Breaking news: Harassment cases at the EESC: the CONT Committee…

Brussels, 14 October 2020

Note for the of M. Gianluca Brunetti,

Secretary-General of the European Economic and Social Committee

Subject : Harassment cases at the EESC: the CONT Committee proposes with an overwhelming majority (25 to 1) to the EP plenary to definitively refuse the 2018 discharge to the EESC!
Ref : My note of 21 septembre 2020 ( https://www.renouveau-democratie.eu/2020/09/harassment-at-the-eesc-withdrawal-of-mr-krawczyks-candidacy/ )
  My note of 7 July 2020 (https://www.renouveau-democratie.eu/2020/09/harassment-of-the-european-economic-and-social-committee-the-belgian-public-prosecutor-refers-the-matter-to-the-criminal-court-in-brussels/)
  My note of 17 June 2020 ( https://www.renouveau-democratie.eu/2020/06/decision-of-the-eesc-bureau-of-10-june-2020-concerning-cases-of-harassment)
  My note of 15 May 2020 (https://www.renouveau-democratie.eu/fr/2020/05/Harassment at the EESC : R&D has denounced it – OLAF has confirmed it – EP refuses the 2018 discharge to the EESC! Never seen before !)
  My note of 3 March 2020 (https://www.renouveau-democratie.eu/2020/03/eesc-refusal-by-the-parliaments-committee-on-budgetary-control-cont/ )
  My note of 11 February 2020 (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  ( https://www.renouveau-democratie.eu/2019/02/note-to-the-attention-of-mr-jahier-and-mr-brunetti-harassment-in-the-eesc/ )
  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/ )

On the one hand, R&D praises the decision of the CONT Committee proposing to the EP to definitively refuse the 2018 discharge to the EESC

In fact, this decision confirms in every respect the validity of our positions taken very lastly on the eve of the CONT Committee meeting and demonstrates once again what, to us, has always been clear concerning the fact that the administration of the EESC, despite all its promises and commitments, was in fact limited to enact only the measures that it would have been impossible to refuse, while for everything else nothing has substantially changed ( link ).

As R&D had denounced, in reality, almost everything remains to be done in regard to the protection of the victims, to the profound revision of procedures and practices concerning the fight against all forms of harassment, to the reform of the code of conduct…!

On the other hand, R&D highly appreciates the position taken and the reservations clearly expressed by the Commission regarding the candidacy of Mr Krawczyk upon his renewal as a member of the EESC for the next term

This is a fully justified position taken by our institution which in no way calls into question the presumption of innocence, confirming the seriousness of the situation and aiming to defend the rights of staff and the reputation of the EESC, which its administration is obviously not capable of safeguarding.

Indeed, as the Commission stated, in giving reasons for its critical opinion:

“The [EU] treaty confers on the Commission the responsibility of providing the Council with

an opinion before the latter can appoint members ” of the EESC.

While it is true that the process was generally about checking whether EESC candidates represent employers, workers or civil organizations and have no conflicts of interestIt seems, however, appropriate for the Commission to also make other relevant considerations, with the general aim of preserving the reputation, integrity and working conditions of all EU institutions and bodies as well as of their staff”.

We are now awaiting the final decision of the Council.

In any case, it is now clear: with the current administration at the EESC, it is becoming increasingly difficult to hope that things can really change, day after day,!

If we may ask:

Quousque tandem abutere patientia nostra?” [For how long will you still abuse our patience?]

Q / A to better understand the “EESC case”

Insofar as, despite the multitude of questions that we have asked, it is still not possible to obtain any working answer from you and President Jahier, in order for us to answer the questions that have been addressed to us from all sides so as to understand how the EESC “got there”, we decided not only to disclose these questions but also to formulate the answers ourselves. We remain of course at your disposal, should our answers not suit you, and should you wish to provide further clarification.

1) Why did the CONT Committee come to propose refusing the 2018 discharge to the EESC?

Here is the press release issued in this regard:

“European Economic and Social Committee: slow progress in correcting wrongdoings

By 25 votes in favour, 1 against and 3 abstentions MEPs recommended EP’s refusal to grant discharge to the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), by stressing their disappointment with EESC’s slow progress in solving and rectifying a high level harassment case reported by OLAF in 2020.

‘By our decision in the Budgetary Control Committee we want to point out that we cannot grant discharge if we don’t see any improvement on the ground. Both projects – help to victims so that they could resume their work in their previous positions, as well as a reform in a code of conduct of EESC Members have only stayed on paper’, said rapporteur Tomáš Zdechovský (EPP, CZ) after the vote.” ( link )

  2) Under what conditions can the EP refuse the discharge and in such a case what have been the consequences in the past that may have ensued?

If the discharge is postponed or refused, if the accounts of an agency or institution are not clear, the Committee on Budgetary Control must give its recommendations before relaunching a budgetary discharge.

If the institution or agency concerned does not take any action to improve the situation by the fall, the Parliament may decide to refuse the discharge. This is what the CONT Committee has decided to propose to the EP regarding the 2018 discharge to the EESC which will be voted on at this month’s plenary.

