of secondary education will welcome pupils from September 2017 in the English, French and Swedish sections, with 800 places when completed.
This school is a joint project by the Lycée Molière and the Scandinavian School of Brussels. On completion, this private school will be accredited by the Board of Governors of the European Schools and will be able to submit its pupils for the European Baccalaureate.
Two Open Door days will be held on 16 March 2016 from 3 pm to 7 pm and 19 March 2016 from 11 am to 6 pm.
U4U is an active union, working on behalf of colleagues through its workplace meetings, not only in Brussels, and present in negotiations with the administration. We have an informative and up-to-date website, we publish regular newsletters, systematically translated into English, we defend you individually before the administration and before the Civil Service Tribunal.
All of that comes at a cost. Help us to meet it.
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éditeur responsable: Georges Vlandas
équipe de rédaction : Bertrand Soret, Georges Spyrou, Olivier Brunet, Philippe Kéraudren, Victor Juan Linares, Fabrice Andreone, Sylvie Vlandas, Kim Slama, Gérard Hanney, Sazan Pakalin, Agim Islamaj, Yves Dumont, Stéphane André, J.-P. Soyer