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The Link n°106

Mid-term review of the Multiannual Financial Framework

Communication from the President of the European Commission on the Mid-Term Review of the Multiannual Financial Framework, 07/02/2024

Last year, the Commission submitted a request for an additional budget (see Link n°104) to finance, among other things, aid to Ukraine and internal and external action on migration. The 27 Member States accepted a large part (80%) of the Commission’s very modest proposal, in particular to provide aid to Ukraine, at a time when the United States seems to have failed to do so for the time being. These additional funds, apart from their weakness, are provided without being accompanied by an increase in the human resources budget. This is all the more worrying given that the Commission gave up €2.5 billion of its human resources budget at the start of its mandate. This time it asked for an additional €1.9 billion, which it did not receive. The Commission has made no comment on this (see our President’s press release).

Dear colleagues,

Today the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission negotiation teams reached a provisional agreement on the first ever revision of the Multiannual Financial Framework to increase its financial capacity. This follows the extraordinary European Council of last week, where the 27 Heads of State and Government unanimously reaffirmed Europe’s unwavering commitment to stand with Ukraine and to support the most urgent priorities the Commission presented in June.

I am profoundly pleased that the priorities identified by the Commission and 80% of the requested funding are covered by the agreement. The revision that we proposed and that is now provisionally endorsed by the co-legislators will equip the EU budget with the necessary means to continue delivering on our priorities for Europe and for our partners. This is a truly remarkable achievement. One that has required extensive negotiations and, at times, difficult decisions. One that would not have been possible without your hard work, unparalleled dedication, and tireless efforts. One that you ought to be extremely proud of, just like we are extremely proud of your achievement. 

The revised budget now allows us to put in place a new Ukraine facility with an overall capacity of €50 billion for grants, loans and guarantees. This will, in turn, allow us to effectively support Ukraine’s immediate needs, recovery and modernisation on its path towards the EU in the next 4 four years. The revised budget will also provide us with an additional €9.6 billion to reinforce our policies and our actions on the internal and external dimensions of migration, and to help our partners in the Western Balkans, the southern neighborhood and beyond. Separately, the new Strategic Technologies for Europe Platform (STEP) will help secure the EU’s long-term competitiveness on critical technologies with an estimated investment impact of up to €50bn across the EU through the targeted and effective mobilisation of key existing programs. Lastly, the revised budget further reinforces our Union’s capacity to help Member States in their response to natural disasters, and to deploy humanitarian assistance where it is most needed around the world.

Thank you again sincerely for your excellent work.

Best regards,

President of the European Commission

The threats to Europe. Our challenges

Faced with the profound changes and crises affecting our continent as a whole, the European civil service trade union movement can draw on a unique history and social relations within our institutions. The needs are considerable. We have the means to meet them together, to deal with the consequences for EU staff.

Talking about the challenges facing European civil service trade unionism at a time when the European Union lacks a political project, when the usual points of reference are crumbling, cannot be confined to listing general principles, recalling the difficulties of the period and the need to change course.

If we say that we are in a period of profound change, in which the various crises affecting European societies (from the global pandemic to the war in Ukraine, the energy crisis and its impact on the less privileged social classes, the geopolitical tensions in Ukraine and the Middle East, the rise of populism and the extreme right) are the result of the obsolescence of our modes of development and regulation, this forces us to project ourselves a little further into this changing world and to face the need to reinvent a European political project. 

The European Union is the only regional organisation of nation states that has voluntarily adopted common rules, institutions and procedures. It has been able to respond to crises by creating the conditions for unity of action between its member states and institutions. In his memoirs, Jean Monnet said that “Europe will be made through crises and will be the sum of the solutions found to these crises”. Recent years have confirmed this saying. In a world that has become more uncertain and apparently more hostile, the European Union is asserting itself as a key player in overcoming these crises.

In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, the response of the European institutions was more than up to the task, despite initial difficulties. Although the EU has no competence in health matters, the joint purchase of vaccines made it possible to achieve vaccination coverage within a few months, thus helping to normalise social and economic life. On this occasion, the European Union also broke a major taboo by borrowing a substantial sum of 750 billion euros for the first time to mitigate the economic and social consequences of the pandemic while speeding up the energy and digital transitions. This initiative, unthinkable only a few months ago, was finally welcomed almost unanimously.

Similarly, in the face of the invasion of Ukraine, the European Union was able to cut off almost all the Russian gas, oil and coal on which its economy was so heavily dependent in less than a year. And it has done so without suffering the disruptions to its energy supplies that might legitimately have been feared at the start of the conflict. The EU has also been able to respond forcefully in terms of sanctions and assistance to Ukraine, despite the powerful brake of the unanimity rule on foreign policy. Here, too, the EU has broken taboos by providing substantial military aid to a country at war and training Ukrainian soldiers on a massive scale. For the first time, it has even set up a mechanism for the joint purchase of ammunition to help Ukraine while replenishing European stocks.

However, there are reasons to be concerned about the future of European integration, as the European Union faces a triple threat in three areas its internal political dynamics, its geopolitical position and its economic and social situation.

  1. In terms of internal dynamics, we are witnessing the rise of the far right, largely because of the damage caused by several decades of deregulated globalisation and European policies essentially guided by the cult of competition and generalised free trade. This will be one of the main issues at stake in the European elections. Beyond its populist rhetoric, the far right offers few solutions to social inequality and growing poverty; on the contrary, it holds back the essential progress of European integration in terms of social rights, ecological transition, budget and common goods. It is therefore important for the political and social forces and the countries most committed to European integration to give a decisive boost to greater European integration, capable of correcting the many dysfunctions inherited from the neoliberal period. Even more so as the Russian invasion of Ukraine has raised the question of the enlargement of the European Union to include Ukraine, Moldova and some of the countries of the Western Balkans, and its corollary, the reorganisation of the Treaties to enable the European institutions to function more effectively. 
  2. In geopolitical terms, Europe is committed to promoting its values, developing and strengthening democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. However, it is struggling to find its place in a multipolar world – where multilateral and international rules are often violated – between American unilateralism, internal divisions, and increasingly difficult relations with a “global South” that is turning more towards Russia and China.  Internally, the European Union is clearly not yet ready to take the necessary steps to become a “third pole”. It is stuck in a “fortress Europe” attitude on migration and is not prepared to increase its budget and thus its efforts to help developing countries, particularly in the areas of climate and energy.
  3. Finally, in economic and social terms, Europe’s development prospects are worrying, particularly in view of its industrial decline, especially in high-tech sectors (artificial intelligence, semiconductors, green technologies, biotechnologies, etc.), and its consequences for employment and social protection. Under pressure from American and Chinese competition, Europe has adopted an industrial policy framework in line with its doctrine of strategic autonomy. However, the European response remains inadequate in the face of the challenges. Measures have been announced, but in reality, the resources involved remain insignificant: no additional budget has been mobilised, and it has not been politically possible to renew the common debt in order to deal with the war in Ukraine and its consequences, or with the Green Deal, despite the considerable challenges it represents.