In order to assess the consequences that may flow from such a decision, it is important to recall that the European Parliament refused to grant the 1996 discharge to the Commission, which resulted in the resignation of the Santer Commission and for the years 2016 and 2017 to the European Asylum Support Office based in Malta, which ultimately led to changes in its management and organizational structure and to the resignation of the Director of the Agency.

3) Under these conditions, can the current EESC administration still be credible in implementing the far-reaching changes that the EP is calling for?

Allow us to doubt it. It is indeed difficult to believe it insofar as the profound changes required concern problems that this administration has always firmly denied.

In view of R&D ’s efforts to support victims and the overwhelming conclusions of the OLAF report, it should be recalled that the EESC administration has repeatedly denied the existence of any problem. And, following Mr Krawczyk’s ubiquitous remarks, it even let people believe that it was all about a “political plot” hatched by the enemies of the EESC and by the “bad wolf”, i.e. the EP.

As we have always indicated and as the members of the CONT Committee have rightly pointed out, it is worth recalling that for years, in the context of the discharge exercise, the EESC administration has guaranteed the European Parliament the effectiveness of its procedures in the fight against all forms of harassment and boasts of its strategy of “so-called zero tolerance”.

However, it is now clear that despite the European Parliament’s precise and repeated recommendations urging the EESC administration to introduce effective rules and procedures, in particular concerning members involved in cases of harassment, nothing has really been done at the EESC and only absolutely minimal progress has been made in recent years.

An absolute denial of reality…

How can we refrain from recalling, for the umpteenth time the repeated positions taken by you and President Jahier, aimed at touting the exemplary nature of the procedures in place at the EESC to fight all forms of harassment, the excellence of the zero tolerance strategy, the role of the EESC as a pioneer?

This despite the fact that the OLAF report reported 13 cases of harassment and other inappropriate behaviour! Such serious cases led the Belgian Public Prosecutor to immediately open judicial proceedings!

Likewise, how can you forget your outraged reactions denying the merits of our efforts by accusing us of casting shame on the EESC, or the injunctions not to disturb its members any longer?

Denial of reality and truth crowned by the 2019 EESC report on Human Resources’ Policies….

Indeed, the Annual Report on the Human Resources and Staffing Policy of the EESC General Secretariat for the year 2019, that has just been presented, does not mention the seriousness of the facts that the EESC is facing. Three miserable paragraphs devoted to “Dignity at Work” which doesn’t even cover half a page of an 87-page report.

And what do we find in these three paragraphs? “The EESC continues to demonstrate a firm commitment to preventing and combating harassment and promoting a respectful workplace at all levels; therefore, it has put in place a network of confidential counsellors already in 2015… In 2019, the administration opened two administrative enquiries on harassment related issues, following whistleblowing reports.  Appropriate measures have been taken, where necessary to protect potential victims and whistleblowers.

And that’s it: no mention of the OLAF investigation, let alone everything that followed. Are we dreaming here ?

Such a report and such comments whilst the EESC is the ONLY European institution to have been the subject of rather serious findings of ill-treatment at work stated in the OLAF report, including proven cases of harassment, seriously inappropriate behaviour and other inappropriate behaviour… which took place for several years; the ONLY European institution with files to its credit relating to harassment cases forwarded to the judicial authority of the host Member State that immediately opened proceedings; the ONLY European institution to be refused discharge by the CONT Committee and possibly by the European Parliament following the very serious findings of several cases of harassment and other seriously inappropriate behaviours.

Denial of reality confirmed on 3rd September at the hearing of the new Director of Human Resources of the EESC before the CONT Committee

To illustrate once and for all the systematic denial of the reality by the EESC administration, regardless of its representative, allow me to refer to the hearing on 3rd September, before the CONT Committee, of the new Director of Human Resources of the EESC who had been appointed a few months ago, but who seems to have very quickly convinced himself that “everything is still going very well at the EESC”.

Indeed, by wholeheartedly declining the refrain “everything is fine within the EESC and everything, yes absolutely everything was done to put in place effective procedures and to protect and assist the victims”, during his hearing, to our surprise, he simply failed to mention that the victims received such little assistance and protection, that they were consequently forced to lodge formal complaints to challenge the lack of response and follow-up reserved for their requests!

It is particularly worrying that, in the context of such a sensitive procedure as the discharge, the EESC having already been subject to a postponement decision by the EP, incorrect or at least incomplete information was provided to a Committee of the European Parliament.

Here, it’s not about calling into question a colleague who has just arrived at the EESC in more than difficult conditions whose qualities we appreciated in his previous functions and who is called upon to defend an indefensible dossier that he reluctantly inherited.

Nevertheless, this episode, particularly worrying and almost despairing in our view, perfectly illustrates the scale of the obstacles that need to be overcome in order to achieve a real change of culture

In any case, the outcome of this hearing was the very tough stance subsequently adopted by the same CONT Committee, which in toto denied the assurances given and denounced, as indicated by the rapporteur for the EESC 2018 discharge (see above). 

