Decision of the EESC Bureau of 10 June 2020 concerning cases of harassment…

Brussels, 15 June 2020

Note to the attention of Mr Gianluca Brunetti

Secretary General of the EESC

Subject : Decision of the EESC Bureau of 10 June 2020 concerning cases of harassment and other inappropriate behaviours
Réf : My note of 15 May 2020 concerning the EP Decision of last 14 May refusing the 2018 Discharge to the EESC, following the report of the OLAF hearing on several proven cases of harassment and other inappropriate behaviours within the EESC (https://www.renouveau-democratie.eu/2020/05/harassment-at-the-eesc-rd-has-denounced-it-olaf-has-confirmed-it-ep-refuses-the-2018-discharge-to-the-eesc-never-seen-before/ )
  My note of 3 March 2020 concerning the refusal by the 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 on 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 submit to your consideration (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 (http://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/ )

The EESC Bureau’s decision of 10 June

As reported by the press (Politico https://www.politico.eu/article/eesc-suspends-group-president-after-psychological-harassment-probe/), at its meeting on last 10 June, the EESC Bureau took a historic decision.

In particular, the EESC Bureau :

  • requests Mr Jacek Krawczyk, President of the Employers’ group, to:

· withdraw from all staff management responsibilities;

· withdraw his candidacy for the presidency of the EESC;

· resign from his post as President of his group; ;

  • mandates the Secretary General to pursue the necessary steps for the Committee to bring a civil action against Mr Jacek Krawczyk.

The vote was obtained by a very large majority (21 votes in favour, 4 votes against, 1 abstention and one invalid vote).

It is reassuring to note that after the OLAF investigation and the EP’s refusal to discharge, the EESC FINALLY confirms the seriousness of the facts denounced by R&D : more than ever… better late than never

On the one hand, R&D , which has openly denounced the facts behind these decisions and defended the colleagues who were victims of them, also welcomes this on behalf of all the countless colleagues who have supported us and encouraged us to persevere in our endeavours,

On the othe side, we want to pay tribute once again 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.

The “EESC case” should serve as a lesson  to all the institutions

The “EESC case” shows  the need and the urgency of putting in place real policies in the fight against harassment.

First thing should be to abandon empty slogans and the so-called “zero tolerance” which too often results in the policy of “eyes wide shut”, the “100% tolerance for slippage” particularly when members of the management are responsible for it and, alas, the “0% protection for victims” policy…

Recall of facts

It should be recalled that, following the OLAF report on 17 January 2020 on proven cases of harassment and other inappropriate behaviour, this decision of the EESC Bureau comes after that the EP’s CONT Committee had proposed to refuse the 2018 discharge to the EESC, and that, on 14 May 2020, the European Parliament adopted this decision by an overwhelming majority.

As I pointed out to you in my last note to your attention, which has remained unanswered to date, this is a real precedent, of unparalleled significance.

It is indeed the first time that a European institution, namely the EESC, has been the subject of:

  • overwhelming findings from OLAF concerning 13 cases (THIRTEEN, TREDICI, XIII) relating to acts of harassment and other inappropriate behaviour which took place in the EESC for several years ever since 2013,
  • a transmission of harassment files by OLAF to the judicial authority of the host Member State,
  • a refusal of discharge by the European Parliament, following the findings of OLAF.

The decision of the EESC’s Bureau is undoubtedly a first step in the right direction, but MUCH REMAINS TO BE DONE AND ELUCIDATED.

First and foremost it is necessary to elucidate the responsibilities for internal failures at the EESC, which may explain how it was possible that such serious facts could have happened and lasted for so long without the administration being able to prevent, to put an end and to punish them.

It remains to be seen how it may have been possible, within the EESC, for the victims to have been unable to obtain any recognition of the harm suffered or any real protection, ultimately forcing them to seize OLAF with R&D assistance.

It also remains for you to explain how, in response to our complains – which OLAF, the EP and now even the EESC have acknowledged to be well-founded -, you may have dared to state in your note of 19 March 2019 to me: ‘I refuse to accept your reproaches and comments, which aim at distorting the reality, causing confusion and undermining the Committee’s reputation

It  remains also to provide all the answers to the questions and requirements raised by the EP in its decision refusing the discharge of the EESC.

In this respect, we are sure that you will firmly refuse the EP’s requests and send the EP the same outraged response that you reserved for our steps : circulate there is nothing to see, at the EESC everything is already going very well, the EESC being still “at the forefront of promoting a respectful working environment”.

Without forgetting to quote President Jahier’s memorable words : “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 protection of dignity at work, strictly respecting 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 with a view to preventing and dealing with psychological and sexual harassment at work ”.