At a time when the old ways of looking at things no longer work, our “European” and “civil” Union provides a forum for the exchange of ideas and analyses through our meetings, conferences, debates and reviews, and informal exchanges with policymakers, academics and experts on European issues. All these activities, which we carry out with dedication and rigour, contribute significantly to enriching our reflections and to building a solid foundation for the future.  

A European trade unionism that promotes the general interest must identify points of convergence to chart a course of action that will enable us to achieve greater coherence in our responses to the challenges we face. The crisis has made situations more heterogeneous and expectations from our European institutions sometimes divergent. While some expect more solidarity, others fear that it will cost too much. There can be no progress without an inventory and a shared diagnosis of the diversity of situations within the European civil service itself.

This forces us to be innovative in our approach, to develop proposals for action and, above all, to listen more closely to the staff of the institutions.  European integration requires a strong European civil service. We face many challenges, the most important of which is staff cohesion and unity. This is a top priority. Our proposals aim to strengthen the unity, competence, and efficiency of the civil service.

We must also fight relentlessly against all forms of extremism that lead to discrimination, xenophobia, and racism. The rhetoric of the populist and sovereign right has no place among the members of our Union and must be fought relentlessly. That’s why we have an important task ahead of us, first and foremost through citizens’ action in the European, national, and local elections in Belgium. But we must also integrate the principles of diversity and inclusion into our approach to action, so that they are taken seriously by European leaders.

Second, we need to pay particular attention to the major changes in the way our societies are managed and work, which is another priority area. We have launched a wide-ranging study of these issues[1] , based on a series of conferences and articles, to examine the economic, social, and societal issues involved and the immediate and longer-term implications for the future of the European civil service.

Finally, our action cannot be limited to the scope of the European civil service. It is resolutely geared towards an approach based on solidarity with populations affected by conflict, migrants and those left behind by society. Our solidarity with Ukrainian refugees is an example of the new initiatives we are keen to develop as part of our global approach.

Our Union is deeply committed to European integration. By defending a competent and independent European civil service, we work for a strong Commission, capable of proposing legislation and policies that meet the needs and aspirations of European citizens. In short, a trade unionism of action and reflection, innovative and resolutely pro-European, committed, and supportive.

Our texts – “Our Principles and Values” and “Our Guidelines” – illustrate the above and are a response to the current political context.

[1] See GRASPE n°48, January 2024 and n°49 (to be published in early March 2024)

PMO : A new deal

This office has experienced a number of difficulties in the recent past. A new director has been appointed.  This appointment comes at the end of a period of crisis. We are delighted that the Commission has chosen an official whose competence, vision, experience and pragmatism are widely recognised to take on this mission.

Most of our colleagues are not sufficiently aware of the challenges that the staff of this remarkable service, with a total budget of over 5 billion euros, face every month without fail. The timely payment not only of salaries, but also of pensions, various allowances, medical reimbursements and mission expenses for staff of the Commission and other institutions, bodies and agencies who have their salary affairs managed by the PMO is a task that leaves little room for additional delays, ‘negative priorities’ or errors. This task is made all the more arduous by the fact that it also involves managing thousands of specific situations: income transfers or seizures, claims, requests to cover medical treatment – the requests that PMO staff have to deal with are infinitely complex.

Managing this kind of machinery requires a keen sense of strategic priorities combined with the ability to listen and empathise with staff.

The new manager is aware of a situation that is still far from ideal. As one member of staff told us: “the (previous) manager has left, but the problems have not”.

The Office’s main problem is, of course, a chronic work overload combined with extremely stressful working conditions for staff whose pay and opportunities for career development or mobility remain very limited.  What’s more, the Office is facing budget cuts.

To establish a calm climate at the PMO, we believe that a number of steps need to be taken as a matter of priority.

First of all, we need to re-establish trust by creating a climate of listening and caring for staff, which seems to have been lacking for a long time. 

Even the reforms with the greatest potential for improvement (we are thinking in particular of the computerisation and automation of a number of departments, a project in which the predecessor invested heavily and which has great potential for reducing the workload) can only provoke rejection and negative reactions if they are perceived by staff as being imposed from above and without taking into account the reality of those who work.

That’s why, from the outset, we want to raise awareness of an approach that we have already successfully put in place in several branches: direct and collective expression of staff views, the basis on which we can build the social dialogue that is essential to getting off on the right foot.

The aim is to enable all workers to express their views not only on the problems but also on the strengths of their organisation. From there, it is easier for everyone to find their place in the changes that need to be put in place. For management, it is also an opportunity to get in touch with the “blind spots” that may be present: problems experienced in the departments without management being aware of them or, on the contrary, strengths, potential, possibilities, pride in the work accomplished, relayed by members of staff.

Immediately following on from this, and of almost equal importance, we also feel it is important that one of the PMO’s priorities should be to reopen up opportunities for development, internal and external mobility, and diversification of tasks for staff who wish to do so. An organisation that operates in a closed circuit, with no real opportunities for movement, change and development, is a real problem both for the day-to-day working environment and for the individual health of those who work there.

According to the Medical Service, the number of absences due to illness is twice as high in the PMO as in other departments. Tackling this issue must also be a priority for us.

We are aware that this is a huge challenge. That’s why we want to be a partner, alongside the PMO staff, in finally resolving problems that are not new but have not been dealt with, and which have long plagued a service that nevertheless maintains a remarkable level of quality.

The European External Action Service as seen by the European Court of Auditors

In January 2024, the Court of Auditors published a Special Report on the EEAS, 12 years after the creation of the service. It focuses on its coordination role, mainly with the Commission and its various Directorates-General (INTPA, NEAR, TRADE, ECHO, HR, BUDG, FPI) and the Council (and the European Council). Internal coordination is also particularly important, with 145 delegations and offices around the world. The finding is ” overall positive “, and the Court seems to avoid getting to the heart of the debate on the relevance of the complex institutional arrangement sought through the Lisbon Treaty. It is true that the Court’s role is to assess “performance” by means of a classic audit of operations, mainly from an organizational point of view, and not to venture into the political arena.

