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The Holmquist Report and Where it Came from and Where it Should Go

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The Holmquist Report;

Where it Came from & Where it Should Go

En français

I. What Do We Do Now?
The first questions are "Can we defend ourselves?" and "How?"
Let us look back at two recent experiences with attacks on our working conditions.

In the run-up to the Kinnock Reform staff put its faith in the big and biggest unions. Result; a huge disaster.

Some of you may already have forgotten the attempts to eliminate 2000 posts that were undertaken in 2006.

This is because no jobs were lost.

To what extent the bigger unions were involved is hard for us to say because we simply heard very little from them.

What happened was that individuals, small groups and unions decided to defend themselves.

A handful of colleagues plagued the European Parliament with emails, phone calls and visits for months.

They were often brushed aside, but they came back even more often.

The other key to their success was that they spent much time communicating with the assistants of the MEPs.

It took the average assistant a few seconds to understand that a successful attack on our working conditions would soon lead to a similar aggression against him or her. Some unions use "solidarity" as a meaningless buzzword.

Now you know what that word really should mean.

Practical experience shows that MEPs concentrate on things that are already on the EP agenda or will be there soon.

Therefore it is too early to launch another labour lobby campaign. For now, a brief sketch is enough. EP has 785 Members from 27 States. If 785+ colleagues each contact one MEP and patiently argue for a better alternative to whatever the Commission finally makes out of the Holmquist Report, the odds will be in our favour. We can speak and write to the MEPs in their languages, we can tell them what is really going on, we should tell them openly that we need and deserve better treatment.

If a few handfuls of committed people where able to save the 2000 posts, what could hundreds do?

Here are some practical remarks in closing. Based on our practical experience we will share information on what and how to communicate to Parliament via this website.

If there are enough volunteer lobbyists, it will be possible to escalate our defence by also approaching national parliaments, the media, parties and unions outside our Institutions.

If these volunteers choose to share their experiences with us, SID can publish them in the form of synthesis and help to pragmatically coordinate an informal, grassroots alliance to save what is left of the European civil service.

It is up to you.

II. What Is Going On?
So far, a number of documents and several emails have become available in the context of the "Holmquist Report". This material is well worth reading in detail (see References 1, 2, 3, 4, 5).

The Holmquist Report is easier to understand in its general political context. The EU was expanded from 12 to 15, then to 25, now to 27 Member States without any proportionate increase in posts or budget for the Institutions.

It would have been impossible to maintain the quality of service even if all of the newer Member States had spoken one of the original official languages and been highly developed and very homogenous with the older Members and with one another. The reality was far more challenging.

Politicians decided to double the size of the EU at the expense of 40 000 people who work in its Institutions.

For the sake of fairness, the near half-billion EU citizens should have been asked to share more fully the cost of enlargement just as they would share its benefits.

Basic arithmetic and common sense show that it was physically and mentally impossible for 40 000 people to cover the expense of 100 000 000 people joining the EU but that is what our leaders decided to try.

And it gets a little worse. Those officials who had joined the Institutions before the Kinnock Reforms took effect were partly protected by grandfather clauses.

These clauses served to keep staff with seniority lulled into passive acceptance of reforms, which in fact cost them circa 17.5% of their income .

So we conclude that new colleagues, including especially contractual agents, were obliged to make disproportionate sacrifices.

It is highly probable that some of the participants in the EU Summits understood the impossibility quite well. Their problem was that they needed a unanimous decision in order to go ahead with enlargement.

Those summiteers who wanted no part of it were thus in a position to impose the absurd condition that there would be no proportionate increase in institutional resources.

To speculate a little bit; some of the pro-enlargement politicians may have hoped that the necessary increase in people and money would take place once mounting problems made it clear to everyone that historical mega-projects require lots of resources and that their opponents would relent once the damage became obvious.

Game theorists call this particular zero sum game chicken (no such thing as win/win here!) in honour of the Hollywood classic "Rebel without a Cause" .

Those of our colleagues who decide to do nothing more than to work to the limits of their capacity without even complaining are choosing the most dangerous strategy; they are betting their professional lives on the outcome of a game of chicken.

It is also very likely that the Director Generals, including Mr. Holmquist and his co-authors, understood how the EU summits were taking decisions which were simply irrational. Had some of them, or most, or all of them stated the truth in public, the course of events would have been altered.

Of course, some of the politicians might have developed a grudge against such upright DGs, which would have put their prospects for promotion to yet higher posts at risk.

It seems that their own futures were more important to them than ours. In this way the ultimately lose/lose strategy of enlarging the EU at the expense of its staff was adopted.

In this light CDR I, the Kinnock Reforms and the recent unilateral imposition of CDR II ( 1 )make sense. They are three turns of the screw that increase pressure on us all with a view to minimizing input and maximising output at the same time.

