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Social Dialogue

The aim of the social dialogue between the administration and the trade union and professional organisations (OSPs) is to ensure the continuity, independence and expertise of the European civil service, thereby influencing personnel policy and playing a key role in human resources management.

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.

Freedom of expression for officials and other servants of the European Union:

The duty of loyalty as a limit.

The Commission has recently published guidelines on the use of social networks by staff, particularly when expressing their views on matters within the remit of the European institutions.

These issues are obviously so vast and potentially controversial (just think of environmental protection and the development of electric cars, public health and vaccination issues, the war in Gaza, etc.) that it is sometimes difficult to draw the line between what is allowed and what is not.

It is therefore interesting to return to the question of our freedom of expression as agents (of whatever status) of the European institutions. We will, of course, start by pointing out that this freedom is protected on several levels.

First, like all citizens, we enjoy the protection of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. This protection is enshrined in Article 6 of the Treaty on European Union. No European rule (and the Staff Regulations are no exception) can therefore be interpreted without reference to the provisions of these fundamental texts.

At a second level, Article 17a(1) of the Staff Regulations states that ‘an official has the right to freedom of expression, with due respect to the principles of loyalty and impartiality‘.

It is here, therefore, that some of the limitations on the freedom of expression of EU officials are most evident.

In this article, we will focus in particular on the principle of loyalty.

According to the case-law, the duty of loyalty “requires an official not only to refrain from any conduct detrimental to the dignity of his office and to the respect due to the institution and its authorities, but also, all the more so in the case of a high official, to behave in a manner that is above suspicion, so that the bonds of trust between the institution and himself are always preserved“.  (See in particular the judgment of the CST in HG v European Commission and all the case-law cited on this page:  

As we have seen, the duty of loyalty comprises, on the one hand, a general duty to uphold the dignity of one’s office, in particular by refraining from any statement or conduct likely to undermine it (see also Article 12 of the Staff Regulations) and, on the other hand, a duty to preserve the relationship of trust that must exist between the Union and its institutions, on the one hand, and its staff, on the other. We cannot therefore warn too strongly against public questioning of the positions taken by the Union’s authorities, particularly if it is radical or even offensive, or if its authors occupy high positions.

Does this mean that all debate within the staff would be banned and that the expression of positions contrary to those officially held by the institutions would be prohibited? Fortunately, we are a long way from that, and Europe naturally continues to believe in the democratic and moderating value of debate and the diversity of opinions, and to regulate its activities on the basis of these values.

As a trade union, we would add that defending freedom of expression when it is threatened is also one of our most cherished commitments. It is in the interest of both our institutions and each of us to maintain open debate and dialogue on the issues that concern us.

However, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms also recognise the legitimacy of setting certain limits to freedom of expression. The most familiar of these limits in our daily lives are, for example, the prohibitions in certain national laws against insult, libel, slander, and even incitement to violence or racism, or apologies for terrorism. No, we can’t say everything, and that’s probably for the best.

As a general rule, such restrictions must be provided for by law (or sufficiently clear regulatory text), be necessary (for example, to maintain confidence or prevent violence) and be proportionate.

The limits imposed by the duty of loyalty on the freedom of European Union officials fall into this category.

Do you have a problem or question about your freedom of expression? We’re here to help:   

In the next Link in February 2024: What should I do if I want to stand for election?

Guidelines for the use of social networks: what freedom of expression ?

On 7 November, DG HR and DG COMM held an information session on the new Social Networking Guidelines, which set out the rules of application for Commission officials and staff. The document, which was adopted without proper consultation of the trade unions, sets limits on freedom of expression and promotes as good practice that we should be “ambassadors” for the Commission. In its memorandum of 27 July, the Central Staff Committee raised questions about the impact of the guidelines on Commission staff, including staff representatives.  However, the memorandum went unheeded.   

The guidelines have been in place since 2011, with successive updates in 2018 and 2023. In the current version, changes have been made regarding the inclusion of trainees in the scope of application, the obligation to declare as an external activity the management and publication of information in blogs, podcasts and other channels such as YouTube, as well as security and data protection aspects. It should also be stressed that the context has changed considerably, in particular with the increasing use of social networks for disinformation and the dissemination of false information. This also raises ethical issues that cannot be ignored.

The general legal framework, as set out in the Staff Regulations, the case law of the Court of Justice and current administrative practice, establishes that freedom of expression is not absolute, but is regulated and subject to different degrees of restriction depending on whether it is exercised internally or externally.