The institutional arrangements resulting from the Treaties, and in particular the Treaty of Lisbon, are particularly complex. The European Union’s competences in the field of external relations are divided between the various institutions and the Member States: they may be exclusive, shared, based on support and coordination functions, or even more specific in the field of the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). If the European Commission sees itself as “geopolitical”, it is above all and thanks to the development of a diplomatic apparatus – the European External Action Service (EEAS) – under the authority of the High Representative Vice-President (HRVP) who has established himself as the centre of gravity. However, its effectiveness is based on its ability to initiate and coordinate policies in order to “pull in the same direction”; this constitutes the very legitimacy of the system, and this is what the Court of Auditors has attempted to assess through a performance audit, by reviewing working methods and the resources made available.

The Court’s report is based on a series of interviews conducted between 2022 and 2023 at EEAS headquarters, at the Commission, at the Council and in four delegations chosen to provide a geographical sample in terms of size, political importance, etc. The auditors also conducted a survey on Heads of Delegation. The results of this survey do not have any scientific statistical relevance, however, based on the sampling of responses given in the body of the text, which is often based on just a few responses.

A substantial part of the criticisms and recommendations concern the information systems for ordinary exchanges, but also the complexity of the tools for transmitting documents securely. The EEAS is poorly resourced and has had to separate itself from the systems set up by the Commission, for institutional and security reasons. The disparity of the systems makes certain inter-institutional interactions more difficult, even though most of them are interoperable. In addition, many staff are reluctant to invest in the training needed to use certain tools effectively. So, surprisingly, while this is an important aspect of setting up an effective IT infrastructure that poses challenges for any organisation, in the Court’s performance audit it seems to take on a disproportionate dimension and reduce the place of other, less “technical” considerations.  

More substantially, the report shows that the EEAS’s coordination work with the Member States, through the Council groups, is effective. As a reminder, the EEAS chairs these groups, while the HRVP chairs the Foreign Affairs Council. In this respect, the Service plays an effective role in the preparation of these Councils.

On the other hand, a more nuanced assessment was made of internal coordination about annual planning and, more generally, exchanges between headquarters and the Delegations. Several Delegations have expressed frustration at the lack of feedback on their reports and, more generally, on their contributions to policy development.

Finally, the report also recalls the internal organisation of the EEAS and its staffing levels (2,790 in the delegations and 1,821 at headquarters in 2023) without, however, making any assessment of these figures. The main recommendation on resources calls for an assessment of the workload in the Delegations in line with the work carried out by the Commission through the Work Load Assessment in Delegations (WLAD) in 2022. This is based on the observation that the Delegations are generally understaffed in terms of diplomatic and political personnel in relation to the expected objectives, particularly when compared to what the Commission makes available to the network (3,492 staff), and that the principle of flexibility agreed to enable collaboration and abolish working in silos is not always satisfactory locally.

These are familiar situations face by colleagues who are in delegation. We have not yet achieved the concept of “One Delegation”, but this is a wider and longer-term debate. We will definitely return on some of these aspects in our forthcoming publications.

The acoustic roots of “Zoom fatigue”

The Covid19 pandemic has permanently reshaped office life. Introduced as a sort of emergency patch in order to keep companies and institutions working during lockdown, frequent use of videoconferencing tools has become part of the “new normal”. An ability to participate in remote or hybrid meetings via Zoom, Teams, Meet etc. reduces the need to travel, saves time and affords unprecedented access to business partners, colleagues and audiences far and wide. On paper, the potential is huge: videoconferencing allows people to fit many more meetings into their schedule, without actually leaving their office. In quantitative terms, you can get “more work done in less time”. And if you are teleworking, you can do so even from the comfort of your own home. Less traveling, less commuting, possibly more time for yourself and your family: videoconferencing is, ostensibly, a sure-fire way of improving your well-being and your work-life balance.

Yet, many videoconferencing participants’ experience of online meetings is unpleasant and tiring, and scientists are warning that “Zoom fatigue” may have serious consequences for human health, including burnout[1].  Numerous attempts have been made to explain the causes of videoconferencing fatigue, mainly based on cognitive / emotional distress and frustration due to the lack of eye contact, diminished or non-existent access to visual cues and body language, multitasking, lack of (or unnatural exposure to) other types of visual information being just some examples[2]. Under this visually oriented, cognitive perspective, the videoconferencing environment does not properly satisfy the basic, innate requirements for effective communication between human beings, which generates subconscious frustration. Frustration leads to an adverse emotional response and negative emotions, which, in turn, generate stress.

This way of explaining the problem has three major shortcomings:

a) As it is based on the media naturalness theory[3], it tends to reduce the non-verbal aspects of communication to merely visual elements for conveying emotions and creating a rapport between people. It therefore focuses on visual aspects such as eye contact, facial expressions and body language (and the absence thereof during videoconferences) and visual feedback (participants apparently feeling alienated by the sight of their own face on the screen), compounded by additional stress factors such as multitasking or asynchronicity due to system latency.

b) It considers chronic fatigue, stress and burnout as the almost exclusive potential outcomes of frequent exposure to videoconferencing.

c) It fails to explain why the same factors, or similar combinations thereof, do not lead to similar outcomes in other settings: For instance, listening to a radio programme also involves the total absence of body language, visual cues, facial expressions. Listeners typically engage in other tasks while listening to it (ironing, dishwashing, driving, cleaning, working out…), but exposure to a radio programme while performing other tasks does not appear to generate stress. Likewise, exchanging emails or writing letters involves huge, noticeable latencies (hours, days, weeks), no body language and possibly a great deal of frustration if no answer is received, but the concept of “correspondence fatigue” has never become mainstream and is not known in the scientific literature. Watching YouTube tutorials or livecasts also involves micro-latency issues (most YouTubers are very slightly out of sync), an inability to interact (a crowded chat is all you have available during a YouTube or Facebook livestream) and the absence of eye contact when the speaker is not looking directly into the camera, but “YouTube fatigue” has not become an issue either, notwithstanding its popularity and widespread use.

Faulty as this attempt to explain fatigue might be, videoconferencing stress is real and its impacts on the human nervous system have been finally proven and described by a study recently published on Nature. A team of Austrian researchers has convincingly shown that mere passive exposure (no bi-directional communication, no interaction) to less than 1 hour of videoconferencing (e.g. a university lecture) causes measurable stress and fight-or-flight reactions not seen in subjects exposed to the same lesson in face-to-face mode[4]. Significantly, these results were produced in a quiet, stress-free and controlled laboratory environment, where exposure to a videoconference call was the only potential stressor.

This means that there is something about videoconferencing that inherently causes brain fatigue and measurable autonomic-system activity, typically seen when human beings perceive the presence of a threat. This happens even with passive exposure to situations where interaction and multitasking are not required – which would rule out frustrated expectations of interaction, multitasking, eye-contact and the like as a potential source of cognitive and emotional stress.

