Harassment at the EESC : R&D has denounced it – OLAF has confirmed it – EP refuses the 2018 discharge to the EESC! Never seen before !

Brussels, 15 May 2020

Note to the attention of Mr Gianluca Brunetti

Secretary General of the European Economic and Social Committee

Subject: EP decision of last 14 May 2020 refusing the discharge concerning the implementation of the budget of the European Economic and Social Committee for financial year 2018, following the report of the hearing of OLAF confirming several proven cases of harassment and other inappropriate behaviours within the EESC

Ref:          My note of 3 March 2020, concerning the refusal by the European Parliament’s Committee on Budgetary Control (CONT) to adopt the discharge in respect of the implementation of the budget of the European Economic and Social Committee for the financial year 2018 following the in camera hearing of the Director-General of OLAF on the report of confirmed cases of harassment and other inappropriate behaviours within the EESC(https://www.renouveau-democratie.eu/2020/03/eesc-refusal-by-the-parliaments-committee-on-budgetary-control-cont/)

My note of 11 February 2020, following your message of 3 February 2020 concerning cases of harassment at the EESC and the list of questions that we have submitted to your assessment (https://www.renouveau-democratie.eu/2020/02/harassment-at-the-eesc/)

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

My note of 12 April 2019 (https://www.renouveau-democratie.eu/fr/2019/04/note-a-lattention-de-m-luca-jahier/)

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

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 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/)

Following the CONT proposals to the report of the hearing of OLAF which puts forward several proven cases of harassment and other inappropriate behaviours within the EESC, the EP, by its decision of 14 May 2020 with an overwhelming majority of 638 votes in favour and only 39 against ( link ), refused the discharge in respect to the implementation of the European Economic and Social Committee’s budget for financial year 2018!

It must be noted that this is one of the decisions adopted with the largest majority of all those concerning the discharge of the institutions and agencies!

We have already expressed our thanks to OLAF; today, we would like to express our sincere thanks to the CONT Commission and the EP for their decisions showing once again the sensitivity and seriousness reserved to the financial consequences of harassment within EU institutions ( read « EU’s smallest institution warned on ‘threats, blackmail » euoberver 15/05/2020).

I) R&D awaiting replies to its questions

Given the seriousness of the situation for the EESC which, after the overwhelming findings of the OLAF report, is now denied the 2018 Discharge by the EP, R&D is entitled to ask these specific questions to clarify the situation:

  1. What steps have been taken so far to provide all the necessary support to the victims of the harassment or misconduct observed by OLAF which they are entitled to claim from the EESC?
  2. What measures have been adopted by the EESC to restore the rights of victims, in particular the damage suffered during their career?
  3. Did all victims receive legal assistance?
  4. The EP invited “the Committee to systematically and immediately apply Article 8 of its code of conduct, in particular by launching the procedure foreseen with regard to the persons concerned and promptly seizing the advisory committee“; has this procedure been started?
  5. Has the procedure for revising the code of good conduct been launched, in particular in order to be able to foresee the stricter sanctions, as mentioned in the recommendations of the European Ombudsman?
  6. Does the EESC plan to bring criminal indemnification proceedings as part of current criminal proceedings, before the Belgian courts following the transmission of the report by OLAF?
  7. What measures have been adopted or are foreseen to ensure the independence and proper functioning of the EESC’s Legal Service?
  8. Concerning the procedure for appointment any new Secretary-General of the EESC, what measures have been envisaged, as requested by the EP, “to ensure full transparency in all phases without any exception throughout the whole procedure (publication, selection, appointment and establishment) as set out in the Committee’s Rules of Procedure and in the Staff Regulation in order to avoid any reputational risk, not only for the Committee but for all the Union institutions?
  9. Is it true that the administrative confusion within the EESC is such that, with regard to the Internal Rules, very serious legal doubts now remain concerning the body responsible for managing the consequences of the EP’s decision on the 2018 discharge, among others regarding the sharing of responsibilities between the President, the Bureau, the Secretary-General and the CAF (Committee for Financial Affairs) placed under the responsibility of the Vice-Presidency of the EESC, Mrs Angelova, of Group I?
  10. In particular, is it true that the CAF, which is responsible for managing the discharge procedure, nevertheless refused to deal with the questions asked by the EP concerning harassment cases and the follow-up to be given to the OLAF report?
  11. As stated by a union in a communication: is it true that, following the new remote working arrangements resulting from the COVID 19 crisis, the EESC would have decided to grant each member a compensation of € 2,000 for their IT costs, adding to the previously perceived amount for a total of €650.00? Is it true that this compensation would be paid even after the confinement period? Given that the EESC does not have the power to set the allowances of the members of the Committee, has the Council been informed of this? Given that the members of the EESC are appointed to represent their respective organizations, why was it considered appropriate to pay them such an allowance at the expenses of the community budget ?