As regards the internal freedom of expression of officials and other staff, a number of situations need to be distinguished. Members of the Staff Committee enjoy a very high degree of freedom of expression, including criticism of the administration, when speaking on matters within their competence (Article 9 of the Staff Regulations).  Trade union representatives, when speaking on matters within their competence (Article 24 of the Staff Regulations), enjoy legal protection by virtue of the freedom of association recognised by the framework agreement governing relations between the European Commission and the representative trade union organisations. Finally, Commission staff are bound by the duty of loyalty (Article 12 of the Staff Regulations), impartiality and respect for the dignity of their office. As such, they do not enjoy complete freedom of expression and may therefore be subject to disciplinary action. In principle, officials and other staff may criticise internal policies, but there is no absolute freedom. On the other hand, when the Commission asks staff for their opinion on management issues through internal platforms (“Have your Say” or Yammer, replaced by Viva Engage), for example on the implementation of hybrid working, criticism is tolerated.

With regard to the external freedom of expression of officials and other servants, the guidelines strictly define the scope of application for aspects relating to the activities of the European Union, including personnel policy. The principles are as follows: the freedom of expression of officials and other servants is subject to the principle of loyalty and impartiality; the expression of officials and other servants is subject to prior authorisation by the administration; prior authorisation is guaranteed when officials and other servants express themselves in their capacity as ambassadors of the Commission; officials and other servants may express divergent positions provided that they have notified the administration; otherwise, protection from possible disciplinary proceedings cannot be guaranteed. 

In such cases, a balance must be struck between freedom of expression and the principle of loyalty. In this respect, the Court of Justice has stated that staff must have freedom of expression, but also the obligation to inform the Commission in advance in order to assess the risk[1]. In addition, critical views on the Commission’s activities must not harm the institution (duty of loyalty). It should be noted that there is no difference in protection between staff representatives and other staff when it comes to communicating on the activities of the European Commission, which falls short of the rights enjoyed by trade unions in some Member States. For its part, DG HR insists that ‘retweeting’ the Commission’s official positions is the safest way to communicate, but is it attractive?

U4U believes that the guidelines, while setting out legal principles and normative values, should be further clarified, particularly with regard to the demarcation between the professional and private spheres in the use of social networks.  Does the publication of critical but resolutely pro-European content on a social network violate the duty of loyalty? Should we not define more clearly the consequences in terms of disciplinary action against staff for communications deemed inappropriate? Is it reasonable to notify “sensitive” publications on social networks at every opportunity, given that the administration does not have the capacity to deal with all these requests, which would place a bureaucratic burden on its staff?  Wouldn’t it be better to promote a positive approach to communication by officials and civil servants in a responsible and fair way?  Wouldn’t the Commission also be well advised to provide staff and their representatives with the language they need to defend the civil service?

These are all questions that deserve in-depth discussion with staff. The administration needs to decide whether it prefers a disciplined staff, adept at “retweeting” on social networks, or a modern, efficient, responsible and intelligent civil service.

[1]  Connelly and Cwick cases-law 

Court of Justice of the European Union – Judgment of 13 December 2001 in case n° C-340/00 P – Strada lex)

Mission guide

Mission guide- Greening and new ethical rules: an initial commentary

DG HR presented its new mission guide, which was the subject of consultation meetings with the unions in July. Given the widespread use of hybrid working – which has led to a very significant increase in online meetings – it is perfectly legitimate to consider that mission plans should be reviewed in the light of cost-effectiveness and environmental sustainability criteria.

DG HR’s stated aim is to reduce the number of missions by 50% by 2024 (compared with 2019) in order to make budget savings and reduce the Commission’s carbon footprint[1]. As a result, missions will have to be carried out solely in the interests of the service and justified for reasons of a legal (e.g. legal proceedings), political (e.g. negotiations) or operational (e.g. investigations, audits, monitoring) nature, including institutional tasks.

The text of the decision introduces two major innovations: on the one hand, the taking into account of environmental considerations in the choice of modes of transport and, on the other, the taking into account of ethical considerations.

As far as greening is concerned, contractors will have to give priority, wherever possible, to the mode of transport with the lowest CO2 emissions, such as rail rather than air. In principle, rail transport should be used for distances of up to 550 km (one way) or where it is an efficient alternative to air transport (e.g. high-speed trains and/or night trains). When assessing the financial cost, the most environmentally friendly alternative should be preferred when the price is no more than 40% higher than the price of a plane ticket for the journey, taking into account budgetary constraints. The same principle applies when considering train journeys versus car journeys.

These provisions, which are still at the discussion stage, raise a number of objections. The two elements taken into account (distance and price) must be interpreted flexibly and take account of the context of the mission. In most cases, rail travel is more expensive than air travel. If the reference for a plane ticket is based solely on cost (low-cost flight) and the train journey is based on the first-class fare, the price variation can be much higher than 40%. We should therefore include certain guarantees to ensure that the mission holder does not bear the additional costs. In this respect, we propose increasing the ceiling, for example by 60% instead of 40%, on the understanding that this only applies to journeys of up to 550 km.

