Regulatory agencies: U4U campaigns for a trade union presence within them
Since the mid-1990s, a large number of European agencies have been set up, adding to the list of agencies created twenty years earlier. Working alongside and in parallel with the institutions, they contribute to the European Union’s (EU) mission by carrying out specific tasks.
The European Union’s regulatory agencies have their own legal personality and a wide range of tasks, helping to implement the Union’s policies. However, each agency focuses on a specific area. This specialisation enables them to provide scientific, technical, and impartial expertise on policy issues.
The specific tasks of the agencies are defined in their own founding act. Agencies are independent bodies, usually managed by a Board. The board is responsible for overseeing the performance of the agencies and for appointing the director, who is responsible for the operational aspects of the agency.
Most agencies receive Community funding. As a result, the European Parliament is responsible for giving them a discharge. In addition, the General Financial Regulation and the Framework Financial Regulation lay down common rules for the financial management of the agencies. However, there is a lack of clear rules on who is responsible for their actions, and certain aspects of this have led to dysfunctions within these regulatory agencies.
That is why U4U is campaigning for better management and further improvements within the regulatory agencies.
To this end, U4U, in collaboration with the staff of the agencies (General Assembly of 05/03/2021), has put on the table 6 concrete demands to be addressed to the President of the European Commission and to DG HR/SG, responsible for monitoring the implementation of our statutes and our budget, namely :
- Branch social dialogue, collective bargaining between branch management and staff: Staff would like to see rapid and significant improvement in this area.
- The question of the Commission’s supervision of the Agencies and the presence of its representatives on the Boards of the Agencies: This supervision needs to be improved both at board level and in terms of monitoring the application of the legal provisions.
- Human resources issues: recruitment, careers, mobility within the Institutions, the European Schools, and other social aspects, etc. Staff would like to see improvements in all these areas. There are already examples of good practice, such as the EUIPO Agency.
- Issues relating to investigative bodies (IDOC, OLAF) and mediation bodies: Staff would like to see agreements with the Commission’s supervisory bodies (OLAF, IDOC, Ombudsman) or specific common services for all agencies.
- Improving human resources management rules, for example on professional incompetence or appraisal: Staff would like to see a rule established on these issues, as we are trying to do in the F4E agency.
- Last but certainly not least, we need to assess the consequences of the €2.5 billion cut in the human resources budget, which will have a negative impact on some regulatory agencies: for example, in these agencies, promotions have been cancelled for two years and education allowances have also been reduced. Staff are calling for these financial benefits to be maintained, and for social dialogue on this issue to be improved.
The European Parliament was also reminded of these 6 demands during a hearing on the lack of supervision of EU agencies.
At the same time, the Commission has acknowledged this problem by setting up a network of high-level Commission representatives (DGs/DGs) on the boards of the agencies. This will allow the Commission to be more active not only on the technical aspects but also on the human resources dimension and the application of the Staff Regulations.
To this end, the trade unions have been given the task of providing information. There is a clear desire to involve staff representatives in the monitoring of agencies.
On the basis of its experience, U4U is travelling to the regulatory agencies to respond to invitations from the staff committees of these various agencies, as recommended by the AASC, and to promote the presence of trade unions within them. U4U is very pleased with this and has always responded to these invitations.
At the meetings organised by the latter, U4U stressed the importance of staff representation and presented its demands.
- 29/09/2022: ECHA (The European Chemicals Agency – Helsinki) ;
- 14/09/2023: EEA (The European Environmental Agency – Copenhagen).
At these meetings, the main concerns raised by participants were career prospects, equal treatment of colleagues and respect for diversity.
It is clear that the involvement of staff in the supervisory bodies is essential. Working together, hand in hand, staff committee, union, and staff, will enable us all to be more effective.If you’d like to discuss this fur
Keynote speech for the General Meeting of Staff of Regulatory Agencies on 5/03/2021
Good afternoon, Dear colleagues,
This general meeting is organized by U4U, one of European Civil Service trade unions
Sharing the platform with me today are:
- Gregor Schneider from EUIPO
- Fabrice Andreone from the European Commission
- Eric Sivel from EASA
- Stavros Chatzipanagiotou from F4E
- Paul Wouters from F4E
Our organization is aware of the difficulties faced by colleagues in many different agencies. That’s why U4U has written to the president of European Commission MS von der Leyen, who is responsible for the supervision of the decentralized or regulatory agencies. We note that the Commission’s services have already been alerted to the situation there in various meetings.