After the OLAF report, the EP decision confirms the seriousness of the situation within the EESC, which has been known for a long time though no effective measure has been put in place to correct it!

We have the right to ask ourselves and to ask you such questions and also to express to you the fears of colleagues about the willingness of the EESC and its administration to take the appropriate measures, given that the problems underlying the report of the OLAF and the refusal of the discharge were known for a long time and that we had been already constantly denouncing them.

Thus, by my aforementioned note, dated 26 November 2018, addressed to the attention of the former president of COCOBU, I had stressed “the absolutely untenable situation within the EESC” and “the climate of wholly unhealthy impunity aimed at making staff understand that certain politicians, in particular political leaders, are absolutely untouchable with an administration that has become a backbone, obviously unable to fully assume its role as guardian of the proper application of the Staff Regulations.

I also added that “In these circumstances, everything seems to be done to dissuade people from going further and lodging formal complaints in the internal procedures of the EESC. However, the situation seems to have become so untenable that, since 2018, at least four cases were reported to OLAF. ” These cases have been subject to investigation, the results of which are published in the report tabled by OLAF.

R&D, first trade union of the European civil service, always and forever, listening to the staff and standing by the staff, sparing no efforts to defend the colleagues who are asking for help!

In particular, from the outset you tried to make people believe that our actions would be purely political attacks, based on speculation and unfounded rumours, thus providing a source of inspiration to Mr Krawczyk, who is now denouncing in turn “a political conspiracy” – against his candidacy for the EESC presidency (see below), I imagine organised by the victims, by R&D, by the press, by OLAF, by CONT and now by the EP.

On the contrary, our actions are the very essence of the mission of any union, which is to defend colleagues who have appealed to us to defend them and to intervene so that their situations of psychological abuse in the workplace cease and be officially recognized.

Our actions were thus initiated on the basis of our direct and personal knowledge of the files of colleagues who approached R&D and requested our assistance.

On the one hand, our legal service and the pool of specialists set up at central level by R&D to defend colleagues who were victims of harassment provided EESC colleagues with all the assistance they needed.

In particular, for months, R&D has : 

  • assisted the colleagues concerned, who requested our help;
  • provided them with consultations with our specialist lawyers;
  • accompanied these colleagues in all their unsuccessful actions with the EESC administration and then with OLAF.

On the other hand, having recourse to our right and duty to alert, we have taken steps and, through our innumerable notes under reference, we have questioned you and President Jahier, but always in vain, on the alleged cases of harassment within the EESC.

After the OLAF report and the CONT report, the decision of the EP plenary refusing the 2018 discharge to the EESC on these grounds:

  • shows once and for all, the truthfulness of the serious facts we have denounced,
  • puts an end once and for all to your desperate and hopeless denials of reality,
  • and also certifies, once and for all, the failure of your “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE”.

Indeed, we had already noticed that the OLAF report seemed to you, as the new Ethan Hunt, to have become the legendary message “that will self-destruct in three minutes”, entrusting you with a truly impossible mission, namely, as the new James, to convince … the Marquise … or anyone else … that at the EESC everything was going well, even very well.

Even after the submission of the OLAF report, you came to claim that the EESC was still “at the forefront of promoting a respectful working environment” and that it would only be a matter of “maintaining our current efforts“.

By moving from one certainty and one denial of reality to another, you gave the impression that everything was under control also for the EESC’s 2018 discharge procedure before the EP…

Indeed, as a part of your approach totally disconnected from the sad reality, you have come to append to your message to the staff of 3 February 2020, the 2018 discharge questionnaire drawn up before the deposit of the OLAF report and before the hearing in camera of the Director-General of that Office by the CONT Committee.

