In 2014, Staff Regulations were revised for the first time following the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty in 2009; this was the first time the Regulations had been amended through the ordinary legislative procedure, in other words in a co-decision between the European Parliament (EP) and the Council, on a proposal from the Commission.
Upgrading the European Parliament, the only institution directly elected by citizens, to the position of EU co-legislator had been welcomed as bringing more democratic legitimacy to the Union.
Ironically, when it came to amending staff employment conditions, upgrading one of the stakeholders in the legislative process led to the marginalisation of another stakeholder, the one directly affected by the rules under review: staff and the organisations that represent them.
2004 Reform – 10 years earlier, in 2004, before the Lisbon Treaty, a major revision of the Staff Regulations was carried out. This one involved serious negotiations with trade unions and staff associations (TUSAs) , a fact which is even mentioned in its recital 38: “The measures, in particular career modernisation measures and financial measures, have been accepted as a whole by the organisations representing staff consulted within the framework of the Consultation Committee established by the Council Decision of 23 June 1981”.
This tripartite Consultation Committee (known as ‘the CoCo’) consisted of: (i) one representative from each Member State; (ii) an equal number of staff representatives appointed by the TUSAs; and (iii) the head of administration of each institution. For the 2004 review, the CoCo had brought together not only the 15 Member States’ ambassadors, but also those of the 10 States, which were acceding at the time.
2014 Reform – By contrast, in 2013, the CoCo proved too narrow to offer the newcomer, the EP, a place worthy of its rank. In place of a formal negotiation with the TUSAs, the latter preferred “more direct and flexible means” with which to “listen to the opinions of the staff representatives before legislating”. As for the CoCo itself, it never held a plenary meeting: Member States were represented by the ambassador of the country holding the Presidency of the Council.
Under the new “trilogue” (COM, Council, EP), TUSAs were seen as liable to disturb a difficult balance to be struck between institutional players within a narrow time frame (see an account by EPSU CJ, 26 Sep 2013, in French).
As soon as the Barroso Commission presented its initial draft in 2011, it was clear that the revision to come (2014) would involve austerity measures. With a few exceptions, it was socially regressive compared to the 2004 revision.
Take one example:
2004 Reform – The principle of equivalence of pre- and post-2004 careers was a key element of the revision, which the negotiating TUSAs (indeed mainly the USF) had obtained in return for a radical change to the career structure. It was enshrined in Article 6 of the Staff Regulations. Another big step forward in that revision was the inclusion of former categories C and B in a single AST function group.
2014 Reform – The Commission found that “the principle of equivalence of careers [was] clearly breached in the case of secretaries/clerks” (mentioned here). As a result, the former (pre-2004) category C was resurrected through the creation of the AST / SC function group, which, far from restoring equivalence, fell below the former category C by 13.9%. As to the principle of career equivalence, which had apparently exhausted its usefulness, it subsequently disappeared from Article 6 of the Staff Regulations.
Union Syndicale Fédérale (USF) maintained that the 2014 revision had violated the agreement between TUSAs and the legislature with respect to the 2004 revision and therefore took the Parliament and Council to court (Case T-75/14). In addition to the annulment of certain points of the revision, it also asked for “a symbolic sum of EUR 1 to compensate for the non-material harm suffered”.
In other words, the extent of harm, which cannot be calculated, consists in a loss of credibility (indeed the loss of credibility of trade unionism in general).
As the trade union’s lawyer submitted to the General Court, the main aim of a trade union is to defend the interests of employees. If unions are short-circuited by the employer / legislator when it comes to defining the terms and conditions of employment of said staff, the message to both institutions and staff is that unions are unable to play this role, therefore of no use.
The pernicious effects of this message are multiple: the proliferation of smaller, weaker trade unions, the rise of corporatism, losing sight of the general interests of staff. The scarcity of trade union membership and the dilution of the representativeness of staff organizations. Unions without their own resources, kept alive by the employer. Unions that promote any product or activity aimed at attracting members, and thus funding. And, worse, Staff Committees run by people who do not belong to any trade union.
Staff, who are the first to be affected, must reflect on the reasons for the marginalisation of trade unions. Has it come about as a part of a wider phenomenon in society? Or, as the result of a goal pursued by the employer?
Europe, for its part, including its justice system, must seriously ask itself how it envisages carrying out its construction, in other words, according to which social model. Does it want to move forward with its workers or without them?
Member of the Federal Committee