OLAF report on several cases of harassment at the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC)

Brussels 28 January 2020

Note to the attention of Mr. Gianluca Brunetti

Secretary General of the European Economic and Social Committee

Subject: OLAF report on several cases of harassment at the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC); OLAF having already passed its finding to Belgian judicial authorities for further consideration. 

Ref:     My note of 26 November 2018 ( read )

My note of 17 December 2018 ( read )

My note of 12 February 2019 ( read )

My note of 12 April 2019 ( read )

My note of 13 May 2019 ( read )

“There is no one more blind than he who does not wish to see” “There are none so deaf as those who will not listen”.

A number of EESC colleagues having asked us to intervene so that their psychological mistreatment at their workplace cease and / or are recognized. Through our letters referenced above, we have used our right of alert and we have questioned you as well as President Jahier, on several occasions, both on the alleged cases of harassment within the EESC and the measures you intended to take to remedy the situation.

We have addressed you as the highest representative of the administration so that rapid solutions can be found to put a stop to all these hostile acts and this unhealthy climate.

R&D, more than ever on the side of the victims, demanding that all the light is shed on the serious actions that we denounced…

In particular, as staff representatives, we have assisted the colleagues who asked for our help, made our legal service available to them, and accompanied them in all the steps of the procedures, including those systematically unsuccessful, towards the administration of the EESC.

Your answer and that of President Jahier to our countless steps was simple: move on. There is nothing to see.

It was distressing to note that in response to criticisms, to press articles, to questions asked by CONT in connection with the refusal, you have, together with Mr. Jaher, either systematically said “no” or adopted an abstruse tone refuting our serious concerns.

You have even managed to express your indignation against these allegations, which are malicious and unfounded in your opinion.

In particular, you have constantly tried to confuse the more than legitimate requests aimed at obtaining all clarity with the questioning of the reputation of your institution, as if the only possibility of defending it was to resign yourself to the law of silence.

As an example of your attitude, in your note to my attention of 19 March 2019, you wrote: “I refuse to accept your reproaches and comments, which aim at distorting the reality, causing confusion and undermining the Committee’s reputation”.

You even managed to admonish us, with an authoritarian – almost threatening – and caricatural tone, not to dare to disturb the members of the EESC, thus demonstrating that you reserve for them all the solicitude that you refuse to the member’s staff victims of the behaviour and abuses that we denounced.

In addition, in your communications to the staff, you confirmed the lack of any merit in our allegations, which emanate according to you from “an external union” which has no legitimacy.

A self-referential administration that is resistant to all criticism and control… at the EESC, everything is going very well in the best of worlds!

In short, in a self-referential feat resistant to any criticism that will forever remain in the annals of our institutions, you have profusely made reassuring comments confirming that within the EESC everything was perfectly fine, that the internal procedures were flawless, that the internal inquiries fully complied with the recommendations of the European Ombudsman, offered all the guarantees for colleagues who could consider themselves victims of harassment… and that the “zero tolerance” harassment strategy was applied without nuance.

Everything is going so well at the EESC that … why not get rid of the Legal Service?

You were so convinced that within the EESC everything was going well that in your first proposal for an EESC organization chart, you came to propose the outright abolition of the Legal Service. Simply unheard of!

We imagine that this decision was taken considering that the legality of the decisions adopted was acquired by definition without any need for legal verification.

In response to your simply irresponsible proposal, we found that it even exceeded the attacks by one of your predecessors on the independence of the EESC’s Legal Service. Attacks that the Court stigmatized, confirming “the violation, in respect of the former head of the Legal Service, of the provisions that the Staff Regulations specifically established in the context of the fight against harassment” by ordering the EESC to pay him 25,000 euros  in damages for moral injury suffered[1].

It was only in the face of our reaction and that of several members of the EESC that you withdrew your proposal and confirmed the existence of the Legal Service in the organizational chart under your direct supervision. This, in conjunction with the facts mentioned above, obliges us to stay vigilant concerning the Legal Service’s present and future independence.

Faced with the deaf dialogue that you organized, R&D and members of the EESC have lodged a complaint with the European Ombudsman…

In response to your denials of reality, we were forced jointly with two members of the EESC to lodge a formal complaint with the European Ombudsman denouncing, among other things, the absence of any effective management of harassment cases.