But what threat is the autonomic nervous system reacting to? And is this threat real or imaginary?

Some light on this question can be shed by focusing on a usually overlooked variable. It is typical of videoconferencing environments and virtually absent from other, more professional forms of broadcasting and from face-to-face interaction  that both do not seem to cause any stress to recipients. This factor is the presence of degraded and heavily manipulated audio signals.

Though most people (and research teams) have so far failed to notice this, videoconference audio is highly unnatural and often heavily processed. Some of the key factors behind degraded videoconferencing sound have already been proven to:

a) cause measurable stress reactions in both human beings and test animals, even when these factors are taken individually;          
b) not to be of a visual, cognitive or relational nature.     

Let’s take a look at these stressors:

“Poor sound”.

In a study published during the early 2000s, Wilson, Gillian & Sasse[5] showed how different types of audio degradation elicited different reactions in test subjects. Some were psychological only, others were neurophysiological.            
On the one hand, the sound defects typically caused by poor connectivity or network issues (packet loss) and resulting in loss of speech intelligibility of content (missing syllables, words, phrases or sentences) were reported as annoying and unpleasant by test subjects, but they failed to unleash any significant physiological stress reaction. On the other hand, audio degradation caused by low-quality microphones and “loud sound” was hardly noticed by test subjects and did not therefore result in any “cognitive” complaints, but it did cause measurable fight-or-flight reactions in participants. Their nervous systems were clearly perceiving a threat that their conscious mind failed to notice and identify, even though the laboratory task was minimally engaging and did not involve any real cognitive or relational effort.

A significant impact on the human nervous system could therefore be measured as a consequence of stimuli that did not reach the consciousness of test subjects and did not cause any cognitive or psychological reaction.

Fried guinea pig brains
A recent experiment conducted by Professor Paul Avan’s team at the Institut Pasteur[6] has shown how heavily processed digital sound (in this case, heavy dynamic range compression) can literally destroy the hearing system circuitry in the brain stem of test animals at listening levels that did not cause any irreversible brain stem damage in animals exposed to far less processed signals. The middle-ear reflex (the mechanism that protects the ear from loud sound) of animals exposed to heavy dynamic range compression could no longer function properly after the experiment had been completed.
Dynamic range compression is a form of digital audio processing that can be used to “inflate” sound and to engineer a sense of perceptual loudness, while not raising peak levels.      
Tinnitus at the dentist’s
Dentists are particularly exposed to tinnitus and hearing loss, owing to the noise made by dental drills and the like. Studies on these drills have mostly failed to detect the presence of emissions exceeding safe limits, and dentists’ practices are usually not experienced as loud places by patients. So how are hand-held devices damaging the ears of dentists? By looking into the qualitative aspects of dental drill noise, one research team[7] has found that the noise made by these devices is concentrated in very specific ranges of the audible spectrum (2k-6kHz). Incidentally, the human auditory system is particularly sensitive to high-frequency vibration (especially in the 3k-5kHz). Opera singers leverage resonance in those areas (especially 3kHz) to override the background sound of orchestras, and infant voices deliver more energy than adult voices in the same area (especially around 4kHz) in order to attract attention. Shouting also increases energy in the same area of the audible spectrum. Delivering higher concentrations of acoustic energy around 3k-4kHz is a sure-fire way of attracting attention by causing alarm – and, to the nervous system of human beings, alarm means stress. The human inner ear has evolved to be particularly sensitive to those frequency bands. Specialized sensors are both very abundant. They are also easily damaged by acoustic trauma, which is usually caused by occasional exposure to extremely loud spikes (jet engines, gunshot) or frequent exposure over time to large average doses of noise in loud environments (e.g. factories, construction sites).  

It would appear that concentrating acoustic energy in sensitive frequency bands may harm the human ear even at much lower levels than those that, to date, have been considered unsafe. Interestingly, a study conducted in Sweden has recently found that pre-school teachers exposed to theoretically safe daily doses (75-85dB) of infant voices have a higher incidence of hyperacusis[8].

But what does videoconferencing have in common with crying children, opera singers, dental drills, overcompressed music or high average dB exposure? Is videoconferencing sound “loud” or “operatic”? Do videoconference participants shout or use dental drills during calls? And, if a psycho-cognitive model of the problem is applied, does videoconference sound lack any of the crucial elements of human communication?

Videoconferencing sound is aggressive
Not many people notice this, but the voices of videoconferencing participants and the noise they can occasionally make near their devices are extremely artificial. Videoconferencing audio is anything but natural-sounding. It’s usually piercing, metallic, slightly (or very) robotic, artificial and often muffled, even when connection speeds are very high and video is HD. In other words, videoconference sound is intrinsically “noisy”. Multiple tests of videoconferencing platforms have shown how the widespread use of AI algorithms that “optimize” voice, remove background noise, keep your voice at a constant level, regardless of how far you are swaying away from the microphone, and prevent audio feedback introduce sizeable amounts of harmonic distortion, muffle sound and reduce intelligibility. Noise-filtering algorithms have the biggest detrimental impact, since getting rid of background noise live is an AI-driven guessing game and doing it without compromising the quality of the signal (i.e. by degrading timbre) is virtually impossible. The more aggressive the filtering, the heavier the muffling, distorting and robotizing impact on the speaker’s voice. Noise filters also have a widely recognized impact on speech intelligibility, which is why additional AI algorithms are used to compensate for loss of intelligibility by engineering a sense of perceptual loudness in the signal in order for it to stand out against the background noise and make the most of the receiver’s usually undersized and underperforming computer speakers or headphones.

Put in oversimplified, layman’s terms, this is typically done in 3 ways:

a) by equalizing the signal aggressively and raising levels in a targeted manner: the signal is manipulated so that proportionally more dB (often even + 20, 25dB) are assigned to ranges of the audible spectrum where the human ear is particularly sensitive: the notorious 3k-5kHz area. This makes the sound piercing and metallic, without making it exceed theoretically safe dB levels, and clearly punches the auditory system where it is less defended. This is the AI-generated equivalent of dental-drill noise.