In the letter to the Commission President, which was published in our newspaper The Link, we underline that:
- the irregularities and practices reported in the press which have been brought to our attention, for instance in the case of Frontex;
- the mismanagement which not only affects Frontex but also other agencies too.
- the lack of control within the agencies, which is not a new issue
- the weakness of social dialogue
- the absence of regulatory instruments such as investigative or mediation bodies.
We know that the Commission is now preparing an answer. So it is the moment to push our case. That’s why we have proposed this meeting.
Together we must, in the context of the difficulties faced by colleagues from several agencies, but also of the adoption of the new 7 year European budget, insist on obtaining improvements to a number of our demands, including the following:
- We wish to see a rapid and significant improvement in Social dialogue in agencies, collective bargaining between agencies management and their staff.
- The issue of Commission supervision of Agencies and the presence of its representatives on the agencies’ management boards:
This supervision needs to be improved both at the management board level and also in the supervision of the application of the statutory regulations.
- Human resources issues: recruitment, careers, mobility towards the institutions, European schools, social aspects etc. :
We want to see improvements in all these aspects. There is already evidence of good practice such as that in the EUIPO agency.
- Issues relating to investigative bodies (IDOC, OLAF) and mediation bodies : We wish to see either agreements with the Commission regulatory bodies (OLAF, IDOC, Mediator) or specific common services for all the agencies.
- The improvement of human resources management rules, e.g. on professional incompetence or evaluation: We want to see established a rule on these matters as we are attempting to do in the F4E agency.
- Finally, we need to assess the consequences of the 2.5 billion euro cuts in the human resources budget: in some agencies, promotions have been cancelled for two years and school allowances have also been reduced: We demand that these financial benefits be maintained; we also demand that an improved social dialogue on this subject.
After this “prolegomena” or extended introduction, I propose that we start the discussion. So, please feel free to come forward with your contributions, questions, and suggestions. My colleagues will help us to understand the main issues more clearly. In the end, we have to adopt a clear message to send to those in the positions of responsibility within our organizations.
Over to you, thank you.
G. Vlandas, President
EU Regulatory Agencies: U4U letter to the President of the Commission Mrs Ursula von der Leyen.
U4U expresses its concern about the deteriorating situation in the agencies. This has been echoed in the European press in several countries. The agencies help shape and implement EU policies. Located in the EU countries, they provide local public visibility. For the same reason, they pose a reputational risk to the EU in case of malfunctioning.
For the attention of the President of the Commission, Ms Ursula von der Leyen
Dear Ms von der Leyen,
We would like to share with you our concerns about the Regulatory Agency FRONTEX. In an article published on 21 January 2021, Politico reports mismanagement and irregularities in FRONTEX (“EU border force plagued by chaotic recruitment, COVID outbreaks and an investigation by anti fraud watchdog“). Other articles followed in the European press (DER SPIEGEL 05/02: Scandals Plunge Europe’s Border Agency into Turmoil).
U4U, a European trade union, maintains close links with the European Regulatory Agencies. We are represented and involved in social dialogue in many of these agencies, either through staff committees or in our trade union capacity. We are also directly contacted by the agencies’ staff.
Many of the irregularities and practices reported in the press have been brought to our attention by Frontex staff. What has been reported to us seems to confirm the facts published in the press. We have tried to intervene through Frontex staff representatives. We are concerned by the fact that the internal problems of Frontex give a despicable image of the EU action at a time when the EU could do much better avoiding further controversy about its effectiveness. Even if only from a communication point of view, this episode is regrettable and must be urgently remedied.
Mismanagement do not only affect Frontex, but other agencies too. Commission’s services have been alerted. Main problems are related to the lack of mediation bodies and insufficient social dialogue. On the latter subject, the control carried out by the Commission is purely formal: Commission’s services ask the directors of the agencies to simply state that the committees have been consulted, without examining whether the social dialogue has been carried out effectively and without consulting and acknowledging its content.