By demonstrating, on 20 January 2020, all the merits of our approaches as well as the groundlessness of you assurances, OLAF has filed a scathing report on several cases of people being harassed at the EESC, as well as on cases of inappropriate behaviour within the institution, and including disciplinary and judicial recommendations!

In particular, the press have just reported ( euobserver ; nedinfo.nl ) the fact that OLAF has just submitted to the EESC authorities a scathing report which reveals the existence of several cases of moral harassment on the part of the President of Group I of the EESC, the same person whose behaviour was already described as “does not fully correspond, in certain aspects, to the administrative culture of European public service” in the 2016 Court judgment in case F- 50/15, FS v / EESC.

In this report, as well as in the letters, which have been sent to them, OLAF formally recognizes the status of victims of harassment for several colleagues and notes several additional case of inappropriate behaviour, which would, has been happening within the EESC for a number of years.

Moreover, in view of the seriousness of the facts found, OLAF transmits the file to the Belgian judicial authorities  

Due to the gravity of these facts – harassment being a criminal offense – the files have already been transmitted to the Belgian judicial authorities! 

In short, the EESC case, is something never seen before in a European institution!

Taking account of your long experience within different European institutions, and as Secretary General of the EESC, you will agree with us that never before has a European institution been confronted with such devastating verdicts from OLAF!

Facing laughable allegations against OLAF….

It is not the more than clumsy and pathetic attempt to politicize this file or the laughable allegations accusing OLAF of being at the origin of a political conspiracy that concern us here.

R&D pays tribute to the work of OLAF!

For our part, it is useless to confirm that we pay tribute to the services of OLAF not only for the irreproachable management of these investigations but also for the very respectful reception and attentive listening reserved for the victims who have filed complaints, as well as for colleagues who were called to testify.

Response of the Employers’ Group (Group I) to the Olaf Report: the member accused of these acts of harassment is voted as candidate to the presidency of the EESC!

However, to appreciate the climate of complete impunity in the EESC that your approach confirming that everything goes well has no doubt contributed to strengthen, the same person who is being held accountable for the acts of harassment set out in the OLAF report, has just received a majority of votes within the Employers’ Group (Group I) of the institution, thus becoming its next president of it (sic !).

In the spirit of The Employers’ Group (Group I), the harassment statements formulated in an OLAF report would seem to have therefore become a title of merit or at least a negligible detail…

We can only hope that the members of this group, once returned to their Member States to fulfil their responsibilities as employers, do not show the same “sensitivity” in the prevention and possible management of cases of harassment within their companies….

In any event, in light of Article 302 TFEU, it will be for the Council, by a qualified majority, based on proposals submitted by the Member States to appoint the members of next EESC after having consulted the Commission on these appointments.

Thereafter, it will be up to the EESC plenary to decide on the appropriateness of the choice of the appointment of the future president and to assume the consequences of this decision as regards the credibility and reputation of this institution already tarnished by the conclusions of the OLAF report.

Mr Secretary General, it is FINALLY time to give an account of the functioning of the EESC and of the indisputable shortcomings of the internal procedures, which allowed that the very serious facts found by OLAF continue for years without the EESC administration being able, firstly, to avoid them, and then to punish them!

Indeed, as the former Director of Human Resources from 2010 until your appointment in 2018 as Secretary General, we are entitled to ask you what you have done to avoid the cases observed by OLAF, especially since they concern a large number of victims and have taken place over several years.

Rather than the policy of “zero tolerance” in the area of harassment which you have always boasted about, are the policies of “eyes wide shut”, “100% tolerance for slippage” and, alas, that of “0% protection for victims”… which seem to have been systematic within the EESC!

Having regard to OLAF’s conclusions and without prejudice to the outcome of the procedures, we therefore ask you to face reality.

Fortunately, it is reassuring to note you do not seem in your turn, as we might have feared, to argue that the OLAF report would be the fruit of a “political plot ”… it’s already a good start…

Nevertheless, it is certainly not enough to commit to implementing OLAF’s recommendations in the future!

Nevertheless, it is not enough and it is now too easy to declare – which we naturally appreciate – that the conclusions of the OLAF report will be fully implemented.

However, that cannot be the plan and it would be too easy to just turn the page…

Now, finally, light should be shed on the past…!

Without trying to hide what has not been done for many years, it is absolutely necessary to shed light on the past, on the origins and responsibilities of the failures, which have enabled or at least tolerated that so many colleagues are subjected to such acts in an institution of such a small size.

