Harassment at the EESC

Brussels 11 February 2020

Note to the attention of Mr Gianluca BRUNETTI

Secretary-General of the European economic and social committee

Subject:      Your message of 3 February to staff regarding “cases of harassment at the EESC” and the questions which we are submitting for your appreciation

Ref.:            My note of 28 January 2020: www.renouveau-democratie.eu/2020/01/olaf-report-on-several-cases-of-harassment-at-the-european-economic-and-social-committee-eesc/

My note of 26 November 2018: http://www.renouveau-democratie.eu/fr/2018/11/absence-dune-veritable-politique-de-gestion-des-cas-de-harcelement-au-sein-des-institutions/

My note of 17 December 2018: http://www.renouveau-democratie.eu/2018/12/note-for-the-attention-of-mr-brunetti-management-of-harassment-cases-in-eesc-2/

My note of 12 February 12 2019: http://www.renouveau-democratie.eu/fr/2019/02/note-a-lattention-de-mm-jahier-et-brunetti-harcelement-au-cese/

My note of 12 April 2019: http://www.renouveau-democratie.eu/fr/2019/04/note-a-lattention-de-m-luca-jahier/?preview_id=17566&preview_nonce=7856179793&preview=true

My note of 13 May 2019: www.renouveau-democratie.eu/2019/05/new-organizational-chart-of-the-eesc-note-for-the-attention-of-mr-luca-jahier/

R&D, as always and once again, listening to and alongside the staff, working tirelessly to defend colleagues who seek our help!

Further to your message abovementioned under subject, about cases of harassment within the EESC, I would like to confirm once again that our efforts have never been driven by the desire to tarnish the image of the EESC, to deliver ourselves to defamatory remarks about your institution or the colleagues who work there with dedication…

That is the farthest thing from the truth and our intentions!

In particular, it seems that you believe that our actions would be purely political and based on speculations and groundless rumours.

On the contrary, it is with regard to our direct and personal knowledge of the files of colleagues who turned to R&D and asked for our assistance, that, by using our right and duty of alert, we asked you, on several occasions, but always in vain, as well as President Jahier, on the alleged cases of harassment within the EESC.

So, far from intervening “from the outside” by pronouncing on facts of which we would not have been aware directly or on the basis of press articles ( euobserver 31/01/2020 , 22/01/2020 , 22/01/2020 , 23/09/2019 ; nedinfo.nl 22/01/2020 ; politico 21/02/2019, 20/12/2018 ; Publico 18//11/2018 ; active news.co.uk 22/12/2018 ) , our actions in the context of these cases of harassment at the EESC are incorporated, as a whole, into the very essence of the mission of any union, namely the defence of colleagues who called on us and asked for our help and assistance, in order to defend them and intervene so that their situations of psychological mistreatment on their workplace cease and be officially recognized.

This is within this context that our legal service and the pool of specialists set up at central level by federal R&D to defend colleagues who are victims of harassment, have assisted EESC colleagues.

In particular, for months, R&D has been:

  •  assisting the colleagues concerned who requested our help;
  • putting at their disposal consultations with our specialized lawyers;
  • supporting these colleagues in all the steps to be taken, even those which we considered unsuccessful towards the administration of the EESC.

We can only assume that, since you don’t really know the structure and working methods of our union, you could not directly grasp the nature and the methods of our intervention. It is therefore useful to provide you with some clarifications in this regard.

I would like to start by reminding that R&D is the first union in the European public service, present in all the European institutions.

I have the honour to coordinate the action of our sections, in particular for files with an interinstitutional dimension, like the policies of prevention of psychosocial risks and fight against any form of harassment, whether moral, sexual, institutional or discriminatory.

In particular, as we are always willing to provide staff with assistance that meets the highest quality standards, R&D has set up a legal service at central level, composed of several specialized lawyers who monitors litigation in all of our sections.

