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Working Conditions

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Choice and layout of the BELMONT building: lack of concertation


EAAS/COVID19 : Teleworking and vacations for Delegation staff, vigilance is the order of the day at the EEAS…

As the annual vacations approach, some of the measures taken by the EEAS to manage the COVID 19 epidemic and the gradual decontainment are being debated, particularly in a context where the epidemic is evolving and the quality of health systems varies widely from one continent to another. This issue is being closely monitored by the trade unions and the EEAS Staff Committee.

While it has been possible since the end of March for non-essential staff to telework from European territory, or to remain at their place of assignment, certain measures announced by Secretary General Helga Schmid on May 19 are raising concerns in the Delegation.

Such is the case with the decision to deduct from annual leave the time spent in quarantine at one’s vacation destination. This decision seems unfair and inconsistent with the teleworking authorizations already granted to staff wishing to return to Europe during the containment period, and which will also be granted on return from vacation in the country of assignment in the event of compulsory quarantine.

For the sake of consistency and common sense, we should consider flexibility in the carryover of vacation days to 2021, which is limited to 14 days despite the constraints experienced by staff in travelling – especially essential staff who are obliged to be on duty.

The question of the living conditions allowance (LCA), limited to three months for staff who have voluntarily decided to leave their place of employment, also raises concerns. Insofar as the departures have taken place outside the framework of an evacuation, a large proportion of the staff concerned have to bear the cost of temporary accommodation for a period over which they have no control, and therefore for which they should not be penalized.

Finally, the high degree of discretion left to Heads of Delegation also adds to the confusion and sense of insecurity among staff.

On June 5, U4U representatives raised all these points during a social dialogue with the administration, which took good note of them, without however committing itself.


EEAS: A step forward for equal opportunities

At the beginning of June, the External Action Service organized a social dialogue around the setting up of a Committee for Equal Opportunities (COPEC), which represents a further step towards parity and the fight against discrimination within the EEAS.

The creation of the Committee for Equal Opportunities (COPEC) fills a gap. While the External Service used to take part in the INTERCOPEC meetings of other institutions, this was done on an ad hoc basis. The time has now come for the EEAS to set up its own Committee, which will be a consultative body closely modelled on the existing Commission and Council Committees.

COPEC will meet at least four times a year, and will draw up a work plan to be submitted to the Secretary General and the Personnel Committee. Management will be obliged to consult it before taking decisions on equal opportunities, parity, anti-discrimination, harassment or work-life balance.

Equal opportunity and anti-discrimination issues are receiving renewed attention under Secretary General Helga Schmid. A “Gender and Equal Opportunities Strategy 2018-2023″ calls for redoubled efforts to achieve parity, equal opportunities and respect for diversity within the EEAS. Career Development” and “Gender and Equal Opportunities” task forces have been set up, and have drawn up a roadmap which COPEC will support in its implementation.

The establishment of COPEC is therefore a welcome initiative in an environment that is still a long way from achieving parity targets. Indeed, in November 2019, only 27% of women were candidates for Head of Delegation and Deputy Head of Delegation positions, compared with 40% for non-management positions.


Employee satisfaction survey 2016

The first comment concerns the level of participation, which remains rather disappointing: barely 47% of staff took part! Even though the administration, supported by the unions, had campaigned to encourage participation. Perhaps this is also due to the fact that colleagues feel little follow-up is given to this exercise.

There was then a discrepancy between the level of pride in working for the EU – 92% – and pride in working for the EEAS, 81%. This seems to reflect the fact that the EEAS has not yet sufficiently met colleagues’ expectations as a vehicle for a strong and visible foreign and security policy in Europe and around the world. In addition, career prospects are poor.

Only 42% consider mobility to be beneficial to their career, and 49% in the case of rotation. 25% consider that they have been discriminated against because of their administrative origin.

There’s another very worrying factor, which should alert the administration and prompt a swift response: 15% of colleagues seem to have been victims of harassment, and 27% of discrimination!

It should also be noted that AD temporary staff are the category most satisfied (8.3) with working at EEAS, while group IV contract staff (7.3) and AD (7.4) and AST (7.5) civil servants are the least satisfied. This declining satisfaction calls for further reflection.

It is also worth noting the persistent skepticism, survey after survey, with regard to senior management, with only 56% of colleagues expressing confidence.

And to end on a positive note: 93% of colleagues are willing to give their all despite the above-mentioned problems.

We have to admit that the current staff survey methodology is not yet at an adequate level. This was confirmed by Professor Gary Cooper, Distinguished Professor of Organizational Psychology and Health at Manchester Business School, who, at a conference on workplace well-being earlier this year at EEAS headquarters, criticized this year’s edition of the staff survey as “crap”.

