Democratic Style in The European Commission


Democratic Style in The European Commission

Agora #92

So how does the European Commission apply its so-called democracy, and in particular its social dialogue relations with the "intermediary bodies"

The European Commission is an institution governed by the Staff Regulations. For several years now, it has been trying, like society in general, to give its employees the impression that it practices democracy internally, despite the fact that it does not apply a co-management model as would be the case in a cooperative, where the workers define the future of the company. After all, the Commission is an employer. Still, like any organisation of its size, and above all with its responsibilities, it has no choice but to adopt a directive military hierarchical model typical of all public administrations since the creation of nation-states in the 19th century.

In fact, like it or not, the executive branch the Commission is, is there to carry out the decisions of the legislative power. Of course, the generic rules that apply to the working environment, as laid down by the ILO or the corresponding European legislation, must be applied, if only because they are part of the Declaration of Human and Civic the Rights, which is incorporated in the Charter of Fundamental Rights. However, as a clear reminder, these rights are not the cup of tea of the current Commission, as the USF recently expressed in its leaflet ” The (a)social monologue of the von der Leyen Commission “.

So how does the European Commission apply its so-called democracy, and in particular its social dialogue relations with the “intermediary bodies” namely the trade unions and the staff committee? Their formal role is to keep an eye on things, to ask, to clear and to ensure that solutions are put in place to staff’s concerns. The above-mentioned leaflet expresses a number of clear cases of non-compliance with the rules of social dialogue which, according to international regulations, the Commission should be guaranteeing. These breaches were brought to the attention of EPSU, and were also met with a response of denial from the Institution itself. History will judge this attitude. However, we feel it would be interesting to take a closer look at the approaches used to bypass social dialogue and give a disguise to internal democracy. Bearing in mind that these same approaches are used in other organizations by other employers.

These approaches can be divided into three groups, which are often used in combination:

1 – The use of surveys. This avoids the intermediary bodies, even though they are the ones who should be consulted, or at least consulted with. None of the surveys of recent years have been endorsed by the intermediary bodies. Like bad opinion or consumer surveys, their questions are directed and formulated in a way that influences the respondent. They are rarely exhaustive, and when they are, they place great emphasis on certain aspects, almost ignoring the legal aspects and obligations of the subjects they cover. Finally, their actual participation rate (most often (very) low) is extrapolated to the entire population concerned, and they are often formulated to promote what is well done, and in particular what is popular. The icing on the cake is that many of these surveys allow the same respondents to complete them several times. When their credibility on these points was questioned, no methodologically reliable response was provided, other than to say that “the next survey will take your comments into account”. As for the public conclusions drawn by the administration, it highlights the positive responses, which of course includes the neutral responses (the respondent’s position is neither positive nor negative, and therefore neutral), and minimizes or conceals the negative aspects. More simply, the results of certain surveys launched with great publicity (to increase participation) are just never brought to the staff’s attention.

2 – direct consultation with the teams concerned by an aspect that affects them directly. The best example is the reorganization of a team or department’s office space. Team members affected by a generally imposed and irreversible change are consulted individually again, without any of the normally mandatory involvement of intermediate bodies.

3 – the organization of working methods, on a large or departmental scale. For example, deciding on the day when everyone will be at work for meetings or to support any other aspect of working in a new office space. Once again, no involvement or even information of intermediate bodies, not even for entities of a certain size such as aGeneral Directorate (several hundred employees).

What’s interesting in the last two cases is that national and international legislation is very clear on the employer’s obligations, and in particular those prior to their implementation. First and foremost, the employer must comply with a risk analysis. This analysis is generally non-existent, or may exist but is not up to date, or is limited to two sheets of general considerations. Finally, when it comes to assessing changes, our employer’s ‘100 days assessment’ is just as laconic as it is elastic.

As we said in the beginning, and it’s important to be aware of this, it’s also the result of a phenoman of fashion, a fad(’un phénomène de mode). Participatory democracy is flourishing in every member state, at European level and, not least, on organized social networks. This is a phenomenon in which we want to give everyone the feeling that, even if they don’t choose, they are heard and can have an influence on the course of things. In this respect, democracy, being the least imperfect system there is, provides the majority with this feeling. Admittedly, this phenomenon has accompanied democracy since its inception, but is not proof of democracy as such.

However, none of these approaches can intrinsically claim to be democratic. Indeed, democracy refers not only to a political system in which the people are sovereign but also to a system of values, which is completely lacking here. As Alexis de Tocqueville put it, democracy is more about cultural and psychological dimensions than about the political system itself.

So what’s the point of these approaches? Filling in to-do lists, probably, saving time and giving that feeling, that glimpse of democracy. In the meantime, as we’ve said, intermediary bodies are losing credibility, and the time will soon come when we’ll wonder what they’re good for. This may well be one of the aims. We will then return to a dark age of small baronies, in the hope that if this happens, better times will come, because democracy is in our culture and certainly in that of USF.


About The Author

President of USF-Luxembourg 2024 – present