You most definitely go from one bad surprise to another…

Assuming that your certainties were based on in-depth political analysis on your part in light of your very long experience within the European Institutions, namely within the European Parliament, I had allowed myself, at the risk of again arousing your irritation, to ask you by my aforementioned note on wich grounds you were so convinced that the 2018 EESC discharge procedure before EP would not have been impacted by the conclusions of OLAF’s investigations

It is no longer necessary for you to answer my question since, first by the decision of the CONT and then by the decision of the plenary of the EP, the answer was given to me.

II) Analysis of the EP decision refusing the 2018 discharge to the EESC

Knowing fully well that, with its now legendary communication strategy, the EESC will once again try to trivialize the gravity of the decision adopted by the EP, the following aspects should be emphasized.

In particular, the EP, by its decision adopted during the plenary of 14 May 2020:

Concerning the EESC discharge 2018 ( read )

Refuses to grant the 2018 discharge to the EESC and defers its decision in the expectation that, before September 2020, the EESC:

“duly informs the discharge authority on the measures taken in order to follow-up OLAF’s recommendations and to rectify the wrongdoings” (see point 6).

Concerning the findings and conclusions of the OLAF report

The EP reminds the EESC that:

“From July until November 2018 the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) received allegations about harassment against a senior member of the Committee, the president of the Employer’s Group (Group I) since April 2013, from five different sources and that on 6 November 2018 OLAF decided to open an investigation…notes that on 17 January 2020 OLAF addressed its report and recommendations to the President of the Committee as foreseen in the cooperation agreement between the Committee and OLAF; expresses concern that OLAF made a finding of harassment against two staff members, improper behaviour (serious misconduct) against one staff member and a Member of the Committee, and misconduct against other staff members and also decided to refer the matter to the Belgian authorities (see point 4).

The EP deplores the OLAF conclusions:

as regards psychological harassment, grave misconduct and inappropriate behaviour by the president of the Group 1 towards his subordinates between 2013 and 2018; notes that under Belgian law harassment constitutes a criminal act; notes, furthermore, that Article 4 of the Code of Conduct for the Members of the Committee on dignity has been breached and that such behaviour is not compatible with the Union values of respect and protection of human dignity within the workplace as provided in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union;” (see point 5)

The EP calls on the EESC:

to consistently apply Article 8 of its Code of Conduct and the relevant rules of procedure for the Committee without any delay by starting the necessary procedures and promptly referring the matter to the advisory committee;” (see point 7)

Concerning the harsh conditions in which the staff of the EESC and in particular that of Group 1 is called upon to work

The EP underlines:

“Its concern about the current working environment in the Committee, in particular in Group I, and invites the Committee to take the necessary measures to set up the respectful and reliable environment which is necessary for well-being staff and staff professional development; also reminds the Committee that a poor working environment causes inefficiency, stress and a fall in productivity; (see point 8)

Concerning the ineffective nature of various measures and procedures put in place within the EESC in the fight against harassment

The EP deeply regrets that all these measures:

have failed to avoid the related cases of harassment and to protect the victims; reminds the Committee that a proactive, real and urgent protection (including against threats, blackmail and bribery attempts) of victims and whistleblowers must be one of the key priorities of these measures; calls on the Committee to reinforce and improve the measures undertaken until now and above all effectively protect the victims; asks the Committee to report back to the Parliament’s Committee on Budgetary Control; ( see point 32)

Concerning the need and the urgency for the EESC to set up a real, effective action plan in the field of anti-harassment as well as a reserve of truly independent investigators

The EP requests the EESC to put in place and implement an action plan:

to actively prevent and tackle harassment in the working environment, to raise awareness about harassment, and to foster a culture of zero tolerance with regard to harassment”; (see point 11)

The EP calls on the EESC to improve measures allowing staff to make formal harassment complaints and to set up a pool of independent investigators:

“which the Committee can call upon during formal harassment investigations” (see point 12)

Concerning the ineffective nature of the code of conduct applicable to members adopted by the EESC and the need to strengthen the sanctions provided for therein:

The EP notes:

“For the first time, the new Code of Conduct for members, which is annexed to the Committee’s new Rules of Procedure that entered into force in March 2019, for the first time contains sanctions for members involved in situations where a member does not fulfil his or her obligations according to the Code of Conduct; regrets that such sanctions are not significantly severe and not are aligned with the recommendations of the Ombudsman. (see point 34)

The EP calls on the EESC

“(…) to urgently strengthen the code of conduct for members in order to add more effective and dissuasive sanctions (…) (see point 34)

And to foresee:

“Strong disciplinary measures for guilty members, such as forced retirement or denial of pension rights” ( see point 13)

Regarding the impossibility of using the EESC budget and its legal service to defend the interests of individuals:

“reminds that using Union funds to defend the institutional reputation and/or members condemned by the Court of Justice of the European Union or by courts of the Member States is a misuse of public funds and reminds that institutional legal services are used for the purpose of defending the institution only, not to defend the interests of individuals”; ( see point 34)

Concerning the harm done to the proper functioning and independence of the Legal Service of the EESC

The EP reminds the EESC that:

the Legal Service of the Committee was greatly weakened for four years from March 2010 when the head of the Legal Service was dismissed with immediate effect from his duties after having denounced serious irregularities and illicit pressures by the Secretary General at the time; also recalls that this position was vacant for three and a half years, that the European Civil Service Tribunal condemned the Committee for this case (judgment F-41/10 RENV Bermejo Garde v EESC), that the Committee had to pay more than EUR 100 000 and that only in 2014 a new head of the Legal Service was finally appointed and the service reinforced with five lawyers;” (see point 36)

The EP is deeply concerned about:

“the recent changes which may again weaken the Legal Service of the Committee, including that it since January 1 2020 it is the only Legal Service of Union institutions attached directly to the Secretary General…” (see point 37)

The EP invites the EESC:

“to eliminate all measures that could weaken it in the exercise of its corresponding activities and functions; also reminds the Committee of the importance of consulting the Legal Service on the Committee’s decisions in order to assure they comply with the law and to avoid making serious mistakes and subsequent legal, long and onerous proceedings” (see point 38)

Concerning your procedure for appointment as Secretary-General of the EESC

The EP deeply regrets:

The public accusations which followed the recruitment procedure for the new secretary general of the Committee; it takes note of the arguments raised by the Secretary General in the answers to Parliament’s questions for the 2018 discharge; stresses the importance of ensuring full transparency in all phases without any exception throughout the whole procedure (publication, selection, appointment and establishment) as set out in the Committee’s Rules of Procedure and in the Staff Regulation in order to avoid any reputational risk, not only for the Committee but for all the Union institutions“;(see point 39)

III Given the EP’s decision, several observations must be made.

First of all, we invite you to note that ALL the findings of the EP and ALL the recommendations included in its decision were already included in the notes that we had sent to you and in numerous press articles ( euobserver15/05/2020, 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).

So we can only hope that, together with President Jahier, you can finally stop cultivating the illusion of calming things down, of trivialising OLAF’s findings, of pretending that everything is perfectly all right, of insinuating that any critical voice, starting with ours, would be motivated by the desire to damage the EESC’s reputation, of imposing silence by constantly threatening legal action… at the taxpayers’ expense, as the EP has stigmatised it so well!  

Secondly, based on the EP decision and the press articles (POLITICO20/02/2020 ; 19/02/2020 ) published in this regard, we now have a clear picture, allowing us to assess the serious matters found by OLAF.

It, therefore, appears that the OLAF investigation report would state within the EESC :

  • 2 CASES OF PROVEN HARASSMENT against two members of staff, harassment being a criminal offense, the files having been transmitted to the Belgian Court;
  • 1 inappropriate behaviour (SERIOUS MISCONDUCT) against a member of staff;
  • 1 inappropriate behaviour (serious MISCONDUCT) against a member of the Committee;
  • 9 inappropriate behaviours (MISCONDUCT) towards other staff members.

That adds up to THIRTEEN cases! It should be repeated once again: 13 (THIRTEEN, TREDICI, XIII) cases!

THIRTEEN CASES! Spread over several years! Moreover, not once have you or your services known or been able to stop this unacceptable behaviour towards our and your colleagues.

Together with President Jahier, you have the obligation to report above all to our and your colleagues of the total failure of the prevention procedures in place at the EESC, of which these THIRTEEN cases constitute the incontestable burden of proof.

You have even more the obligation since you are the only one in the world – perhaps two with President Jahier – to have continually advocated its effectiveness.

Under these conditions, will you answer the EP that it is only a matter of “maintaining current efforts”?

Thirdly, we are impatiently awaiting your outrageous reaction, as well as that of President Jahier, following the EP decision.

Indeed, faithful to your vision of reality – we are sure of it – you are going, together with President Jahier, to express all your indignation against the EP by accusing it, in turn, of being responsible for “disinformation, unfounded, inaccurate and unjust allegations, false information… ”, namely, the same qualifications as you reserved for our initiatives and notes when they highlighted the same aspects included in the EP decision.