b) by raising softer components at a microscopic level so that they become louder than they would normally be. While the overall permissible peak dB levels are not exceeded, the average dB content of the signal is increased, while energy is concentrated in very sensitive ranges of the inner ear, as shown above. The “dental drill” is never softer than a certain level, determined by an AI algorithm programmed (or operating autonomously) without much understanding of how the human hearing system is supposed to function. This type of processing is a form of aggressive dynamic range compression (not to be confused with data compression, as in mp3) also known as “upward compression”. Measurements have shown that exposure to dynamic ranges not exceeding 10 dB is frequent in the videoconferencing and hybrid setting, which means that the sound is flat and the auditory system (especially some of its softer spots) is kept under constant, unrelenting pressure. The laws of physics are very clear regarding the effects of constant pressure concentrated in a small surface area: pressure does not need to be heavy to dig a hole if it is applied constantly and for long enough. Bed ulcers in bed-ridden hospital patients are an excellent example for visualizing how this type of signal can damage the auditory system. Published research, moreover, shows that the human auditory system activates protective reflexes (the stapedial reflex, also known as the middle-ear-reflex) even at levels considered quiet when 3k-5k bandwidths are louder than they usually would be in “natural” audio signals. The system is spotting a threat, and it tries to fend it off.[9]  

Experiments referenced above (guinea pigs) have also shown that overuse of dynamic range compression can have catastrophic impacts on the auditory components of the mammalian brain stem.

c) Whenever faced with a sound perceived as stressful or threatening (including, but not limited to, “too loud”), the human auditory system activates the so-called stapedial reflex: the tiny muscles in the middle ear contract to block that sound, thus limiting inner-ear exposure to a dangerous stimulus. However, this reflex needs a few milliseconds to kick in (latency).

AI algorithms (and careless sound engineers) that want to increase the “crispness” of consonants in order to “boost speech intelligibility” have ways of making dynamic range compression so aggressive that every consonant becomes a micro-threat to the auditory system. Consonants are rich in high-frequency content and “s” sounds can even reach up to 5kHz. Consonants usually begin with a very short spike in dB level, followed by a sudden drop (a phenomenon known as an “attack transient”). Of course, no natural consonant can rise to its maximum intensity so fast that the stapedial reflex cannot kick in if necessary. Yet, when a digital compressor is programmed in such a way as to cause these spikes to become faster than the stapedial reflex – which is perfectly possible with modern technology – the sudden spikes generated by hundreds of overcompressed consonants per minute, even at supposedly “safe” listening levels, can turn into a flurry of micro-shocks delivered to the softest spots of the inner ear.

A combination of two or more of the above factors is, unfortunately, a frequent occurrence in the videoconferencing and hybrid environment, and constitutes a clear and direct threat to the auditory system and the central nervous system of participants. It is therefore no wonder that autonomic system reactions are detected that would normally correlate with the presence of a threat or of nociceptive stimuli.

The fear subliminally perceived by test subjects in the studies by Riedl, R., Kostoglou, K., Wriessnegger and Wilson and Sasse (see above) is, therefore, real and perfectly justified!

Why overprocess sound?

The point of overprocessing through AI algorithms is to allow people to join a meeting from the street, a noisy train, a windy beach or their car and still be able to make themselves heard. It is also used to purportedly “improve” the low-quality sound made by microphones built into laptop computers. Unfortunately, measurements and experience demonstrate that these “enhancements” come at a very high, but often unnoticed price.

Videoconferencing sound is intrinsically loud, through a particular type of “loudness” that is obtained without exceeding supposedly “safe” levels – a trick already used to some degree in TV advertising. The average dB content of videoconferencing signals is measurably higher than that of “natural” sound, and these signals are inherently noisy and distorted.

To the human nervous system, the voices of videoconferencing participants are virtually screaming with operatic twang, as though they were on digital steroids.

The sources of overprocessing
Overprocessing in the videoconferencing environment is applied by multiple layers of live Digital Signal Processing (DSP) tools. These DSP tools are typically found in:

  • the software managing the microphones built into your laptops, telephone, tablet computers;
  • the centre-table microphones or microphone arrays your new conference room has been equipped with;
  • the call-centre type headset with a boom microphone your employer is asking you to use to “improve” the videoconferencing experience;
  • the videoconferencing platform;

The local installation of the room hosting a hybrid meeting.

Given that compressors work logarithmically, each layer of processing added on top of the previous ones boosts them exponentially (compressors work logarithmically), which massively escalates their negative impacts and generates overcompression.

What are the repercussions for human health?
Research has so far mainly concentrated on the impacts of videoconferencing in terms of fatigue, stress and burnout syndromes, but once overprocessed sound is understood as being the chief factor behind this type of fatigue, the link between videoconferencing stress, the auditory “threat” and auditory health problems can no longer be ignored. The following are two examples that clarify this link.

  1. Digitally overprocessed sound is also a typical feature of call centres. Operators are exposed to aggressive audio signals processed by live digital signal processing devices (DSPs) in more or less the same ways as videoconferencing signals. Unsurprisingly, call centre populations are very exposed to stress, burnout syndromes[10] and typically develop auditory problems like tinnitus, hypersensitivity to sudden noise (hyperacusis), hearing loss and balance problems[11]. Needless to say, these conditions are debilitating, may be disabling, and are usually incurable.

    The symptoms reported by call centre operators are usually ascribed to repetitive tasks, multitasking and the assumed presence of sudden loud bursts of noise down the telephone lines – the intensity, the role and even the presence of which has never been convincingly demonstrated. The auditory issues of call centre operators are known in the medical literature as acoustic shock syndrome, but given that the symptoms appear even where sudden peaks of very loud noise are impossible because they are electronically prevented (usually by means, ironically, of … dynamic range compressors!), the very existence of this syndrome has been questioned by some researchers and its definition is controversial.

    What no scientific paper on call-centre populations has yet done is characterize and describe the profile of call-centre signals, which, unsurprisingly, are heavily processed by compressors, noise filters and the like to help operators “hear better” and prevent loud peaks.
  1. The introduction of videoconferencing in multilingual and international communication settings (the UN system, the EU institutions, and bodies such as NATO and the Canadian Parliament) etc, and in international business meetings and conferences) where simultaneous interpreters are employed has spawned an unprecedented epidemic of auditory health problems among interpreters[12]. The symptoms are very similar to those already described in call-centre populations. Like call-centre operators, simultaneous interpreters wear headphones. Moreover, they have to listen and speak at the same time, which requires the auditory system to solve a complex puzzle known in the literature as the “cocktail party problem” and are often now on the receiving end of heavily processed sound, picked up (and manipulated by) mobile devices, built-in computer microphones and videoconferencing platforms and then reprocessed by conference room installations that were not originally designed for videoconferencing. Conference room settings often have to be tweaked in order to cater for remote interventions, and many modern installations are no longer manned even by human sound engineers, which further compounds the problem. According to various surveys, over 60% of interpreters working at international organizations have experienced auditory health problems similar to those of call-centre operators since the introduction of videoconferencing in multilingual meetings.