Likewise, colleagues from all institutions who call on R&D for cases of harassment or any other form of workplace mistreatment can benefit from the assistance of a team of specialists who have undergone specific training, which we have provided also centrally. Indeed, we are well aware that when it comes to defending victims of harassment, it is essential to use the services of professionals trained in these very specific areas of work.

In short, far from engaging in “external” or political interventions, we have simply made available the above-mentioned whole system to colleagues from the EESC who have called on us.

The law of silence is not a fancy invention of ours!

Likewise, you also seem to believe that we would have engaged in malicious and even defamatory speculation describing the fears expressed by colleagues to testify or to denounce cases of harassment and any other form of psychological mistreatment, as well as the objective and undeniable difficulties encountered so that the facts are stated and the responsibilities established.

Let us note that this climate, these fears, these difficulties have been repeatedly confirmed by press articles, by EESC members, including a former President, by contacts with colleagues and by the countless signs of support received for our actions.

So, once again, I regret having to confirm that the EESC has given the impression of confusing the more than legitimate requests for clarity to be made, for harm to be stated, for victims to be protected… with the tarnishment of your institution’s reputation, as if the only possibility to defend it was to resign oneself to the law of silence.

Whatever the case, your unnecessarily threatening ― regrettable ― tone will not weaken our determination.

Even less now that the OLAF report has demonstrated the merits and validity of our complaints and the extent of the harm suffered by the victims.

Nevertheless, R&D, repeatedly confirms its desire for dialogue, accepts with pleasure your invitation to submit to you questions concerning the cases of harassment and other seriously inappropriate behaviours, found by OLAF within the EESC

Following the circulation of my note of last 28 January, included under heading, as well as your message to staff dated 3 February, concerning “cases of harassment at the EESC“, many colleagues addressed us to share their reactions, questions and indignation.

In the spirit of dialogue that has always been the basis of our actions and in response to your invitation to submit any question on this matter, we would like to send you our concerns, hoping that we will receive from you some answers and clarifications.

The complexity of the aspects to be dealt with suggests that we should submit our thoughts to you in writing rather than at the staff meeting you set on 11 February, an initiative that we surely welcome.

Of course, we remain at your disposal to meet with you and discuss in detail the elements listed below.

1) After the OLAF report tabling several cases of harassment and other seriously inappropriate behaviours over a number of years in the EESC, do you think that it is still plausible to keep claiming that at the EESC the strategy of zero tolerance in the area of harassment is applied in an exemplary manner and that all the procedures in this regard are already in place… pretending over and over that everything is going well in the best of worlds?

We allow ourselves to ask you this question, since we cannot understand how your message can keep on being devoid of any critical analysis, of the slightest acknowledgment of what did not work so as to avoid getting there and, above all, of any concrete commitment aimed at finally putting in place the measures likely to ensure that these problems will not repeat in the future.

You keep claiming, again and again, that the EESC has always been and will continue to be some kind of paradise on earth, even an example to be followed by other institutions and that any criticism would be slanderous, baseless and driven by will to damage the reputation of its administration.

However, your approach, which seemed to us already unreasonable before the conclusion of the OLAF investigation, becomes downright incomprehensible and insulting towards the victims, in the light of the very serious findings of this Office.

Under these conditions, you can easily understand that your remarks were perceived as yet another denial of reality, as an attempt to trivialize the seriousness of OLAF’s findings, to cool down the game…

Your comments therefore provoked outrageous reactions from a number of colleagues, or worse still, a feeling of resignation and almost despair that things at the EESC will never change.

2) The behaviours described in the OLAF report have taken place within the EESC for several years and have been brought to the attention of its administration; don’t you think that it is essential to explain why the administration of the EESC was unable to PREVENT, AVOID, STOP and PUNISH them?

Do you not think it necessary to explain what measures the EESC intends to put in place NOW to ensure that these serious facts observed by OLAF are not repeated in the future?

We allow ourselves to ask you these questions despite the fact that, as you stress in your message, it was only in October 2018 that you were appointed Secretary-General.

Therefore, you seem not to understand why we are contacting you for explanations of facts that date back to previous years.

