Kinnock could ‘paralyse’ EU if he gets his way over reforms

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Series Details Vol.7, No.38, 18.10.01, p1
Publication Date 18/10/2001
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Date: 18/10/01

By David Cronin

NEIL Kinnock's plans to overhaul the pay and recruitment structure for EU officials is likely to be derailed by legal challenges if it wins the go-ahead, a leading MEP has warned.

European Parliament Vice-President Catherine Lalumière predicts serious conflict will erupt within the EU institutions if the reform chief's plan to replace the A-D grade structure for fonctionnaires with one that has just two categories is implemented.

Cases are likely to be taken to the European Court of Justice over the obligation to reclassify all 20,000 staff in the Commission and the several thousand working for other institutions within four years of the proposals' adoption, she told European Voice. "There will certainly be strikes and cases taken to the court," the French Socialist added. "This could paralyse the institutions."

Lalumière emphasised that she was not speaking on behalf of the entire Parliament. She is, however, a member of the assembly's influential staff committee, to which the five unions representing parliamentary officials also belong.

Kinnock is expected to win support from his fellow commissioners for his preferred option for changing the career advancement system at a key meeting on 30 October. The rationale behind his plan is that a more 'linear' career structure could enable staff to move more swiftly up the ranks of the EU's civil service. He believes that the present structure does not give sufficient incentives for talented employees to seek promotion.

Lalumière said she would favour another option in the latest discussion paper prepared by Kinnock's aides on the reform process, but not supported by Kinnock himself. This would involve retaining the existing four grades but modifying them to ensure swifter progression from one rank to another. "This would be a lot better as it doesn't oblige the reclassification of everyone," she said. "There must be reform but it must be realistic. It's not a question of a conflict over aims but a conflict over methods."

Rejecting her criticisms, the internal reform commissioner's spokesman, Eric Mamer, said if Kinnock's linear structure is approved by the Commission then a transitional system would be devised to ensure that no official would lose out due to the reforms. "There will be absolutely no loophole or legal uncertainty," he added.

While Kinnock has sought to build a consensus with the staff unions on the reform process, four of them signed a statement last month registering their objections to his preferred option. But the four did not include Union Syndicale, which represents an estimated 40 per cent of Commission staff. It has thrown its weight behind the broad thrust of Kinnock's plans.

Lalumière's remarks echo concerns voiced by Parliament President Nicole Fontaine and Secretary-General Julian Priestley. Yet many MEPs do not concur with her. British Conservative Malcolm Harbour pointed out that an overwhelming majority of deputies voted for a report he drafted, which backed the linear career structure idea.

Earlier this week Harbour had talks with Kinnock, during which he was assured that "unimpeded advancement" based on merit was still the core principle of the reform process. "I am surprised by Mrs Lalumière's remarks," he said. "The Parliament has given a strong endorsement to the linear career structure proposal and, as far as I know, that is still the view of the majority of Parliament."

Neil Kinnock's plan to overhaul the pay and recruitment structure for EU officials is likely to be derailed by legal challenges if it wins the go-ahead, a leading MEP has warned.

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