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Comments and Views from Swedish EU officials on the forthcoming Review of the Staff Regulations for Officials of the EU Institutions

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Comments and Views from Swedish EU officials on the forthcoming Review of the Staff Regulations for Officials of the EU Institutions

5 March 2012



Summary
This document brings together the views of a large number of Swedish EU officials concerning the forthcoming revision of the Staff Regulations for officials of the EU institutions. The views were collected by the Swedish EU Officials' Network (Nätverket för svenska EU-anställda) (1) .

. The main conclusions are as follows:

- Employment conditions, as they currently stand, are not sufficiently attractive to have prevented a fall in the number of Swedish EU officials over recent years;

- The need of, and justification for, the expatriate allowance do not diminish over time;

- The current "method" for adjusting salaries is both fair and balanced, and can lead to reductions as well as increases in the salaries of EU employees.


1. Background
The forthcoming revision of the Staff Regulations for officials working for the EU insitutions was discussed at a meeting of contact persons for the Swedish EU Officials' Network held at the Swedish Permanent Representation in Brussels on 19 December 2011. A contribution dated 15 November 2011 and presented to the Council by twelve Member States (2) including Sweden, and the issue of recruitment of Swedish nationals to the EU institutions, were also discussed at the meeting.

The members of the Network were keen to put forward a number of views on these issues.

With the objective of exemplifying, clarifying and structuring the views received, the Network's members were invited to submit their views in writing to the Swedish Permanent Representation to the EU, to be passed to the appropriate authority in Stockholm.

We would therefore submit the following views for consideration.




2. General remarks
We agree, in light of the current economic situation in some EU Member States, that savings must be made in various sectors of society, and that this must include the EU institutions. We would emphasise in this context, however, that significant savings have already been achieved by measures which have already been implemented and/or proposed. The sweeping "Kinnock reform" which entered into force on 1 May 2004 is estimated to have generated savings in excess of EUR 3 billion, expected to rise to EUR 8 billion by 2020. Entry-level salaries for EU employees recruited after 2004 are much lower than before, which of course also impacts on long-term salary trends.

We would also point out that the measures proposed by the Commission, including a 5% staff cut, an unpaid 6% increase in working hours, fewer days' travelling time for the trip home, less favourable the terms of employment for newly-recruited assistants (AST officials) and an increase in retirement age from 63 to 65, will lead to steep savings which can be added to the above sum. We think that the European Commission's proposal more than lives up to the what can be demanded of employees of the EU institutions in terms of solidarity in the current economic situation.

We also agree that the objective of the Staff Regulations should be to create a modern, efficient and dynamic organisation, something which is crucial if the institutions are to be able to attract, keep and motivate qualified staff from the entire EU area. It is therefore surprising that the Council contributions contains only proposals that have the objective of making our employment conditions much less attractive and which, in many ways, appear to run counter to Sweden's interests.

In this context, we would remind you that the number of Swedish nationals within the EU institutions has fallen continuously over a number of years. In 2009, the European Commission had 609 Swedish employees, which corresponded to 2.5% of the total number of staff. By November 2011, the number had fallen to 531, or 2.2% of total staff.

It is reasonable to assume that a key reason for the lower number of Swedes is that the employment conditions, as they now stand, are not competitive enough to attract sufficient numbers of competent Swedes to the EU institutions.




Number of Swedish nationals employed by the EU institutions

Against this background, it is surprising that Sweden has not vigorously opposed a number of the proposals, the likely – and unfortunate – effect of which will be that it will be even more difficult to recruit competent Swedes to the EU Institutions.

We present a number of examples below.

• Expatriate allowance and travelling time
Today, EU employees recruited outside their country of employment receive an allowance to compensate for their higher cost of living resulting from living abroad. In the same way as for staff at the Swedish Foreign Ministry, the objective is to compensate for the unemployment of an accompanying spouse or partner or that the spouse/partner is paid less for his or her work than in the home country. In other words, it is compensation for pulling up roots and looking for a job outside the home country, including for those from geographically peripheral countries such as Sweden.

In the Council contribution of 15 November 2011, signed by Sweden, it is suggested that the expatriate allowance should be steeply cut and even completely removed, using the argument that the cost of living abroad falls over time. We do not regard this as correct; on the contrary, our experience shows that the need of the expatriate allowance does not diminish over time. It is important to stay in touch with, and visit, close relatives, including aged parents who need our physical presence and assistance regarding medical care and the like. We also have siblings and their children, and close friends. If our children are to have a relationship with their grandparents, they have to be able to meet reasonably often. We always have to pay for services such as picking children up from kindergarten or school, since no grandparents or other relatives are available to help. In Belgium, it is very common for grandparents to take on this task, so there is almost no after-school provision. In addition, many of the benefits available and taken for granted in Sweden, such as parental leave and the allowance paid to parents staying at home to look after a sick child, are not available to EU officials.