Indeed, we cannot imagine – not even for a moment – that, together with President Jahier, you would now be able of such a spectacular turnaround that you would actually respond to the EP that the EESC agrees :

  •  to put in place a detailed action plan to combat harassment,
  •  to take into account in this respect the best pratices of the others institutions and the recommendations and the report of the European Ombudsman,
  • to review its internal procedures for filing harassment complaints,
  •  to review its internal procedures for the protection of whistleblowers,
  •  to create a pool of well-trained, specialized and independent team of internal investigators,
  •  to launch a training plan on ethical principles,
  •  to set up a joint working group on the subject,
  •  to create a dedicated intranet page to keep staff informed of the follow-up of the revision of the ethical framework and the implementation of all these measures, etc.

How can we simply imagine that you can provide these answers, make such commitments and even be called upon to implement them when: 

  •  in response to our actions denouncing the shortcomings noted by OLAF and the requests made by the EP, you stated : « I refuse to accept your reproaches and comments, which aim at distorting the reality, causing confu­sion and undermining the Committee’s reputation” ;
  •  and while you have always confirmed that you were very proud of the results obtained thanks to the now legendary “zero tolerance” strategy – or rather “+13 tolerance” – and that it could at most be about “maintaining current efforts” and in no way about changing the rock-solid procedures already in place.

It remains also to be seen how, in response to insulting statements denouncing a so-called “political plot” against his candidacy for the EESC presidency, Mr Krawczyk could have counted on the deafening silence of the EESC, which even seemed to disguise itself as its “pro deo” lawyer.

Indeed, Mr. Krawczyk naturally benefits from the presumption of innocence and he has all the rights, the faculty and the means to defend himself by resorting to the arguments which he considers appropriate to invoke.

His lawyers, according to the press, were already contesting the proposed sanctions before their adoption, and lobbyists were also quick to give him unconditional support. Indeed, last week and again last Monday, the day before the vote, two letters indignant over the treatment given to Mr Krawczyk, namely signed by the Director-General of Business Europe, Mr Markus Beyrer, were addressed to the President of the EESC ( Euobserver : Top lobbyist defends alleged bully set to chair EU body ).

What remains incomprehensible to us is that at no time did you or President Jahier consider it appropriate to react to to react to his insulting remarks denouncing a so-called “political plot” organized against his candidacy for the presidency, thus adding insult to injury to the victims.

And moreover, it remains to understand how it was possible that the victims could not count on the same indulgence and solicitude!

And  it is the indulgence, the silence, and the inaction on the part of the EESC administration, having proved totally incapable for years of preventing, avoiding and then putting an end to the behaviour denounced by R&D and confirmed by OLAF, which now allow Mr Krawcyck to claim :

  •  that the allegations against him were brought to light only when he became a candidate for the presidency of the EESC;
  •  that for 16 years as a member of the EESC and sequently president of his group, at no time has the admnistration of the EESC reproached him or questioned his staff management!

We continue to hope that the EESC will finally come out of its inaction and finally firmly deny these allegations.

R&D reiterates its request that light is shed and demands answers to the questions we asked!

To elucidate all these aspects, I had allowed myself to ask you several questions in my note to your attention dated 15 May 2020, which has remained unanswered to this day.

The decision of the EESC Bureau provides a satisfactory answer to my questions as to “whether the EESC intended to apply Article 8 of its Code of Conduct immediately, in particular by launching the procedure provided for in respect of the persons concerned”, and as to “whether the EESC intended to bring a civil action in the proceedings pending before the Belgian courts following the transmission of the report by OLAF”. 

However, all the other questions asked remain absolutely topical and require an answer.

Therefore, I would like to submit them to you again:

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 and that you have promised ?

2. What measures have been adopted by the EESC to restore the rights of victims, in particular the career damage ?

3. Did all victims receive legal assistance?

4. 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?

5 What measures have been adopted or are foreseen to ensure the independence and proper functioning of the EESC’s Legal Service?

6. . Concerning the procedure for appointment of a 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”?

7. 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?

8. In particular, is it true that the CAF, which is responsible for managing the discharge procedure, nevertheless refused to deal with the questions raised by the EP concerning harassment cases and the follow-up to be given to the OLAF report?

9. 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 ?

I hope that I do not have to resort to the legal enforcement procedures in this matter in order to finally get an answer from you. 

In the meantime, it is already clear that the silence hitherto opposed to our efforts constitutes a manifest case of poor administration and has not been worthy of the values advocated by the EU and of which the EESC claims to be also the depositary.

Against all odds, not being in any way impressed by the unnecessarily threatening tone of your reactions in response to our complaints, R&D fought alongside colleagues to establish responsibilities, so that the damage caused to the victims was repaired.

And of course we remain at the complete disposal of all other colleagues who would like to call upon our assistance.

Defending staff: this is our mission, our raison d’être and today we welcome the first results obtained… but much remains to be done and we will do it with even greater determination.

Cristiano SEBASTIANI,

(Signed)

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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