New vetting process alarms civil servants

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Series Details Vol.4, No.22, 4.6.98, p7
Publication Date 04/06/1998
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Date: 04/06/1998

By Myles Neligan

PLANS to subject some EU officials to security vetting procedures have raised fears over potential abuses of Union civil servants' rights, and prompted complaints that the independence of the Union institutions may be undermined.

Union Syndicale, the largest union representing EU staff, has condemned the move, warning its members in an internal letter that the new procedures "will interfere with the independence of the European civil service".

Under the new measures, which were agreed by national governments last month and are due to come into force in 2000, Council of Ministers officials with access to particularly sensitive information will have to be positively vetted by authorities in their country of origin before taking up their duties. National rules and criteria will apply in each case. The move is designed to prevent damaging information leaks after the 60 officials who form the administrative arm of the Schengen free-movement zone join the Council's staff in January 2000.

The day-to-day running of Schengen involves the exchange of highly sensitive information on national defence and crime prevention strategies. But staff union leaders claim the application of 15 different vetting procedures will lead to unequal treatment of officials.

The issue of officials' right to appeal against a negative decision, which is guaranteed in only six EU member states, has caused particular concern. "Some officials will be ruled out without even being told why, with no right of appeal, while others will benefit from more liberal national regimes. The whole process will be unfair and completely lacking in transparency," said one Union Syndicale member.

Critics also argue the new system will give governments excessive influence over the composition of the Council's staff, claiming some will use it to block the appointment of individuals of a different political persuasion to their own.

"Spain, Portugal and Greece, for instance, all have a recent history of highly authoritarian governments and have detailed files on most senior government officials. Under these circumstances, it would be relatively easy to find an excuse for blacklisting somebody," said one.

The unions are calling for a harmonised security clearance procedure at EU level, with full right of appeal and disclosure in the event of a negative decision.

But there is little chance of their demands being met, as most Union governments jealously guard their right to vet senior civil servants.

Features on the difficulties incorporating the Schengen Secretariat into that of the Council of the European Union.

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