The authoritarian practices of a significant number of Regulatory Agencies are damaging the reputation and the public image of the European Administration. For instance, did the Cologne agency (EASA) consult the Commission’s services before dismissing British colleagues? This practice is opposed to the commitments adopted by the three main institutions to keep our British colleagues in office, save in a few exceptions. Likewise, the irregularities noticed in recruitment procedures request more effective control mechanisms to avoid a negative impact on the image of the European Administration.
Lack of control within the agencies is not a new issue. In 2012, following an in-depth review, the Commission adopted a reform of the agencies’ governance structure. This reform has not achieved all its objectives, given the recent reports of mismanagement. New and more effective control measures are needed. To mention a few: an enhanced representation of the Commission in the boards of the agencies, an increase of the influence of DG HR, a common policy against conflicts of interest linked to exchanges of posts between the board and the management of the agencies, the competence of the IDOC (Investigation and Disciplinary Office of the Commission) to investigate also the agencies, an improved human resources management policy, a enhanced social dialogue, etc.
The EU’s decentralised agencies help shape and implement EU policies. Located in the Member States, they increase the EU local public visibility. For this very reason, they could entail a reputational risk for the EU in case of mismanagement.
The EU should act promptly to solve the problems we have just mentioned. We would like to bring our experience and ideas to help reassess the governance of the decentralised agencies and to establish an early warning mechanism in case of mismanagement.
We look forward to your reply.
Georges Vlandas Gregor Schneider
President Vice-president Regulatory Agencies
Answer of DG HR to the message from U4U on irregularities in the functioning of the regulatory agencies and the concerns and demands of the personnel. (29 Apr 2021)
Answer from DG HR
NOTE FOR THE ATTENTION OF MR GEORGES VLANDAS PRESIDENT U4U,
Subject: The situation of the EU’s decentralized agencies
Thank you for your letter of February 8, 2021 concerning the situation of the EU’s decentralized agencies.
President von der Leyen has asked me to reply on her behalf. I would like to assure you that the Commission takes the good governance of decentralized agencies very seriously. However, the EU’s decentralized agencies are autonomous bodies with their own legal personality and appointing authorities. They are independent of the Commission in legal and financial terms, and in the performance of their obligations. As far as the governance of decentralized agencies is concerned, the Commission has only a limited influence on the governance of the agencies through its representative on their Management Boards. Consequently, the Commission is not in a position to intervene directly in the human resources issues of each agency.
In your note, you refer to a reform of the governance structure of the decentralized agencies by the Commission in 2012. The reform of these agencies was agreed in 2012 by the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission on decentralized agencies in the Common Approach (1), which remains the Union’s policy framework for agencies and defines the principles for the creation, governance and operation of decentralized agencies. Since 2012, major efforts have been made to align the founding acts with the common approach and also to ensure its implementation in many respects, including budget and resource allocation, programming, management appointment, staff and ethics rules, communication and several other governance issues.
While the Parliament and the Council play a decisive role as legislators for the agencies’ founding acts, the Commission has put in place a series of instruments and measures to strengthen the governance framework and harmonize the human resources policies of the EU’s decentralized agencies.
Firstly, in its proposals for founding acts creating new agencies or amending existing ones, the Commission stresses that the powers of the appointing authority under the Staff Regulations are vested in the Management Board, which delegates them to the Executive Director and may therefore, in exceptional circumstances, exercise these powers itself.
Secondly, the Commission recalls that Article 110 of the Staff Regulations aims to harmonize HR rules between agencies, the guiding principle being the application by analogy of Commission rules. In this context, the Commission has approved model decisions covering, among other things, staff recruitment, appraisal, promotion and reclassification, working conditions, middle management, harassment and whistleblowing, has prepared a model policy on conflicts of interest and is about to launch a model decision on administrative investigations and discipline. DG HR also runs a helpdesk which answers over 1,000 questions a year on HR-related topics, and provides agencies with standardized HR services via a service level agreement, including a helpdesk for administrative investigations and discipline. In addition, the Commission has set up a special procedure for examining requests from Executive Directors for post-service activity authorizations, involving the Secretariat General, the Legal Service and DG HR.