    This has made the headlines many times in Canada (where the national parliament is bilingual) and the problem has led to an interpreters’ strike at the European Parliament. Since its first use at the Nuremberg trials, simultaneous interpreting has always been a cognitively intensive task requiring a huge mental effort, frequent lack of eye contact with speakers and abundant frustration, owing to the frequent reading at top of speed of pre-prepared speeches by meeting participants, many of whom are speaking in a non-native language and may be difficult to understand. Significantly though, these stressful factors had never previously led to high incidence of burnout, let alone an epidemic of tinnitus, hyperacusis and hearing loss.

Figure 4: A combination of extremely aggressive compression and equalization during a meeting serviced by simultaneous interpreters

Anecdotal evidence of other categories of workers frequently exposed to videoconferences suggests that the problem might be more widespread. ENT doctors do not typically ascribe these symptoms to poor-quality sound because most of them have no specific training in, or understanding of, sound quality or sound engineering and they have never set foot in a call centre or an interpreting booth. Moreover, such concepts as “toxic sound” and “auditory burnout” do not yet appear in the medical literature, so doctors are typically unaware that poor sound quality is a potential risk factor. A number of teams of researchers are now investigating this, both in Europe and in North America, but evidence of videoconference signals being aggressive and overprocessed is already abundant since it is extremely easy to obtain.

Is every participant in a videoconference call experiencing burnout or auditory health problems?

The impact of overprocessed videoconference audio is obviously not being felt to the same extent by all participants. On the one hand, a certain proportion of the general population is known to be genetically more sensitive to noise and more prone to developing auditory conditions: videoconference signals might simply be driving people whose auditory systems are more fragile “by design” towards collapse. Yet, how many of those auditory systems would develop otherwise rare and disabling conditions like hyperacusis (up to 30% in highly exposed populations) if they were not being aggressively overstimulated by AI algorithms? On the other hand, noise is known to cause harm through prolonged exposure to levels that are not harmful provided that they are limited to 1-2 hours a day. For this reason, regulatory noise limits are always based on daily/weekly doses. Populations with high incidence of disabling auditory symptoms (call-centre operators and, since Covid, interpreters and conference clerks) seem to be concentrated in workplaces where multiple layers of overprocessing can easily be identified. This increases the dose (and makes its content more “toxic”) and it can therefore accelerate the damage-causing process. Workers exposed to videoconferencing in environments where fewer layers of overprocessing are applied might only require more exposure for them to end up having to report to an audiology ward. They might develop fatigue and burnout syndromes before they develop tinnitus. Tinnitus and hyperacusis may also lead to depression and fatigue. Tinnitus can keep sufferers awake at night, while the constant stress generated by the fact that everyday sounds have become harmful and even fear-inducing can take a heavy toll on one’s mental well-being. These symptoms could therefore be viewed as precursors to, or aggravating factors, of depression, fatigue and burnout syndromes.

Finally, it should be borne in mind that not all smokers end up developing lung cancer and not all factory workers exposed to asbestos have developed asbestosis. Risk factors do not necessarily produce negative impacts in each and every subject exposed to them.

Does videoconferencing really increase productivity?

Productivity can be measured in different ways. On a merely quantitative level, replacing face-to-face meetings with videoconferences allows employees and managers to take part in many more meetings than they could attend when Zoom calls were not the norm. However, on a qualitative level, the sorts of results that can be obtained from online meetings hardly compare with in-person interaction: when they are unconsciously feeling threatened and their fight-or-flight mode is activated, participants can hardly be expected to be creative, constructive, empathetic and collaborative. Optimum performance is never achieved (let alone maintained) when people are feeling threatened. Moreover, trust and credibility are key ingredients in any successful team effort or negotiation. An interesting piece of research[13] has recently demonstrated how the degrading of the audio quality of presentations has a major impact on the perceived credibility of the speaker and of their presentations’ contents. In that study, a group of scientists was asked to grade both the personal credibility of fellow scientists presenting their research and the quality of the research being presented. Presentations were recorded, then shown to two different groups of evaluators. Both groups were treated to exactly the same contents, accent, speed of delivery, presenting skills, body language etc.; the only difference was the quality of the audio signal (i.e. the timbre of the presenter), which had been deliberately degraded. It turned out that the group treated to presentations with degraded timbre found the presenters to be less credible and trustworthy and their contents to be of lesser quality. Timbre is the signature of a person’s voice. It reveals the speaker’s inner posture, the amount of tension in the muscles, ligaments and mucosal membranes, and their relative configuration. It is the audible body language of the speaker’s nervous system and inner organs. Timbre indicates to listeners what type of “object” is making a sound, what its shape is and what it consists of. Timbre makes it possible for listeners to distinguish a violin from a trumpet when they are playing exactly the same music. Videoconferencing tools do not distort the speaker’s intonation, rhythm or accent; distortion and spectral manipulation alter the timbre of voices[14].

The reason why degraded timbre has such a huge impact on the credibility of speakers is that human beings tend to be more trusting in people they feel are near to them and similar to them. Timbre contains the spectral cues that allow human beings to establish the distance between themselves and a source of sound. The voices of videoconference participants are typically deprived of part of the frequencies that signal proximity, so they may sound distant even to listeners who are wearing headphones. Alternatively, they may sound so near that they become intrusive, or come across as difficult to place in space (and therefore unreal) because some spectral components are too loud and others too soft. At the same time, most videoconference signals reproduce voices as though speakers had no forehead and no nose and merely consisted, in auditory and perceptual terms, of a neck and an oversized mouth. In real life, no human being sounds like a videoconference participant. Based on what meeting participants sound like online, the deep layers of our nervous system can hardly classify them as real human beings. Moreover, given the way some components of their voices are usually overly boosted, videoconference participants are inherently shouting. To what extent can you subliminally trust someone that looks like a human being, speaks like a human being but does not sound like a human being – and sounds aggressive to your nervous system, to boot?

Given that trust, credibility and rapport are the secret ingredients of every successful human interaction, if any meaningful results are to come out of a meeting videoconference, participants must be able to come across to their counterparts (colleagues, superiors, employees) as credible, authentic and real, and not cause them unwanted and unconscious fight-or-flight reactions.

For an HR manager, making videoconference sound natural could therefore prove to be much more useful than offering staff stress-prevention, conflict-resolution or empathy-based communication training sessions. In the age of videoconferencing, coming across as a real human being is the softest skill your employees can learn.

But can videoconference sound natural? And, if so, how?
The solutions to the problem will be explained in the next edition.