In essence, the problem lies in the fact that the current survey selects questions and proposes guidelines. For the next edition of the staff survey, we encourage the administration to take inspiration from a well-established, ready-to-use survey already used by governments or international administrations. For example, BA could simply reproduce the questions from the UK Civil Service Staff Survey (available online). These surveys have been refined over the years, cover a wide range of workplace issues and allow for an appropriate range of (non-suggestive) responses. Using such an existing format also enables comparisons to be made between organizations, which is certainly an important measure.

School allowance: savings on the backs of our children

The administration has just announced a reduction in the B school allowance, as well as a limitation on the reimbursement of tuition fees for colleagues rotating to the HQ.

The administration hopes to generate annual savings in the order of 1 – 1.5M€.

These savings will be financed by our colleagues posted to delegations where the cost of schools is particularly high, as well as by those returning to HQ who wish their children to continue attending an international school.

The transitional measures are totally inadequate, as only colleagues already in post can benefit from them, to the exclusion of those about to leave as part of the 2016 rotation, and then only for one school year.

What’s more, these reductions come at a time when, according to the Note from the administration, “the trend in prices at many international schools is upwards”.

The consequence will be that some delegations will be increasingly unattractive to families with children.

NEAR is examining, with the help of legal experts, what options can be advised to affected colleagues, and will be sure to keep you informed as soon as possible.


Security policy at the EEAS

This article was written before the Brussels attacks. On rereading it, we believe it has lost none of its relevance.

We send our solidarity to the victims and their families, with a special thought for our colleagues affected by the attacks.

The European Union can and must make its contribution to the fight against terrorism. Here, for example, is why a European security and intelligence coordinating center is urgently needed: “We don’t share information,” said Alain Chouet, a former head of French intelligence. “We even didn’t agree on the translations of people’s names that are in Arabic or Cyrillic, so if someone comes into Europe through Estonia or Denmark, maybe that’s not how we register them in France or Spain.” Beyond the usual post-attack rhetoric, the European Commission must propose pragmatic and realistic actions to put an end to the failures of intergovernmental cooperation in security matters. The threat is being played out on the EU’s borders, and the EU must respond with strong coordination of its action and unfailing solidarity between EU states.


Following the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and the events in Brussels, and in the context of a very delicate international context where the risk of attack remains high with a very high alert level (3 out of 4 in Brussels), all European Institutions have reacted by reinforcing security measures.

At the EEAS too, armed military personnel guard the main entrances to our building (HQ), and armed security guards have been stationed inside.

However, we feel that the administration’s policy on protecting our buildings is somewhat superficial, especially when compared with what is happening in other institutions.

While the Commission is in the process of recruiting more security guards to reinforce the team of protection officers, while the Parliament has carried out a huge operation to internalize security guards and the Council to finalize a competition for internal security guards, the EEAS seems, on the contrary, rather at a standstill when it comes to security-related issues, at least in Brussels.

The restructuring of the EEAS has confirmed this, since the posts of “Director of Security” and “Director of Infrastructure and Budget” have been merged, thereby diminishing the importance of security issues, which logically should be dealt with by highly specialized experts in the field, and not by diplomats, whose area of competence it is not.

Security is a term that encompasses many different, highly specialized activities.

In general, we’re thinking mainly of the security of EEAS staff and that of anyone, such as visitors, who need to get into the buildings occupied by the EEAS.

How safe is the EEAS from this point of view?

It has to be said that the issue of security is somewhat different depending on whether we’re talking about security in the delegations or security at HQ; in the delegations, things are evolving a little, even if there’s still a lot to be done; at HQ, the approach has always been rather flexible, yet security at HQ is certainly important.

In fact, recent terrorist attacks around the world and in Europe have clearly demonstrated that we cannot consider ourselves immune to this peril, anywhere and especially not in our buildings, which, incidentally, are considered by investigators as potential targets.

Specific analyses of these attacks have shown that they were carried out using such powerful means that a series of very costly physical security measures would have to be implemented just to delay the lethal attack, but that there is no concrete possibility of repelling the attack, at least in buildings designed like the EEAS headquarters. This is certainly not reassuring!

Unfortunately, the analyses quoted above have shown that, in a situation like that of the EEAS, the only way to react to an attack is to delay it as long as possible, to put obstacles in its way, to allow the arrival and intervention of the police anti-terrorist services. And to achieve this result, which is very difficult to achieve, firearms are essential.

Without armed security personnel, there can be no security at all!