Confirming in all points what I had mentioned in my note to you dated on 21 September last ( link ), namely:

“Indeed, we deplore the fact that despite all the assurances given by the EESC, in reality, the victims have not really been taken care of. Apart from words, very few concrete actions have been put in place. Victims are still waiting, now and again, for tangible responses and actions”.

And that :

“At the EESC, there is an absolutely inadequate code of conduct that needs to be urgently reformed without hiding behind pseudo-legal alibis! » 

4) The EESC administration claiming to have always done everything to avoid the serious facts ascertained by OLAF, what measures were taken following the judgment of the Court of 12 May 2016 (Case F-50/15 FS against CESE), having already mentioned an investigation report within the CESE which stated 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” by specifying “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 ?

Indeed, as we have repeatedly indicated and as confirmed by the CONT Commission, this 2016 ruling should have served as a lesson to the EESC administration, should have pushed it to put in place truly effective procedures to avoid the serious facts denounced by R&D and confirmed by OLAF. 

On the contrary, it is indisputable that the anti-harassment measures put in place within the Committee did not allow these cases to be tackled and remedied, no doubt also because of the high position of the member concerned. Similarly, the measures taken to protect the victims until the end of the OLAF investigation were, to say the least, improvised and insufficient.

As the CONT Commission rightly points out, the undeniable shortcomings of the internal procedures, far from being exemplary as you have repeatedly claimed, have been aggravated by the inaction of the Committee’s administration, which has resulted in a breach of the duty of care and the obligation to report to OLAF by obliging the victims with R&D support to refer the matter to OLAF on their own initiative! 

And now even Mr Krawczyk confirms that the EESC administration has done nothing!

In any case, in order to fully appreciate the extent of the efforts made by the EESC administration to prevent the serious incidents reported by R&D and confirmed by OLAF, we leave the floor to Mr Krawczyk :

“During all these years, the Secretary-General, HR and the administration of the EESC never signalled that my personnel management or my behaviour towards the members of the Group and of the EESC were perhaps inappropriate” ( link )

The inaction of the EESC’s administration is perhaps the only acknowledgment that Mr Krawczyk shares with us and with the victims.

Morever, Mr Krawczyk’s statements contradict in toto your assurances that:

“I have always treated this subject with the utmost importance, both as Secretary-General and as Director of Human Resources, with a zero tolerance approach

And under these conditions Mr Krawczyk also confirms on behalf of the members of Group 1 at the EESC:

“The OLAF investigation struck me and the members of the Group like a thunderclap in a blue sky”

While for so many years within the EESC the sky was always blue for Mr Krawczyk, the sky for the victims was getting darker and darker!

Even the EESC website is “at the service” of Mr Krawczyk

As if that were not enough, in order to appreciate the climate of impunity that reigns within the EESC, we share the CONT Committee members’ astonishment at the fact that the Committee’s website features a statement by Mr Krawczyk in his capacity as President of Group I that is in reality a personal self-defence testimony and with the aggravating factor that cases are either already pending or expected before the Union judicial authorities and the Belgian authorities.

Conclusion

Along with the colleagues from all the institutions who sincerely thanked us for our determination in defending victims’ rights, we are now awaiting the decision of the plenary of the European Parliament on the 2018 discharge.

Anyway, we can only confirm that the whole management of this file, the denials of the reality… everything gives rise to the fear that with the current administration of the EESC things will never really change within this institution.

In fact, it should not be forgotten that only the support offered by R&D to victims referring on their own initiative to OLAF, the results of the OLAF investigation confirming the seriousness of these facts, the decisions of the CONT Committee of the European Parliament in the context of the 2018 discharge and now of the Commission concerning the renewal of the mandate of Mr Krawczyk, ONLY these interventions made it possible to finally bring to light the seriousness of the situation that the EESC had always denied.

It was also only thanks to these interventions that it became clear that there was an urgent need for profound changes in procedures and practices, which the EESC had always praised as exemplary. Being evidently the only ones to believe in it.

And it was thanks to these interventions that it was finally possible to ensure the real defense of the staff and the reputation of this institution. What the EESC had clearly not been able to ensure.

Naturally, we will keep following this case and assisting the victims of harassment and inappropriate behaviour in order that their rights are finally recognised and that the damage suffered is repaired.

Much remains to be done, and we will proceed with an even greater determination.

Cristiano Sebastiani,

President

CC.

Mr Jahier, President of the EESC

Mr M. Krawczyk President of group I at the EESC

Mr Ropke President of group II at the EESC

Mr Metzler President of group III at the EESC

Mr Guillard Director HR of the EESC

Members of the EESC

Mr Sassoli, President of the EP

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

Ms. O’Reilly, European Ombudsman

Mr. Tranholm-Mikkelsen, Secretary-General of the Council of the EU

Ms Juhansone, Secretary-General of the European Commission

Mr Itälä, Director General of OLAF

Ms. Nicolaie, IDOC Director

Staff of the Institutions

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