The need of regular visits to maintain contacts with close relatives and friends can hardly be overstated. Additionally, a large number of our colleagues are forced to commute between their place of employment and Sweden, since there are limited opportunities for an accompanying spouse or partner to find work in Belgium, Luxembourg or France. In Belgium, two languages - French and Dutch - are usually required of those seeking work on the local labour market. The expatriate allowance is therefore crucial if the EU institutions are to be able to recruit – and keep – officials from more distant countries such as Sweden.

We think that the current system is relevant, fulfils an important task, and – not least – is in Sweden's interest. Regular contacts with, and travel to, the home country are also a means of remaining in touch in a professional capacity. If Swedish EU officials are to be able to contribute their knowledge of Swedish approaches and legal traditions, it is important to ensure that ties between Swedish EU officials and Sweden are maintained and that they function as smoothly as possible. It is mutually beneficial to have an exchange of information and to have Swedish EU officials who are knowledgeable about important issues in Swedish public debate. It is, in principle, impossible to keep up such competence simply by reading newspapers on the Internet.

As we have already mentioned, the Commission has proposed that the number of days of travelling time in association with the annual holiday (currently one to six, depending on the distance between the place of employment and the place of recruitment) should be radically cut, which hits employees from peripheral areas such as Sweden particularly hard. Since this reduction in itself already makes it more difficult to remain in contact with Sweden, it would be deeply unfortunate if the expatriate allowance was also taken away.

We think that the current system forms the bedrock of the very important principle that EU employees should be recruited from all Member States, regardless of their geographical location. This allows differing national perspectives to be brought to bear and good examples to be copied, which creates a common European perspecive. Against this background, it would be very unfortunate, in our view, if the number of Swedish EU employees were to fall further as a result of a reduction in the attractiveness of the employment conditions, or if Swedish EU employees were to lose some of their ties to Sweden through less travel home.

• Career structure
The Council contribution of 15 November 2011 proposes that promotion of EU employees should, to a greater degree than presently, be conditional on a managerial function.

This proposal runs completely counter to the Kinnock reform, which, apart from heirarchical responsibility, also sought to prioritise expertise and specialist competence. Quite apart from the fact that it is inconsistent with the Swedish tradition of trying to create non-heirarchical "flat" organisations, this proposal will also hit Swedish EU employees particularly hard, since there are currently few Swedes in managerial positions in the EU instutions; according to a preliminary estimate, the number stands at around 30. Additionally, under the proposal, EU officials who do not attain a management position relatively early in their career will hit a "career ceiling", which would not help make the EU institutions more attractive as an employer.

In our view, therefore, the priorities of the Kinnock reform should be maintained.


• The salary adjustment method
In the current system, eight Member States form the basis of the salary adjustment method. In the Commission's contribution of 15 November 2011 concerning the revision of the Staff Regulations, is is stated that the number of Member States forming the basis of the salary adjustment method should be increased by two, of which Sweden would be one (3). As Swedes, we think that this would be a wise decision, since the Swedish system of collective agreements and negotiated salary increases would have a direct impact on our salaries.

Nonetheless, an extension of the basis of the salary adjustment method is proposed in the contribution signed by Sweden. This surprises us. Is this because the Swedish Government has no faith in its own salary-setting system, or has in fact not understood the meaning of the document which it says it supports?

It is also surprising that after the ECJ judgment in Case C-40/10, Member States continue to argue against a correct application of the current method, which is very simple and is based on real salary increases for public sector employees in a number of EU Member States.

Additionally, Sweden has made it clear on a number of occasions that wages and salaries on the labour market are to be determined by the social partners, and has also vigorously defended this position in the current negotiations on the reform of EU economic policy. It is therefore strange, to say the least, that Sweden does not appear to intend to respect the agreement between the European Commission, in its role of employer, and employee representatives.


3. Conclusion
In conclusion, we would emphasise that it is crucial that it should continue to be possible to recruit, keep and motivate sufficient numbers of competent employees in the EU institutions, even from geographically peripheral countries such as Sweden; not because these employees are supposed to directly represent Sweden, but so that they can contribute the modern approach and modern thinking that is representative of a Member State which is not in the geographical centre of Europe. This is in Sweden's interest.



Vår kontaktadress: svenskanatverketbxl@hotmail.be


(1) In principle, the Network consists of representatives of every Commission Directorate-General? and of Parliament and Council.
(2) Austria, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
(3) The Commission's final proposal is that the basis shoud encompass all 27 Member States; COM(2011) 890.

Created by: admin last modification: Wednesday 18 of April, 2012 [15:45:35 UTC] by admin

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