Finally, the victims must be protected and FINALLY the harm caused must be repaired!

Therefore, we ask you to inform us of the measures you FINALLY intend to take to protect colleagues who suffered harassment and any inappropriate behaviour and make up for the harm suffered by these colleagues, who have had to wait long years and have had to contact OLAF in order for their rights to be finally recognized.

As for the possible sanctions adopted vis-à-vis the person (the persons) whose behaviour(s) harmed the dignity, personality and integrity of our colleagues, it will be up to the judiciary to carry out the appropriate procedures, but also to the appointing authority of the EESC to verify the possible responsibilities of the staff members who contributed by their complicity or inaction.

The EESC, as an employer, must FINALLY meet its obligation of security to staff!

We also remind you that it is the responsibility of each employer to implement the European Directive of 12 June 1989, the measures of which aim to promote improvements in the safety and health of workers.

However, given the facts noted by OLAF and despite several alerts that we launched to you through our communications, thus using our duty and our obligation as staff representatives to ensure the proper implementation of the Staff Regulations and the national legislation in force, the victims did not find an echo in their psychological mistreatment and had to turn to an external body to your institution in order to be recognized FINALLY as victims.

In view of the above, we ask you to put in place as soon as possible the necessary measures to ensure the mental health and well-being of EESC colleagues.

We must also review the “ultra-soft” code of good conduct, which has just been adopted at full speed and without the necessary guarantees!

With regard to the internal procedures of the EESC, it is with the greatest disappointment that we note that within this institution any member who would be held responsible for such acts has very little to fear regarding the more than soft code of conduct that you proposed and which was adopted without even obtaining the prior opinion of your Legal Service, in an approach…If we cannot get rid of the Legal Service, let us avoid at least referring of matters to it.

Again, it is following our protests and those of several members that you agreed to ask, ex post, the opinion of the Legal Service!

Faced with this adoption procedure, to say the least acrobatic, we do not want to believe, as some have come to claim, that the precipitous adoption of this soft code providing for laughable sanctions, was aimed to anticipate the announced OLAF report…

In any event, it is obvious that this code of good conduct is by no means likely to ensure effective management of harassment cases, does not provide for credible and dissuasive sanctions but, on the contrary, reinforces the feeling of impunity, which has been part of the EESC for too long.

It is therefore urgent to review it in depth.

If ever, despite your good will, you still do not know what changes to introduce in order to make this code of good conduct FINALLY credible and commensurate with the seriousness of the facts observed by OLAF, we allow ourselves to submit to your appreciation the possibility of taking into account the European Ombudsman’s proposal in this regard:

High-ranking personnel – Individuals are particularly vulnerable to harassment in the event of an imbalance of power between the parties concerned. This can be mitigated by stricter rules for high-ranking staff who do not depend on the Staff Regulations, such as Commissioners, judges, members of the Court of Auditors, members of the Economic and Social Committee[i], etc. These could include aggravated disciplinary measures, such as early retirement or the abolition of pension rights. Senior staff should be informed of all anti-harassment rules and policies at the start of their terms in a comprehensive manner and at regular intervals”

R&D FINALLY awaits your answers

In view of the above, it is with impatience that we, together with the colleagues concerned, we look forward to your reply.

We are therefore available to meet you at your convenience.

Cristiano SEBASTIANI

President

CC. M. Jahier, EESC Chairman
M. Krawczyk, Président Groupe I EESC
Ms Sharma and Mr. Malosse, EESC
EESC members
Ms O’Reilly, European Ombudsman
Ms Hohlmeier, President, Vice-Presidents and the members of the European Parliament’s Committee on Budgetary Control
Mr. ITÄLÄ, Director General of OLAF
Ms Nicolaie, Director of IDOC
Staff of EU institutions

[1] Judgment of the Civil Service Tribunal of 25 September 2012, Bermejo Garde/CESE, case F-41/10, Judgment of the Court of 8 October 2014, case T-530/12 P, Bermejo Garde c/ CESE) and Judgment of the Civil Service Tribunal of 2 June 2016 on case F‑41/10 RENV.


2 our underlining. See Point 2.5 Report of the European Ombudsman on dignity at work in the EU institutions and agencies: SI/2/2018/AMF. Points 34, 35, 36 37 of best practices identified.

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