We note that a number of measures have been taken in this area, including armed military personnel at the main entrances to the buildings, armed security personnel inside the buildings, reinforced surveillance systems and so on. This is already a welcome step forward!

Nevertheless, the following considerations should be borne in mind:

  1. Firstly, it should be noted that these are external EEAS personnel, over whom the Internal Security Division has no control, whereas it is precisely the staff of the IBS.3 Division who are ultimately responsible.

On the other hand, the same Division already has a number of security agents, all trained and competent, from the national police or security services, who to date are not equipped with the means essential to carry out their protection mission and who, in our opinion, should be, in order to provide effective service and assistance.

  1. A second consideration concerns other buildings, in particular schools and day-care centers (managed by the Commission).

The latter are also potential targets of attack and are not adequately protected, insofar as there is only a very light surveillance and reception service, with no armed staff, which leaves not only the staff but also our children all the more exposed, whereas the institutions’ administrative buildings are better protected. This is a very worrying situation and, in the current context, an additional source of concern for colleagues whose children attend the European Schools, which is unacceptable.

We consider that measures can certainly be taken for our internal security officials by providing them with the essential equipment and that other measures must be taken to guarantee minimum security conditions in buildings such as schools and nurseries which have been neglected to date.


Safety in nurseries and schools

We are well aware of the problems concerning security in crèches, and share the concern of many parents who drop off their children there every day and would like to know that their children are being looked after in complete safety.

More than a month after the dastardly attacks in Brussels, we have to admit that, while security measures have long been in place and have recently been reinforced for buildings occupied by civil servants, the crèches, day-care centers and schools attended by our children have been left out in the cold when it comes to security.

The message is clear: for the European institutions and the Belgian public authorities alike, the safety of our children is not a priority, at least when compared with the safety of administrative buildings and the colleagues who work in them.

Those in charge of security seem to forget that nurseries and schools are targets for terrorists (have we forgotten Beslan, Toulouse, Kenya?) in the same way as other institutional buildings, even though our children, especially the youngest, are far more vulnerable than adults, having not yet acquired the necessary reflexes to protect themselves.

What measures has the Commission’s safety office envisaged in this respect? We’re coming back to these topics in response to the anxious messages we’ve been receiving from our colleagues, messages that must not go unanswered.

What are the possibilities?

Reinforcing physical protection structures (physical barriers, window protection)

Increase the number of guards and checkpoints, introduce armed guards

Request an increase in the presence of security forces, including the frequency of police patrols.

To date we have no information, or only very general information, about any security measures that may have been taken. Parents have the right to be informed.

  1. Increased physical protection of the buildings is probably the most important element in preventing or at least making it more difficult for unauthorized persons to gain access to the buildings.

We are aware, however, that optimal interventions are not always feasible in existing buildings, and that the measures recommended could be very costly. Nevertheless, we hope that, when it comes to the safety of our children, budgetary considerations will not take precedence, and that the administration will work towards the implementation of appropriate technical solutions.

  1. We also need to ask whether the number of guards, their equipment and the number of checkpoints are adequate. Equipment does not necessarily mean firearms, including large-calibre weapons. It’s perfectly feasible to equip guards, especially outdoors, with stun gas or “taser”-type stun guns. Such measures would considerably reduce the threat to our children.

One argument often put forward is the psychological effect on children of the introduction of armed agents. Of course, the psychological well-being of children must be preserved, but there are ways of carrying a weapon discreetly, and we are not advocating a massive presence of agents in riot gear.

In any case, the primary objective must be the safety of children, nursery, day-care and school staff. The presence of well-equipped surveillance staff can be a good deterrent.

Another important point is that these armed guards must be screened before they are hired, to avoid the presence of people who could constitute a risk, as we have recently seen from press reports about certain agents employed by the EP.

Nevertheless, one consideration may reassure anxious parents: the Council of the European Union has already assigned armed security guards to the crèche on Avenue de la Brabançonne. This is a first step, but what about the other crèches and schools?

  1. Another measure to consider would be a reinforced police presence outside, with static or mobile patrols.

First of all, it should be noted that this option is not under the control of the Commission’s services, obviously depending on the political will of the Belgian authorities, over which the European Institutions must exert all their influence.

We have received information confirming an increase in the number of police patrols in and around crèches and day-care centers. This information needs to be confirmed.

For NEAR, the safety of our children is of paramount importance!

We request a meeting with the security services of the EEAS and the Commission to address this issue.


Reasonable use of surpluses from the Joint Sickness Insurance Scheme [JSIS].