Thirdly, the new Framework Financial Regulation for Agencies (2) (FFR) has further improved and harmonized governance rules. In order to adequately detect and manage the risks of real or potential conflicts of interest, decentralized agencies must adopt rules on the prevention and management of conflicts of interest, including with regard to members of the Management Board, and publish the declaration of interests of Management Board members on their website every year. They must also report cases of fraud, financial irregularities and investigations immediately to the Commission. The agency’s annual work program must include an anti-fraud strategy. All decentralized agencies have adapted their financial rules to the FFR in 2019 and 2020, without deviating from the governance and performance framework defined therein.
This framework is complemented by the Commission’s Communication on strengthening the governance of EU bodies and guidelines for the single programming document and consolidated annual activity report (3), which further supports harmonized planning and reporting by all decentralized agencies. The Commission will monitor its implementation by the agencies.
Finally, decentralized agencies have their own discharge procedure, and issues concerning the EU’s decentralized agencies are subject to the opinions that the Commission adopts on the basis of their draft single programming documents.
The Commission agrees that social dialogue is important for the management of all EU institutions, agencies and bodies. It fully supports high-quality social dialogue in all agencies, and insists that agencies systematically consult their staff committees before adopting new HR implementing rules. Any comments from the respective staff committees can be brought to the Commission’s attention via the permanent working group responsible for adopting HR rules for the agencies.
As you rightly note, the reputation of the decentralized agencies is – despite their institutional autonomy – closely linked to that of the Commission, and all Commission services will continue to help the agencies improve their governance in line with their founding acts.
Gertrud Ingestad 16/04/2021
(2) Règlement délégué (UE) 2019/715 de la Commission du 18 décembre 2018 portant règlement financier-cadre des organismes créés en vertu du traité FUE et du traité Euratom et visés à l’article 70 du règlement (UE, Euratom) 2018/1046 du Parlement européen et du Conseil (JO L 122 du 10.5.2019, p. 1-38).
(3) Communication C(2020)2297 de la Commission sur le renforcement de la gouvernance des organes de l’Union et sur les orientations relatives au document unique de programmation et au rapport annuel d’activité consolidé.
Regulatory agencies: administrative inquiries
At the beginning of the year, the regulatory agencies were invited to contribute to a draft decision aimed at establishing a legal basis for the conduct of administrative investigations within the agencies: the “Decision laying down general implementing provisions for the conduct of administrative investigations and disciplinary procedures”.
A draft text has been sent for consultation to the local staff committees of the regulatory agencies. On this occasion, in the agencies where our organization is present on the Staff Committee, U4U was able to make substantial comments and suggestions aimed at better protecting the staff concerned by these investigations.
In particular, U4U wished to :
- limit the intrusive nature of certain investigative techniques ;
- limit the powers that certain investigators may assume;
- ensure that investigations are not carried out by people working in the same agency as those being investigated, under the authority of the line manager.
For U4U, the conduct of investigations must be carried out by persons trained in such investigations and independent of the management of the agency. It is a question of respecting the fundamental rights of the defence. It is a question of impartiality and guarantee of independence.
The human resources departments of the agencies are not intended to carry out this type of investigation, and this is not desirable since they cannot guarantee their neutrality.
However, the agencies are considering setting up their own structure to deal with administrative investigations. But is the volume of investigations to be carried out sufficient to justify the creation of such a structure? Is it possible to set up a sufficiently independent team in agencies with no more than a few hundred staff? Where everyone knows each other and has already worked together? Why not instead mutualise existing structures that are already competent in terms of law and procedures and highly experienced? Agencies need operational reinforcement, flexibility to achieve their objectives and support for existing structures.
For U4U, there are already two structures available, capable and competent in the conduct of administrative investigations and disciplinary proceedings:
1: OLAF. The Anti-Fraud Office has an extensive system of procedural guarantees, trained investigators, operational tools and capacities and powers to act legally in all decentralised bodies in cases of suspected fraud, irrespective of the agency’s willingness to cooperate or not. The scope of competence and action of an investigative power is a key dimension here.
2. IDOC. The Commission’s Investigation and Disciplinary Office (IDOC) can conduct investigations and hearings in disciplinary proceedings, etc. It has extensive investigative experience, trained staff, a solid structure and operational capacity to operate in all decentralised agencies. This is already the case for the executive agencies, for example, the agreement between the agencies and IDOC is working perfectly.