However, as former Director of Human Resources, from 2010 until your appointment as Secretary-General, you are able to respond and we are entitled to ask you what actions have been taken within the EESC, as a first step of prevention and, secondly, of detection and repression of these facts found by OLAF, especially since they involve a large number of victims and have taken place over several years.

Thus, we allow ourselves to ask you these questions, since your message to the staff, which is your first communication after the transmission of the OLAF report, provides no explanation in response to the questions that everyone is entitled to ask to try to understand how this kind of situations could have subsisted over time without it being possible to prevent them.

Worse still, under these conditions there is no guarantee that the same situations won’t be repeated in the future. Which is clearly unacceptable, while knowing, according to experts in this field, that if lasting solutions are not envisaged, the problem will move elsewhere within the institution.

Needless to remind you that the EESC, as an employer, like all the other European institutions, must be exemplary in the strict application of the European Directives which the EU imposes on the Member States. To this end, may we remind you that, according to Directive 89/391 of 12 June 1989, you must meet your obligations as an employer, in particular for the prevention and protection of colleagues.

It is not to you, as EESC Secretary-General, that we should remind the general obligation of safety and result, which is the responsibility of each employer, in particular, his responsibility to assess the risks, including psychosocial risks, and to take the necessary measures to ensure the safety and protect the physical and mental health of his staff.

This general obligation is based on a global approach to the prevention of occupational risks. It is not only a question of seeking compliance with specific obligations but of obtaining the expected result and in particular ensuring security and protecting the physical and mental health of staff members.

Indeed, based on your positions, it seems to us that you are neglecting any critical analysis concerning the failure of any prevention policy.

You seem to want to narrow down the mission of the administration to that of a “first-aid worker” who, upon his arrival on the scene of an accident, assists the victims, without being in any way concerned with the analysis of the causes behind the accident and what should have been done to avoid it.

However, the overwhelming observations drawn up by OLAF in its report demonstrate incontestably that the PREVENTION system put in place within the EESC has not made it possible to avoid any issue.

We are even more entitled to ask for explanations regarding the measures put in place by the administration of the EESC to prevent these misdeeds, as, in the judgment of the Court of 12 May 2016 (Case F-50/15 FS against EESC), an investigation report is made within the EESC which specifies that:

Mr. K.’s management style is not necessarily unusual, particularly in relation to the private sector, but it does not completely correspond, in certain aspects, to the administrative culture of the European public service. On this point, as well as with regard to the problem of illegality of work during maternity leave… it would be desirable for the administration of the EESC to consider a system… to familiarize the authorities authorised to conclude contracts of the EESC groups with the principles and the essential rules of the administrative culture of the Union, as well as with the main problems which arise”[1]. (p. 10, point 58, 4th paragraph).

Thus, either nothing has been done to avoid the serious facts found by OLAF or what has been done has obviously been ineffective. Tertium non datur.

3) Under these circumstances, have you fully grasped the UNIQUENESS of the “EESC case”, given the seriousness and the number of cases of harassment and other seriously inappropriate behaviours found by OLAF?

Are you aware that NEVER before have so many harms been found in any other European institution?

Are you aware that the EESC is the ONLY European institution where files concerning cases of harassment have been so serious that OLAF has referred them to the judicial authority of the host Member State?

We would like to ask you this question, since your message seems to demonstrate that the seriousness of OLAF’s findings has not been fully understood.

As a matter of fact, despite everything, you continue to pretend that the administration of the EESC would be “the spearhead in terms of promoting a respectful working environment” which, given OLAF’s findings, seems to us to be a disturbing denial of reality

4) Rather than praising the procedures currently in force, do you not share our opinion that it is not acceptable that, in despair at being recognized as victims by the EESC, these victims had to activate the procedure for whistle-blowers and contact OLAF?

This can be seen as the institution’s disregard for their situation. Did you know that this kind of denial could seriously harm the mental health of victims who are already suffering? Do you know that, as an employer, you are responsible for the health of your staff?