In addition to the greening aspects, it is proposed to strengthen the ethical provisions. The criteria include the absence of any actual or potential conflict of interest insofar as “the assignment and the provisions of the assignment do not represent a personal interest, or create a personal advantage, for the person carrying out the assignment that would impair his independence in the performance of his duties”. The guide places particular emphasis on the rules governing gifts and hospitality for staff. As a preliminary conclusion, it should be noted that the objective should not be so much to reduce the number of missions under the guise of “greening” and hybrid working (which remains the rule) but to ensure an adequate level of representation for Commission departments in their relations with the Member States, multilateral institutions and other interested parties. Social dialogue between trade unions and the administration will continue.

[1] In 2019, business travel by staff accounted for around 28% of the Commission’s own carbon footprint (more than 60,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent).


Working time and hybrid working guidelines

Building policy

Simplification of the valuation report

Project to simplify the evaluation report (dec 2022)

European Schools

Study on European Schools done for the EP CULT (Draft 2022)

New HR Strategy : greening the Commission

Working documents:

Diversity and inclusion

Use of e-mails by the trade unions and data protection requirements

Social dialogue in the EU

The European Commission has published a new initiative with the aim to strengthen social dialogue in Europe at the EU level and in the Member States at the national level. The initiative comprises to texts:

  • A Communication, of non-legal character, in which the European Commission outlines
    (1) measures which it intends pursue to strengthen European social dialogue at the EU level and
    (2) complementary commitments it expects to this end also from the European social partners.
    For the most part, the does not affect CESI’s member organisations but CESI as a European trade union umbrella organisation of which U4U is a member.
  • A proposal for a Council Recommendation, of non-binding legal character, which sets out suggestions from the European Commission on how Member States and their governments and the national social partners could further strengthen social dialogue at the national level. This concerns in principle all of CESI’s national member trade union organisations.
    Note that this proposal first has to be adopted by the Council before it will enter into force – and even then its provisions will not be obligatory as would be through an EU Directive or an EU Regulation. Still, a new Recommendation could be an important political sign and also instrument for trade unions at national level to strengthen social dialogue and collective bargaining.

How can we make progress on social dialogue today?

If the European Commission is to function in the service of society, it needs intense and ongoing social dialogue at all levels. To this end, following our first meeting on this subject, I propose very briefly for joint consideration, in addition to and echoing what has been said by my colleagues from the other trade union organisations, the following avenues:

1°) First of all, to quickly restore confidence, by taking immediate measures: a) Allow the CPPT to function again, and to this end respond positively to the unions’ request, b) Convene the meetings of all the joint committees, and send them, except in cases of great urgency, the documents necessary for trade union dialogue at least 10 to 15 days in advance, to allow them to consult the staff and their bodies c) Provide the unions with the statistical data necessary for them to be informed, d) at least systematically inform the trade unions of the outcome of their requests, and respond to them e) at least systematically inform them of the institution’s activities before it publicly announces its position, for example during budget discussions, etc.

2°) Then make social dialogue work more easily: a) Ensure bi-annual planning of social dialogue topics, backed up by the documents needed for this dialogue to take place properly, b) guarantee a right of referral for trade unions on topics of importance to them for social dialogue c) take greater account of their proposals, in the case of common perspectives, etc.

3°) Subsequently improve social dialogue: a) establish procedures for joint reflection before decisions are taken b) broaden the areas of social dialogue c) promote decentralised consultation procedures

4°) Finally, to reflect together on a reform of trade union, statutory and joint staff representation: several proposals exist on this subject that could be the subject of a common position.


Reform of the staff representation: nothing moves

The Commission had offered the opportunity to improve the functioning of the staff representation. For now, the staff representation, the unions, have not yet seized this opportunity.

It was indeed urgent to improve things for, for example:

  • give the opportunity to each workplace to have a local committee, Seville does not;
  • to allow each location to have the same weight in the central committee, the Outside Union is under-represented, Luxembourg and the JRC sites overrepresented;
  • ensure equality of treatment between union lists, some of whom participate in the elections under different names, which gives them an advantage over organizations which, as is normal, only appear with one list;
  • elect at the same time the central staff committee and its local committees: today, 7 months after the elections, for example, the constitution of the central committee’s organs is not completed, or even risks being called into question by the elections of the staff local committee of Luxembourg, which is due to be elected next November.

The reform of staff representation is necessary, even if it calls into question acquired situations or advantages. It is necessary to enable staff to be better represented and to take on new challenges when member states want to challenge the Staff Regulations. The greatest fears are allowed at this level since even some lists in the European elections of May 2019, considered as European, propose to question the European civil service.

Only staff unity and the strengthening of its staff representation will be able to oppose it effectively.