OLAF has concluded a Memorandum of Understanding with IDOC on case sharing to avoid duplication of work. When OLAF considers that a case falls within the scope of IDOC, a clear exchange takes place and IDOC continues administrative investigations.
For U4U, these avenues should be explored, especially as they also guarantee harmonised treatment within the institutional family and, as far as the right of defence is concerned, this is fundamental.
With regard to the content of the draft decision “laying down general implementing provisions for the conduct of administrative investigations and disciplinary proceedings”, U4U has identified areas of concern in the first 26 articles of the decision, which deal with administrative investigations:
- The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights seems to have been deeply forgotten in both the recitals and the articles of the text. For a text intended to instruct people without any experience in conducting administrative investigations, this is surprising. For example, the principle of the presumption of innocence, its implications and limits, are absent from the text.
- The “Duty of loyalty” (to the Agency) is not clearly defined and no limits are set: this could open the way to misinterpretation of its scope, or even arbitrariness.
- The way in which data protection and data processing is described will certainly be a matter of concern for those responsible for applying it, at least for any staff representative. It is very difficult to understand where the balance between the conduct of administrative investigations and the protection of privacy, which can only be involved in minor matters, has been placed. For example, hearings via video, audio recordings and the use of multimedia in the context of administrative investigations are a real concern in all their aspects (collection of evidence, possession of evidence, power relations between stakeholders, admissibility of evidence in subsequent proceedings, etc.).
- The role of defence and staff accompaniment is also unclear and unbalanced, the decision seems to be drafted in such a way as to discourage defence and staff accompaniment by making the role of the defence very difficult.
What is at stake is staff confidence in the results of administrative investigations. Entrusting them to independent bodies is undoubtedly a first step towards building this confidence.
The other dimension of confidence would be to involve the trade unions present in the agencies and the staff committees in the preparation of the decision, through a genuine social dialogue.
Since the draft decision was presented to the Staff Committees several months ago, time seems to have stood still….
Social Dialogue in the Agencies
- Promotions, Contract Renewal (ACER : TFP ruling), Health & Safety (OHIM), Professional Incompetence 9 September 2015
- Reply to Letter to President JC Juncker on recognition of AASC (the assembly of agency staff committee) and due social dialogue with agencies’ staff on the general implementing provisions to the staff regulations” (16/12/2016).
Georges Vlandas about EU agencies
Mediation service: why don’t agencies benefit from it?
The Mediation Service is a facilitator in the resolution of conflicts that may arise in the context of labor relations. Although it has no decision-making powers, its role is that of an intermediary between staff members and the administration.
By offering objective and impartial advice to two parties who may be in confrontation, its main objective is to contribute actively to conflict resolution in our institution, based on the principles of ethics, respect for the law, the spirit of service and good administration.
This professional service works on an informal basis, respecting confidentiality, independence and impartiality. The Mediation Service can therefore intervene in any case referred to it by a member of staff or a department, to facilitate the settlement, in individual cases, of any difficulty that may arise in the context of working relations, such as disputes over statutory rights and obligations and conflicts between colleagues or with the hierarchical line, as well as relational problems or those affecting personal dignity (moral harassment, sexual harassment, etc.).
Finally, it should be remembered that this Service works independently; the Mediators neither receive nor accept any instructions with regard to their mediation work.
A similar service exists at the Commission. When the EEAS was created, its own mediation service was set up. Nothing of the kind exists for the executive or regulatory agencies. A service agreement between the Commission and the agencies could have been signed, as is customary in other fields, to extend the competence of the Commission’s ombudsman to the agencies. U4U will act to ensure that this gap in the law is filled.
Appeal from Alicante staff to regulation agency staff: let’s take control of our professional fate
As we moved from the old century into the new, we witnessed a surge in regulation and execution agencies. While the execution agencies are merely Commission departments who dare not say their name, so that they can employ staff on lower salaries and with no real career prospects, the role of the regulation agencies, on the other hand, does matter, since it reflects the new missions which the Union is adopting.
Both agency types are experiencing similar problems in terms of careers and pay. The regulation agencies are scattered willy-nilly throughout the whole of the EU, usually at vast distances from the decision-making centres of the institutions, with the result that their work is more difficult, more expensive at operational level, and is provided with fewer services, mainly at the educational level.