It is normal that the DGs attempt to carry out the irrational decision of the Heads of the Member States in an irrational way. Now a fourth turn of the screw is being attempted under the euphemism "Human Resource Reform".

The DGs write that "we no longer attract the best" and even more revealingly "Le manque d'attractivité de la Commission sur le marché du travail actuel est réel, surtout dans certaines spécialités, … Une plus grande concurrence est également perceptible entre les différentes institutions."

However, they simply accept this problem as an inevitable fact of life, so we, the remaining 39 900 EU employees need not look to them for help.

Some of their language suggests they do not identify with us at all; "grant staff visibility and empowerment". How very generous. They probably always carry some loose change so that they can give alms to those EU citizens who are begging in the streets of Brussels.

Then there is a proposal for the benefit of the "faux В". In the absence of industrial democracy it is very much the DGs and their delegates who bestow the "B" to some colleagues. If there are "faux B" then there must be some "faux" Director Generals lurking about.

Leaving details aside, two general trends in the thinking of the Directors General emerge; more temporary staff and fewer permanent officials, more generalists and fewer specialists.

Looking down at our world from the pinnacles DGs it is sometimes hard to distinguish between donkeys and us.

This makes a "carrot & stick" strategy look promising; maximize temporary staff which can be punished with the "stick" of non-renewal and rewarded with the "carrot" of one more contract.

There is no real reason why someone who has signed a fixed term contract should care about what happens on the morning of the day after his or her going away party.

Some of our Contractual Agent colleagues do more and better work than we have a right to expect, but our Institutions are punishing their good will by minimizing working conditions.

What will become of an EU that is run by people with a time horizon of at most five years to end of their contract under the orders of politicians whose idea of a long time is the four years to the next election? A shambles, that's what.

Generalists know almost nothing about almost everything. Specialists know almost everything about almost nothing.

The ideal EU employee should be between those ridiculous extremes; somewhere between a generalist who also has some in-depth knowledge and a specialist with a decent general education.

That is asking a lot, just as the Preamble of the Staff Regulations demands of us the "highest standard of independence, ability, efficiency and integrity, recruited on the broadest possible geographical basis" .

Logically, we conclude that as long as recruitment is carried out according to the Regulations we should be among Europe's best.

The fascination of top management with disposable staff is old news but their new infatuation with generalists is a disturbing innovation.

For the past half century the Institutions have hired plenty of specialists with a good general knowledge of European history, economics, and even some basic law. It is easy to do that; one simply tests both areas.

The recent reform of the Certification Procedures was criticized for certain failings but it did involve the reasonable idea of taking ASTs who were qualified in some specialty and giving them extra training in general EU knowledge in order to qualify them for promotion to AD.

The new orientation toward generalizers is probably driven by the sheer economics of the labour market; people with post-graduate degrees in science or technology command higher salaries than those who have studied the humanities.

One problem with this approach is that specialists are usually more successful in picking up some general background knowledge than generalists are in learning about nuclear technology or data base administration.

Another difficulty is that in a sophisticated society like ours managers must cope with knowledge-workers, not manual labourers.

The task of digging a ditch is simple enough for a man who has never touched a shovel to oversee, especially if he has the good sense to just let the diggers get on with their work.

But when it comes to analyzing and designing advanced systems, rules of thumb learned in an MBA program just don't apply. If you are going to hire and manage concert pianists, you had better know the difference between a Steinway and a beer stein.

Perhaps what we are seeing here is the tacit admission that dealing with real knowledge workers is just too challenging for senior management

Without excessive respect to anyone, let us quote William Blake "To Generalize is to be an Idiot; To Particularize is the Alone Distinction of Merit".

Of course, poor old Bill was not just extreme in his choice of words but also in his actions, and he seemed to always have problems with established authorities; " … in June 1780, Blake was walking towards Basire's shop in Great Queen Street when he was swept up by a rampaging mob that stormed Newgate Prison in London. They attacked the prison gates with shovels and pickaxes, set the building ablaze, and released the prisoners inside. Blake was reportedly in the front rank of the mob during this attack. …" (ibid.) (Don't even think about doing anything like that.)

Perhaps the DGs have an inkling of this because they write "Certain kinds of policy specialists, such as researcher, nuclear inspectors and research programme managers, may require continuity in professional practice in their field of specialisation and a separate career path.

Such permanent specialists would have to satisfy the basic core competences by passing the proposed annual general recruitment process."

That already sounds much better. It is good news that in the future Europe's nuclear power stations will still be inspected by people who know that uranium is not a Greek god.

We have seen some of what the DGs are doing to defend their interests.


Created by: admin last modification: Monday 24 of November, 2008 [22:46:35 UTC] by admin

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