[1] Cranford, S. Zoom fatigue, hyperfocus, and entropy of thought. Matter 3, 587–589 (2020).Wiederhold, B. K. Connecting through technology during the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic: Avoiding “Zoom Fatigue”. Cyberpsychol. Behav. Soc. Netw. 23, 437–438 (2020).Riedl, R. On the stress potential of videoconferencing: definition and root causes of Zoom fatigue. Electronic Mark. 32, 153–177 (2022).
[2] Riedl, R. On the stress potential of videoconferencing: Definition and root causes of Zoom fatigue. Electronic Mark. 32, 153–177 (2022).Denstadli, J. M., Julsrud, T. E. & Hjorthol, R. J. Videoconferencing as a mode of communication: A comparative study of the use of  videoconferencing and face-to-face meetings. J. Bus. Tech. Commun. 26, 65–91 (2012).     
[4] Riedl, R., Kostoglou, K., Wriessnegger, S.C. et al. Videoconference fatigue from a neurophysiological perspective: experimental evidence based on electroencephalography (EEG) and electrocardiography (ECG). Sci Rep 13, 18371 (2023).
[5] Wilson, Gillian & Sasse, Angela. (2002). Investigating the Impact of Audio Degradations on Users.
[6] Dos Santos, T., Bordiga, P., Hugonnet, C., Avan, P., “Musique surcompressée, un risque auditif spécifique”, Acoustique et Techniques, 99, 24-31, 2022.    
[7] Rotter K.R.G., Atherton M.A., Kaymak E. and Millar B., Noise Reduction of Dental Drill Noise, Mechanotronics 2008.
[8] Fredriksson S., Hussain-Alkhateeb L., Torén K., Sjöström M., Selander J., Gustavsson P., Kähäri K., Magnusson L., Persson Waye K. The Impact of Occupational Noise Exposure on Hyperacusis: A Longitudinal Population Study of Female Workers in Sweden. Ear Hear. 2022 Jul-Aug 01.
[9] Wiley T.L., Oviatt D.L., Block M.G. : Acoustic-immittance measures in normal ears. J Speech Hear Res. 1987 Jun;30(2):161-70.
[10]    M.A.S., Güler N. General mental state and quality of working life of call center employees. Arch Environ Occup Health. 2022.
[11] By way of example: Westcott M. Acoustic shock injury (ASI). Acta Otolaryngol Suppl. 2006 Dec. Pawlaczyk-Luszczynska M., Dudarewicz A., Zamojska-Daniszewska M., Zaborowski K., Rutkowska-Kaczmarek P. Noise exposure and hearing status among call center operators. Noise Health. 2018 Sep-Oct.
[12] Garone, A.: Reported Impacts of RSI on Auditory Health at International Organisations
[13] Eryn J. Newman and Norbert Schwarz, Good Sound, Good Research: How Audio Quality Influences Perceptions of the Research and Researcher, Science Communication 2018, Vol. 40(2) 246 –257.
[14] More information can be found here:  and here:

Executive agencies: the start of a social dialogue?

Following the mobilisation at the Berlaymont on 6 June, the unions had obtained Commissioner Hahn’s readiness to negotiate, firstly on one of the main issues, namely safeguarding jobs in the EISMEA Agency. A meeting specifically devoted to this issue, with the participation of the Director General of DG RTD, identified solutions to the employment situation, in particular through the creation of an inter-agency Job Fair. Subsequently, thanks to the coordinated work of the unions and agency staff representatives, DG HR has been open to start a social dialogue on structural measures concerning career development, mobility and staff welfare.

The meeting held on 2 February between the unions and DG HR, with the participation of staff committee representatives, marked a turning point in the agencies issue. It provided an initial overview of the issues involved. Although the answers at this stage are only partial, based on objective data, the conclusions of this meeting can be grouped under three headings. 

Firstly, on career development, DG HR has informed the agencies that there will be an increase in the reclassification quotas for contract agents (3a) so that agents are treated more fairly. Apart from this one-off measure, which in no way prejudges its continuity in subsequent years, DG HR recognises that the application of art. 13 of the framework agreement, which allows competitions to be organised for contract agents – who make up around 75% of agency staff – could be a lever for access to higher function groups, and therefore a means of managing the careers of this important part of staff, while recognising its objective limitations.

On the other hand, the possibility of taking part in internal Commission competitions would be a much more important avenue. However, DG HR stressed that, despite the existing legal constraints, the issue deserved further discussion.

DG HR has also undertaken to conduct a more detailed discussion, based on an analysis of the available data, to respond to staff representatives’ request to open up management positions for temporary staff (2f) recruited in the agencies.

Secondly, on the issue of mobility – which is intrinsically linked to that of career development DG HR mentioned that the Commission had decided to increase the publication of temporary agent posts, which in principle would allow agents to access them, while stressing the fact that these posts are not open-ended. Possible adjustments to the inter-agency mobility mechanism put in place will also be discussed at a specific meeting. Related to this, the issue of workload assessment in relation to staff allocation will need to be reviewed.

Finally, on the question of staff well-being, the DG HR has undertaken to support, including through training initiatives for managers, the creation of conditions for a working environment that effectively motivates staff. In this respect, it is worth mentioning that the results of satisfaction surveys are hardly encouraging, even at very low levels, which should lead senior management to question the deep malaise that prevails, at least in some departments, and to take the necessary measures to remedy it.

In conclusion, this first meeting was conducted in a frank and constructive spirit. It is definitely an important step in the right direction. DG HR has offered to continue these discussions in the context of thematic meetings, and in order to feed into these, has undertaken analytical work to provide more precise data on certain issues raised (for example, the percentage of contract agents who have succeeded in obtaining temporary agent posts within the agencies).  It is therefore essential to carry out structured preparatory work for the next stages at the level of the unions and staff committee representation.  Our union will play its full role in close consultation with its members in the six agencies. A meeting is planned with these colleagues in the near future.

Regulatory agencies and U4U

We are pleased to inform you that this month, Fusion for Energy (F4E) had host a delegation from the European Commission Union U4U, led by President Georges Vlandas and his coordinator, Annabelle Menendez. The visit was marked by significant achievements and positive discussions that we are excited to share with you.

Key highlights of the visit include:

1. Face-to-Face Meeting with the Director:
We engaged in a highly productive meeting with the Director, resulting in various common agreements. The Director has expressed agreement on the necessity to move forward with the next steps of “Direct and collective expression of the staff” and conduct Social Dialogues with different unions. These dialogues will focus on topics that are pertinent to the concerns of our staff.

2. Social Dialogue on Integration:
Collaborating with other unions, we submitted our final comments on the Bilateral agreement between F4E and IO (last Friday 26/01/2023). This step is crucial in shaping the integration discussion, and we are confident that our contributions will positively influence the outcome.

3. General Assembly of U4U Members:
We provided updates on the integration discussions during the General Assembly, where U4U members were informed about the latest developments. Additionally, we are advocating for the combination of the 10 days of working outside the place of employment with the exceptional 20 days, which can be requested to the Head of Department. This would be especially beneficial for colleagues whose family members choose to reside in another country. U4U also reported on the latest news at the European Commission and important moves that could impact the staff from EC HQ and Agencies.