This, while the EESC is the ONLY European institution:

  • having been the subject to overwhelming observations included in the OLAF report,
  • having to its credit files related to cases of harassment transmitted by OLAF to the judicial authority of the host Member State,
  • to be refused the 2018 discharge by the European Parliament following the findings of OLAF.

Yes, the reputation of the EESC has been seriously questioned and with President Jahier you bear political responsibility for it! The EESC staff did not deserve this!

We are delighted to see that President Jahier, in his statement to the press (Politico 20/02/2020), notes, or better said, finally finds out, that the reputation of the EESC is now deeply damaged.

But what President Jahier does not seem to understand is that it is also thanks to your and his attitudes, aimed at denying everything and trivializing what had become impossible to deny … and praising the effectiveness of your “strategy of zero tolerance ”, that you have largely contributed to this political disaster together.

In this regard, how can we forget the solemn and now memorable words of President Jahier:

Let me assure you, by giving my word to the members and the staff, that the course of action followed by the EESC and its administration sets the bar at the highest possible level in terms of the protection of dignity at work, in strict respect for the principles of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU”… adding as if this were not enough that“ Acting as a pioneer among the other institutions, the Committee has continued over the past two years to apply the formal and informal procedure provided for in the internal administrative framework in order to prevent and deal with psychological and sexual harassment at work”.

The OLAF report and the EP decision were responsible for demonstrating the “exploits” of the EESC as a “pioneer” …

It is by persevering in this self-referential approach, which is totally out of touch with reality, even after the seriousness of OLAF’s findings, that you have contributed to further tarnishing the EESC’s reputation and to reinforcing the fears that many colleagues have conveyed to us underlinyng that, with the current EESC administration and presidency, things will never change.

Fourthly, being Mr Krawczyk already assisted by his lawyers, he does not need the EESC administration to give the impression of wanting to disguise itself as his ‘pro deo’ attorney

Likewise, in addition to refusing to answer the legitimately asked questions, it would be useful to avoid gender confusion. While it must ensure a real defence and effective protection of the victims, EESC Administration should avoid giving the slightest impression of disguising as pro deo lawyers for Mr Krawczyk, suggesting in particular that they would share his words and “his political analysis”.

Mr Krawczyk naturally benefits from the presumption of innocence. He has all the rights, the faculty and the means to ensure his defence, per the formal requirements and having recourse to the arguments which he considers appropriate to oppose the “political conspiracy against his election to the presidency of the EESC” which he continues to denounce, thus adding a new insult to the victims and a surreal turn to this sad affair.

On the contrary, what remains unacceptable to us is that in response to his arguments, Mr Krawczyk can still count on your deafening silence as well as that of President Jahier, and on the absence of any denial or any other reaction from the EESC.

This is an incomprehensible lethargic inertia, given your reactivity and the threatening tone that, together with President Jahier, you had reserved to our efforts.

Your ludicrous and unacceptable allegations against the European Parliament

Or even worse, that Mr Krawczyk can see his theses being reinforced by taking advantage of your remarkably incomprehensible positions, like the ones you expressed during the staff meeting, addressing ludicrous and unacceptable allegations against the European Parliament dixit the “big bad wolf” (sic!) who wants to eat the poor little piggy, namely, the EESC.

Conclusion

It is with impatience that, together with the colleagues concerned, we await your replies. Those demands that have always been ours and the ones of the staff that we will continue, with even more determination, to defend and represent.

Should you decide – as usual – not to answer our questions, we will simply take note of the EESC’s reply requester by EP in order to “duly inform the discharge authority of the measures taken to follow up OLAF’s recommendations and to punish such wrongdoing”.

(signed)

Cristiano SEBASTIANI,

President

CC.

Mr Jahier, President of the EESC

Mr Krawczyk, President of EESC’s Group I

Ms Angelova, Group I, Vice-President of the EESC, responsible for CAF, Commission Members of the EESC

Mr Sassoli, EP President

Ms Monika HOHLMEIER, President, Mr/Ms the Vice-Presidents, and members of the Committee on Budgetary Control of the European Parliament

Ms O’Reilly, European Ombudsman

Mr Itälä, Director-General of OLAF

Ms Nicolaie, Director of IDОС

Staff of the Institutions

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