Do you think that it is normal for a victim of harassment to be obliged to use the procedure intended for whistle-blowers to defend his rights at the EESC when the usual and very specific procedures are in place within the other institutions?

In these circumstances, do you not think you have to explain the failure of the internal procedures at the EESC?

We are asking this since your message has raised questions from colleagues seeking to enlighten them on the respective responsibilities of each other in the management of these cases.

In these conditions, in order to clearly establish the responsibilities and the merits of each other, we would ask you to clearly explain to the staff that:

  • it is indeed the victims who, in despair of having their reasons recognized within the EESC, approached OLAF using the procedure for whistle-blowers;
  • it is therefore not the EESC which would have entrusted OLAF with the files concerning the victims within the framework of a profitable collaboration between services as your message might lead to believe;
  • it is OLAF which, despite the limits clearly established by the MoU signed with the EESC as regards its competence in matters of harassment and taking into account the seriousness of these cases, has nevertheless decided to launch an investigation in this regard.

In short, it is only thanks to OLAF ― which we would like to thank once again ―, by being  compelled to activate the procedure for whistle-blowers, and not to any other procedure, internal investigations or approach by the administration of the EESC, that the victims have had a chance to FINALLY, after several years, acknowledge the recognition of the merits of their complaints, with all the seriousness of the harm suffered.

5) By reading your message, we particularly appreciated your commitment to the victims and we thank you for it. Let us comment, not without bitterness, that it is better late than never.

In this regard, can we ask you to specify the concrete measures that you intend to implement to FINALLY protect the victims, to FINALLY make up for the damage suffered, including to their careers?

As all experts in psychosocial risk prevention recommend, it is essential to involve staff and their representatives in the implementation of such measures. Do you intend to follow these professional practices or do you opt for a solution thought by only top management and then “sold” as part of a semblance of social dialogue?

For R&D, in the protection of victims, more than ever it is “Facta non Verba”!

We would like to ask you these questions since, though we appreciate your confirmation that your services will meet victims individually, we are convinced that you are fully aware expressing feelings of empathy, meeting and listening to victims might not be enough.

We are therefore asking you, during these meetings, to please inform them of the concrete measures you are planning to take to FINALLY protect them and to FINALLY repair the damage suffered, not only in the course of their careers but also on a personal basis (medical follow-up, expenses incurred…).

6) While welcoming your commitment to the victims, why did you not defend them against the slanderous allegations of Mr Krawczyk who, adding insult to verbal abuse, now accuses them of having participated in “a political plot” against his election to the presidency of the EESC?

We would like to ask you the above question about your deafening silence in this regard, since, in addition to expressing your sympathy, we had hoped that your support for the victims would also be manifested by a very firm position on your part against the insulting remarks of Mr Krawczyk who, to add insult to verbal abuse, came to accuse his victims of being responsible for “an organized political plot against his election to the presidency of the EESC” (euobserver).

While in an unnecessarily threatening tone you have not failed to express your intolerance towards any criticism from us, not a single word in your message was devoted to this subject.

Do you plan ― even if late ― to make any kind of arrangement to defend colleagues against such a serious insult?

A conspiracy organized by a somewhat sui generis criminal association

Indeed, a clear position on your part and of President Jahier against Mr Krawczyk’s words seems all the more necessary and urgent to us since the so-called political plot denounced would have been organized by “an association of criminals” whose composition would be very broad and somewhat sui generis including, in addition to the victims, OLAF, the CONT, the press, the detestable staff representatives that we are…

7) If there are victims recognized by OLAF, there must be, consequently, people responsible for it. Thus, we would like to know why, in your message, there is not a single word devoted to stigmatizing the responsible people identified by OLAF, for the harms inflicted to colleagues whose status of victims you rightly recognize?

Again, your deafening silence in this regard provoked strong reactions, even the indignation of staff who asked us to ask you for explanations.

These are all the more necessary since your silence seems to confirm the very prudent and cautious attitude ― even a confession of helplessness ― which the administration of the EESC seems to have always shown towards the political component of the Committee.