It is for this reason that U4U/RS, as the staff association with a presence in the largest number of agencies, having had talks with a number of colleagues posted to the agencies to assess staff needs, is proposing that work factors should be the subject of discussion for all the regulation agency staff.
U4U/RS would like to stimulate a serious discussion on this subject with staff, staff representatives, and the other staff associations present with a view to achieving a pan-European regulation agency platform. Here are the subjects we suggest should be the topics of debate:
Confirm positions and reduce insecurity
- Move contract agents onto open-ended contracts as quickly as possible.
- Seek temporary agent positions with budgetary authority to recruit TAs and allow for career development for interns.
Further the careers of agents in decentralised EU agencies
- Organise re-categorisation procedures for CAs and TAs, on a regular basis;
- Also organise inter-function group re-categorisation procedures for the CAs, as the Commission does for certain professions or position types;
- Organise specialised external competitive examinations.
Organise mobility within agencies and between agencies
Set up an “inter-agency” job exchange for contract agents and temporary agents.
Develop and boost social dialogue within the agencies
- Establish framework agreements between professional and staff associations in each of the agencies;
- Protect colleagues standing for CDP elections or who run the professional and staff associations;
- Provide operating resources for the CDPs and PSAs (mail boxes, meeting rooms, secondments, mission expenses).
Act together and maintain staff unity
- Voice demands which are of interest to all Agency staff, to avoid staff schisms and allow for successful action on a united front.
- In the longer term, Agencies will need to be positioned in fewer locations, thus improving the services provided for staff in terms of social and educational structures (crèches and schools etc.).
- Define the roles and career paths of the AD12/AD13 and AD14 and the AST9, AST10 and AST 11.
EU agencies do not manage conflict of interest situations appropriately
In recent years, the press has reported on a number of cases of alleged conflict of interest involving EU agencies. The European Parliament invited the European Court of Auditors to “undertake a global analysis of the approaches adopted by the agencies to manage situations of potential conflict of interest”.
The audit consisted of an assessment of the policies and procedures for managing situations of conflict of interest in four selected agencies that take decisions crucial to consumer health and safety: the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA).
The European Court of Auditors concluded that none of the agencies audited managed conflict-of-interest situations appropriately. A number of shortcomings, of varying severity, were identified in the agencies’ specific policies and procedures, as well as in their implementation.
What are agencies?
Agencies are decentralized bodies whose purpose is to provide the Commission (or sometimes the Member States directly) with assistance in the form of opinions, reports, data collection and interpretation, to carry out operational activities (including the ability to take decisions applicable to third parties), to manage European programs (for research, in particular), and to provide a common technical service to the Institutions.
Agencies can be categorized as follows:
- 33 regulatory agencies (not including 3 CFSP agencies with non-statutory staff) ;
- 7 joint undertakings (in the R&D field);
- 6 executive agencies.
Agency staff are subject to the Staff Regulations or Conditions of Employment applicable to other employees. Each Agency has its own personnel committee.
Agency staff are made up of :
- temporary staff (64%);
- contract staff (28%), who account for 74% of executive agency personnel;
- officials (8%). Commission officials may be seconded to the agencies.
Temporary and contract staff are eligible for open-ended contracts (usually after two fixed-term contracts). Temporary staff, like civil servants, occupy a post on the staffing table.
To find out more: Typology and legal framework of European Union agencies
Agencies staff representation
Each branch has its own Personnel Committee.
However, we are aware that :
a) Agency representation is not very effective.
b) Agency committees should be represented on the Commission’s CCP (central committee).
U4U has undertaken several actions:
- Be present in the agencies (we are starting to create local union sections).
- Defend the staff of regulatory and executive agencies.
- Bring the voice of agency staff to the CCP, and demand that their committee delegations become full members.
You can help us do this. First of all, by becoming a member. But above all by agreeing to work with us by taking part in our working meetings or, better still, by agreeing to become one of our representatives in your Agency.
NEASC (Common staff committee of Executive Agencies) meeting several Trade-Unions on 28 May 2019 on a proposal for establishing a social dialogue in the Executive Agencies.U4U was represented by G. Vlandas.
Agency for Fundamental Rights
The European court of justice just made judicial history by ruling in favour of an employee of the European Union agency for human rights sited in Vienna, Austria. The ruling shows intense atmosphere of fear in the agency.