Our scheme is a joint health insurance fund for the European institutions and agencies.

This fund has experienced a few years of deficit, which some were quick to describe as structural, calling for measures, sometimes radical, to stem its losses. U4U maintained that this deficit was cyclical and mainly linked to the freeze on salary indexation, which reduced the Fund’s income. Time has proved him right.

Since 2014, the Fund has been generating operating surpluses, which have increased the financial reserve built up since the plan’s inception through decades of surplus operating results.

The question of how to use these surpluses to improve member service has been raised. Near you will be holding an information meeting on this subject on April 13.

Rationalizing management was not a bad idea in itself. The new online RCAM system, which moves from a paper-based system to digital data processing, was essential. Admittedly, the system has had its “teething troubles”, complicating the PMO’s task, sometimes considerably delaying reimbursements and forcing members to familiarize themselves with its use. However, once you’ve got the hang of it and acquired the reflexes, it’s easy to use and in keeping with modern administration.

However, computerization does have its drawbacks, and there is still one area where we feel there is room for improvement, and that is in the area of member reception. The PMO has announced that a major effort is to be made in 2016 to improve direct contact between users and the PMO, and for Brussels (where almost half of all expenditure takes place), the PMO has set up a hotline, which receives all colleagues at SC29, to help them with difficult procedures or to understand the refusals they have received and, if necessary, to help them complete their files so that they become admissible.

Care center agreements and agreements in certain member states:

In 2014, hospitalization accounted for 28.5% of the scheme’s expenditure, compared with 27.8% in 2013. In other words, this is a very significant item which we must work to reduce, but certainly not to the detriment of the member. Our plan guarantees freedom of choice, which is a luxury and an advantage that we must fight to maintain. But we must curb its excesses. For example, in Belgium, the choice of a single room leads to an increase in practitioner fees, in addition to the cost of the room itself. As a result, it is not uncommon for certain establishments to charge 400% more for in-patient procedures. For years, U4U has been advocating the signing of agreements with medical establishments to control the cost of care. Since 2013, the PMO has signed several agreements with the largest establishments in the Brussels region, Belgium being the country where more than half of all medical expenditure is consumed. However, some groups, such as the CHIREC group, are in no hurry to sign agreements with us that would cap the mark-up on single rooms. Affiliates should be aware that, for hospital stays where part of the cost is borne by them, the more expensive the bill, the higher the portion they have to pay[1]. Other agreements have been reached in Italy and Spain with medical centers and public systems; talks are underway in the UK, and discussions have begun in Ireland and Ankara, for example. All this is a step in the right direction, and we must continue to facilitate affiliates’ access to public health care in the various Member States and non-EU countries where there is a concentration of agents, particularly in Luxembourg and Helsinki.

6 agreements have been concluded in the Brussels conurbation (see special edition of the PMO Newsletter on hospitalization published in May 2015). These hospitals are committed to limiting surcharges billable to patients in private rooms as follows:

HospitalEffective dateLimit of supplementary charges
Belgian systemRCAM-JSIS
Cliniques universitaires Saint-Luc01/05/2013300 %200 %
Hôpital Erasme16/07/2014300 %200 %
Cliniques de l’Europe (Saint-Michel Etterbeek et Sainte Elizabeth Uccle)27/02/2015300 %100, 150 and 300 % by specialty
Institut Jules Bordet01/04/2015300 %200 %
Universitair Ziekenhuis Brussel (UZ VUB)01/05/2015150 %100 and 150 % by specialty
HUDERF (Hôpital Universitaire des Enfants Reine Fabiola)01/07/2015300 %200 %

The supplementary charges are expressed in percentages. A supplementary charge of 100% therefore means that the patient will be billed for a supplement of 100% compared to the charges for staying on the ward. He will therefore pay twice the basic amount.


A diagnosis… When will it be acted upon?

By meeting the Staff Committee on the occasion of the plenary session of the EEAS Staff Committee, the Vice-President/High Representative has just reiterated her commitment to social dialogue.

During these exchanges, a common view was noted: too many colleagues are demotivated, there is still a great deal of overlap and friction between Commission and EEAS services, and a lack of coherence; colleagues must therefore be remobilized, the work of services streamlined and staff sources rebalanced, particularly as regards managerial posts between headquarters and the delegations, transfers between institutions smoothed over, while making mobility and rotation exercises more flexible.

So, as far as management is concerned, we’ve come to the conclusion that we’ve failed, and the new Director General for Personnel and Finance, Gianmarco Di Vita, will now have to get down to work.

The HRVP, who praised the professionalism and dedication of the staff, assured us that she would personally see to the implementation of the corrective measures.