8) Do you not think that President Jahier could have informed the members of Group I – Employers of the transmission of the OLAF report, so that the election of the president of this group takes place with full knowledge of the facts, thus also avoiding the grotesque contradiction between the two candidates’ press statement?

We allow ourselves to ask this question since, if we believe their statements to the press, we might think that the two candidates for the presidency of this group did not attend the same meeting and did not participate in the same election, which seems to question the credibility of the EESC, way more than our communications can do.

In particular, Mr. Krawczyk told the press that the best proof of the lack of merit and validity of the allegations made against him ( gazeta prawna.pl ) would have been the confidence and support expressed to him, despite everything and with full knowledge of cause, by the members of his group, who voted for his candidacy for the presidency of the EESC, thus reversing the findings of OLAF and confirming the failure of the political plot organized against his election.

However, interviewed by the press, Mr. Gonçalo Lobo Xavier, the other candidate for this post, confirmed that he had no knowledge of this OLAF report during the vote ( euobserver ).

We must deduce that this was also the case for the other members. Which seems reassuring.

For these reasons we allow ourselves to ask whether, with the greatest respect for procedures and rights for the people concerned, it would not have been more than appropriate for President Jahier to inform the members of the Group I-Employers upon receipt of the OLAF report, which would have enabled them to decide, if necessary, to postpone the vote pending the availability of additional information concerning OLAF’s findings and the responsibilities relating thereto.

Or even to vote, in spite of everything, on all the candidacies for the presidency of their group but this time truly in full knowledge of the facts, avoiding the grotesque contradiction between the declarations of the two candidates.

9) In your message, you mention a case of harassment observed and punished by the EESC: can we learn more?

In your message, you mention a case of harassment observed and having been punished by a disciplinary sanction within the EESC.

With the greatest respect for the application procedures in this area and the rights of the persons concerned, may we please ask you to reply to the following questions?

  • What sanction was imposed and by what appointing authority?
  • Did the person concerned contest the decision?
  • What organizational measures have been adopted, if any, concerning the responsibilities of the person concerned, in case s/he was a member of management?
  • Harassment being a criminal offense, as OLAF rightly points out, has the file been transmitted to the Belgian Court?

In order to allay your possible fears concerning the possibility of transmitting the requested information, kindly allow me to invite you to read the IDOC annual reports on the results of the disciplinary procedures organized, the faults that are at the basis of them and the sanctions that have been decided. These data are obviously made anonymous.

All the specialists agree that, from the first recognized case of harassment, the institution alerted must implement emergency measures in order to avoid other cases.

Despite this observed case and despite your zero tolerance policy, a great number of cases of workplace ill-treatment and harassment have been brought to light by OLAF. This only further accentuates the failure of your prevention policy.

10) Are you really convinced that the findings drawn up by OLAF in its report will have no impact on the 2018 discharge procedure currently underway before the Budgetary Control Committee (CONT) of the European Parliament?

We would like to ask you this question, since in your message to the staff you seem to be delighted with the progress of the 2018 EESC discharge procedure and you attach to your message the copy of the questions received and the answers you have sent concerning management of harassment cases within the EESC, therefore considering that the discharge procedure will not be affected by the findings drawn up by OLAF in its report.

R&D awaits AT LAST your answers

In view of the above, together with the colleagues concerned, we look forward to receiving your answers.

In this context, we confirm once again that we remain at your disposal to meeting you at your earliest convenience.

(signed)

Cristiano SEBASTIANI

CC        Mr Jahier, President of the EESC

            Mr Krawczyk President of Group I at the EESC

            Ms Sharma, Mr Goncalo Lobo, Mr Malosse, Members of the EESC

            Members of the EESC

            Ms O’Reilly, European Ombudsman

            Ms Hohlmeier, President, Vice-Presidents and members of the Committee on Budgetary Control of the European Parliament

            Mr Itälä, Director-General of OLAF

            Ms. Nicolaie, IDOC Director

            Staff of the Institutions


[1] our underlining.

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