During the General Assembly Alejandro Sampedro Durá was elected as new member of the U4U Core Team, we are more than happy to welcome him.

4. Private Meetings with F4E Staff:
Recognizing the importance of addressing individual concerns, we held private meetings with F4E staff to discuss work-related issues. This reflects our commitment to supporting each member of our U4U organization.

It is heartening to report that we have received the full support of our Director, and a strong collaboration is underway between U4U and our Director supported by his Head of administration. This collaboration is essential as we navigate through changes and collectively work towards the future of our organization.

One last word. We must avoid two pitfalls in our relations with the central services of the European Commission.

On the one hand, seeing the European Commission lose interest in the decentralised agencies and Joint Undertakings like F4E, as was the case until recently, when it is guarantor of respect for the treaties, the statute, budgetary execution, and the holding of social dialogue.

But on the other hand, we must prevent it from intervening at any time to micromanage our agency from Brussels, its restructuring while ignoring the necessary social dialogue which takes place first at the agency level.

The European Commission sets a framework, makes recommendations but respects the social partners at the decentralized level, especially when our F4E Director demonstrates an open-minded approach to conducting social dialogue.

In times of transformation, unity is paramount. Your continued dedication and involvement contribute significantly to the positive momentum we are experiencing.

Let us remain on the same plane and continue to foster a culture of collaboration and progress, toward the success of ITER and the future of Fusion.

Activate your rights as a citizen!

In the previous issue, we informed you of the launch of a project to raise awareness of our rights as citizens

Here’s a progress report. First of all, we have established contacts with several citizens’ associations with a view to cooperating and establishing synergies. Each association has its own angle of interest and target audience, but the message is the same: get on the electoral roll and vote! We’re going to broaden and deepen these contacts.

At the same time, we produced a trilingual poster on the European elections, which was also sent to the European Schools and Parents’ Associations.

We also sent all the staff of the Institutions a newsletter on the two 2024 elections: European and local. We are preparing an information conference for the staff of the institutions. Soon, at least two information websites will be up and running. We are continuing to work on this project.

Elections 2024: being a candidate or campaigning?

2024 will be a big election year in the European Union and around the world.  Several media outlets have reported that more than half the world will go to the polls this year.

In Brussels alone, elections will be held this year at European, federal, regional (on 9 June) and local (on 13 October) level.

In addition to the European elections in June, Finland recently elected its president, while Portugal, Malta, Slovakia, Lithuania, Croatia, Austria, Romania and Hungary (indirectly in this case) will elect either their president or their parliament.

In Ireland, a referendum will also be held on 8 March to remove from the Constitution references to the “role of women in the home” and the fact that the family must be “based on marriage”.

Needless to say, there is a lot at stake in these elections. It is therefore to be hoped that a large number of citizens, including EU staff, will become actively and consciously involved in defending not only the various electoral programmes but also the fundamental values of the European Union: ”The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. These values are common to the Member States in a society characterised by pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between men and women.” (Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union)

But what are the rules if you decide to stand for election or simply to campaign for your favourite candidate?

First of all, if you decide to stand for election, whatever the post you are seeking (even if it is to be placed at the bottom of an electoral list in a small municipality), you should note that, under Article 15 of the Staff Regulations, you are obliged to inform the Appointing Authority (AIPN) of your intention to stand for election (this is not a request for authorisation, but a simple but nonetheless essential obligation to inform).

On the basis of this information, the Appointing Authority will inform you of its decision as to whether you may continue to perform your duties.  Under the Staff Regulations, the Appointing Authority may decide either to ask you to apply for leave on personal grounds (CCP), or to ask you to take annual leave, or to authorise you to continue your duties on a part-time basis, or to authorise you to continue them on a full-time basis.

The Appointing Authority’s decision will depend on a number of factors, including the interests of the service, the importance of the post for which you are applying, the amount of work involved and the remuneration that would be involved.

It goes without saying that similar obligations will apply to you for the duration of your mandate if you are elected or if you subsequently accept an indirectly appointed or elected position (e.g. member of an executive or, in some Member States, a social council).

In addition to the declaration obligation mentioned above, it is also important to remember that you must always make a clear distinction between your capacity as a candidate and your duties in the institution. While it goes without saying that your position as a “European official” may appear on electoral lists in the same way as any other, it would not be acceptable for you to take advantage of it or to use it during an election campaign. You are, of course, still bound by your duty of discretion and are therefore not authorised to disclose facts or information which are not in the public domain, and which have come to your knowledge in the course of your duties.

Without standing for election yourself, you may decide to campaign on behalf of one or other party or candidate. This may take various forms: poster campaigns, door-to-door canvassing, participation in public meetings, sending individual letters to your network of friends and acquaintances, posting or reposting messages or video documents on social networking sites, etc.

Again, the rule of freedom of expression prevails. You have the right to take part in the debate and to defend your beliefs. However, there are a number of rules that limit this freedom. Firstly, as is the case for candidates, you may not use your position as a European Union official in your campaign: you must not compromise the public’s perception of the impartiality of the European civil service. Nor may you divulge or use information that has come to your knowledge in the course of your duties.

Finally, even in your private life, or even in your life as a committed citizen, you must refrain from behaviour incompatible with the dignity of your office: in an election campaign, where tempers can flare, the use of insults, threats or other similar behaviour is obviously unacceptable.

To all our colleagues involved in election campaigns for democratic parties that respect the values enshrined in Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union, we wish you a successful campaign.

Reminder: This article gives us the opportunity to remind you that membership of U4U is incompatible, in particular, with membership of a political movement or association whose express object or activity is the negation of the values and rights listed in Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union (see Article 8 of the AISBL “Union 4 Unity” Statutes: Obligations of members).

U4U, serving you better!

The New Year always brings new resolutions to put into practice.
For 2024, U4U’s main resolution is to serve you even better.
To achieve this, we have created direct links between you and the team that can best help you. So …:
– If you require personal support, please email to
– If you would like information about training or coaching, please email to   
– If you would like to contact colleagues in Luxembourg, please email to  
– If you would like to contact colleagues in the European Parliament, please email to  
– If you wish to contact colleagues in the External Service, please email to
– If you have any other questions, please send an email to our general mailbox:
We invite you to visit our website frequently and to join our Facebook  page so that you have easier access to the latest news from the union about the training/coaching/workshops on offer, the conferences/cultural walks in Brussels and the events we organise throughout the year, as well as more general information about our statutes and our articles and reflections on the issues that concern us all.