The plenary session also provided an opportunity to take stock of a number of issues, from internal competitive examinations, to making mobility more flexible, to reinforcing security, particularly in the delegations (we were told that new RSO posts would be created) and with new promises for the LOs, at a time when the prospect of redundancies is reappearing following the redeployment and regionalization exercises. As for payment of the education allowance for colleagues on delegation, no solution is in sight for the moment, even though the administration has assured us that it is working on it.

For its part, the Commission seems to have put a temporary halt to the rapprochement initiated on personnel management issues, by refusing to participate in the working group that was to be set up for this purpose. We shall therefore have to return to each of these subjects and remain vigilant to ensure that things do indeed move forward. Progress can only be made through frank and constructive social dialogue.

Because this observation, shared with HR/VP, is very much in line with what we all feel on a daily basis. There’s no need for a satisfaction survey, especially if it’s not followed up by action! To our knowledge, the results of the 2015 survey have not been used to improve the situation. Yet the conclusions were already stark: a general lack of leadership at all levels, no internal communication, working in silos and in fine, despite a pride, albeit relative, in working for the EEAS and a shared commitment, not enough recognition for everyone’s contribution and a loss of motivation. This can be seen in the lack of career prospects for all categories, be they civil servants with blocked horizons, temporary staff subject to the uncertainties of contract renewal, CAs who have to leave, LAs who are more often than not ignored and represent the first victims of rationalization efforts (regionalization etc.).

And yet, the 2016 satisfaction survey has just been launched, with no consultation of staff on either format or content. Can we expect any effect this time?



The Civil Service Tribunal questions the promotion system.

This judgment criticizes the appraisal procedure in that the Appointing Authority is not in a position to carry out a comparative examination of the merits of all the officials eligible for promotion. The Tribunal considers that qualitative elements are not enough, and that they must be translated into a form that allows for an effective, objective and egalitarian comparison, which implies harmonized scores.

This renders the current procedure invalid, and in fact requires the introduction of a grading system, at least for those eligible for promotion.


Mobility: a document for reflection and debate.

EEAS Decision on Working Time at Headquarters and in Delegations


RS USHU/U4U welcomes the proposed Decision of the COO of the EEAS and the related Note, with regard to Commission staff serving in Delegations.

The proposed Decision on Working Time will allow staff members in Delegations (COMM & EEAS) to choose to work under the flexitime regime or under a fixed schedule. Furthermore, the decision and the instruction note provide the necessary margin of discretion to the HoD to take into account the different service needs in their respective countries without violating any already acquired rights and will entail the authorisation of any deviation from the norm by Headquarters.

RS USHU/U4U notes that Staff Representatives are to be fully consulted before any Delegation-based proposal/decisions to deviate from normal working hours are taken – this will ensure that adequate Social Dialogue takes place.

For reasons of clarity and in order to avoid misinterpretations, RS USHU/U4U would however propose a clarification of the situation concerning Local Agents given that they are not formally covered nor explicitly referred to in the proposed Decision, particularly given the fact that the new 40-hour week is not applicable to Local Agents. We are aware that the legal basis for working hours for Local Agents are indeed the “Framework rules laying down the conditions of employment of local staff of the Commission of the European Communities serving in non-member countries” and the “Special Conditions of Employment” at each place of work. For this reason, the proposed Decision is not applicable to Local Agents. Our main concern is that without a clearer instruction to Heads of Delegations and Local Agents, misunderstandings may arise and possibly some confusion with regard to how to manage flexitime for Local Agents – as you are aware Local Agents, similar to expatriates, have opted for Flexitime in Delegations since April 2007 when it was first introduced.

RS USHU/U4U therefore respectfully request that a separate note be issued clarifying the approach for Local Agents ( or clearer indications in the proposed “Note on Working Time Policy”) – underlining the fact that new rules are fully applicable to Local Agents by analogy (if not in contradiction with the legal basis/local legislation). We suggest also that this or a separate note should make mention of the issue of payment of overtime, i.e. for Delegation chauffeurs.

We invite you to contact RS USHU/U4U should anything in the above remain unclear.

USHU                          U4U

Miscellaneous documents

Analysis : The external representation of the European Union and the way in which it is perceived can serve as a revealing mirror of its nature: observations about an incident that occurred at the end of 2018 in the USA (March 2019)

Readjusting the EU’s external action: potential and constraints (February 2015)

IPSI Policy brief: who is responsible within the EEAS?

Case law: EU foreign policy is not exempt from the principle of transparency: two Court rulings confirm the principle of democratic control.