Kinnock breakthrough as unions back reforms

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Series Details Vol.7, No.26, 28.6.01, p1
Publication Date 28/06/2001
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Date: 28/06/01

A crucial breakthrough in overhauling the archaic recruitment and promotion system for EU officials has been achieved after staff unions endorsed a new report on internal reform.

The European Commission will tomorrow (29 June) publish details of the progress made by a negotiating committee formed in March to end the acerbic bickering which has dogged the reform process.

In a surprise move following 20 meetings involving delicate negotiations, all seven staff unions signed up to the first report from the group, chaired by Niels Ersboll, formerly the secretary-general at the Council of Ministers.

In a statement issued to European Voice, Internal Reform Commissioner Neil Kinnock welcomed the unions' decision to throw their weight behind the report. "This demonstrates clearly that the representatives of the administration and the unions have found broad agreement on the Commission's reform proposals and, obviously, that will greatly assist with the finalisation of the package this autumn," he said.

Nevertheless, Ersboll's paper underlines that there are still a number of hurdles to be overcome before all the planned reforms can come into effect.

The report notes that although common ground has been established on recruitment and disciplinary procedures, there remain "two divergent approaches" to changing the career structure within the institutions.

Kinnock insists that the current system, based on a French civil service model from the 1950s, must be eliminated.

He believes that it does not provide incentives to encourage talented A-grade officials to seek promotion because they can already increase their salaries by up to 40% over the span of their career without moving up the ranks.

As a replacement, Kinnock's officials are devising a "linear" career system, which would encourage high-flyers to seek positions carrying greater responsibility. Although the biggest labour group, Union Syndicale, threatened a strike when Kinnock's proposals were first announced, it is now edging towards agreement with him. Alan Hick, the head of its Brussels branch, said he is hopeful a "dynamic compromise" can be secured this autumn.

The union is demanding that guarantees are built into the "linear" system to ensure a minimum level of career advancement for the majority of officials. "If the final package is in the interests of the staff, then of course we'll back it," said Hick. "We're not going to say 'no' for ideological reasons."

But the second largest staff union, Renouveau et Democratie (R&D), remains wary. "We don't want to prejudge the result of further talks but for now we're sticking to our position that the 'linear' career idea represents a big danger for staff," said Cristiano Sebastiani, a member of the R&D negotiating team.

Many officials also believe that the Commission will find it difficult to win support from the European Parliament and several member states for its proposals, which are yet to be fully costed.

Germany and some of the Scandinavian countries are not considered enthusiastic and because of their resistance, the comprehensive reform package is unlikely to come into effect until late 2003 or 2004.

Kinnock is hoping to win their approval by arguing that the reforms will mean overall savings for the EU. The next stage in the process is a meeting of Commissioners on 18 July at which he expects to receive the go-ahead to intensify work on the career structure plans. The Commission hopes to agree the final package before the end of the year. "The Kinnock reforms clash between an old-fashioned culture and fairly modern ideas," said one insider. "Some of the unions were very suspicious at the start but many of their misunderstandings have been cleared away. Still, there is always the possibility that one or two of the unions will decide to engage in guerrilla tactics." By David Cronin

A crucial breakthrough in overhauling the archaic recruitment and promotion system for EU officials has been achieved after staff unions endorsed a new report on internal reform.

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