Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Viewpoint on Reform of the Commission in 2000




On Thursday, Feb. 17, 2000, Mr. Kinnock spoke to and discussed with the staff of the Commission contents of the White Paper on Reform of the European Commission.

As everyone knows, the need for reform follows the resignation of the previous Commission and what has been decided by the European Council meetings in Berlin and Cologne.

The main reason for the intended reform is stated by the Commission as follows:

Systems and procedures are now out of date and cannot cope with the huge volume of work, particularly executive tasks, which the Council and the Parliament have given to the Commission. It also implies that a key objective of Reform for the Union as a whole must be to achieve a better match between Commission resources and tasks. The Reform dividend from higher efficiency will certainly facilitate this. However, where analysis shows that resources are not commensurate with tasks, either additional resources will have to be made available (if need be through negative priorities), or the Commission should not be requested to carry ouot those tasks. All institutions need to face up honestly to this choice.“

Kinnock outlined this major position to the staff in his introductory statement:

Now, there was nothing new in what he said. Important is nevertheless to know what was the dispute about. Many of the staff came to listen and to ask questions because there prevailed feeling that the intended reform is not addressing in reality the core of issues in need to be resolved. After all one could expect that reform proposals to improve the working of the European Commission have to be based on previously made experiences.

Two very different lines of thoughts or rather argumentative strategies crossed each other in this so-called open consultation process:

a) Kinnoch spoke about confidence and excellence the Commission needs to have for its performance in order to serve the European Union

b) The General Assembly of the Staff of the Commission had met on Tuesday, Feb. 15 and presented Kinnock at this meeting with a resolution outlining the expectation of the staff with regards to the reform to be initiated by the White Paper.

Kinnock said 'no' to the resolution and pointed out that he is speaking only under the condition of honesty and not to get any applause. Thus he does not wish to promise something when he could not keep his word in reality. One reason he gave as to why he could not accept the resolution, was the fact that by a staff of more than 20 000 people, it only 800 show up at an assembly, then this is not representative enough and therefore he could not accept it.

The reply from the side of the staff was a bit critical on this, for by analogy what could then be considered the legitimacy of the European Parliament since it was only elected by 30% of European voters? Kinnock's answer to that criticism was that there is a difference between elected lawmakers and a trade union. Still, insisted those speaking on behalf of the staff, what measure of democracy does he apply, when he himself knows fully that not all will become active union members, never mind attend such a meeting, but with some measure of representation of opinion one has to start and that the opinion being expressed on such a basis has to be taken into consideration.

Indeed, the point of taking serious opinions and criticism was a major concern voiced by many during the debate. All DGs and EU Institutes have responded to the White Paper, and in doing so with strong criticism.

During the debate the following issues were raised:

As to the resolution passed by the General Assembly of Commission Staff, Tuesday, 15th of February 2000, it states among other things:

Finding that the consultion paper and the action plan lack vision, are based on superficial and loose analyses, are imprecise and contain inconsistencies and even contradictions; that they create the erroneous impression that the serious (but isolated) cases of dysfunctioning in the part are attributable to the Staff Regulations and the staff; that they are silent regarding the considerable achievements and gains in building Europe, and the European administrative culture already created.“

Kinnock followed two guidelines when giving answers to the issues raised and to this more general point about the need for reform.

First of all, he underlined as an experienced trade unionist himself, that the strategy has to be not to reveal everything at first hand and furthermore, it is not wise to go to the negotiation table with Council and Parliament as a defeated but as a victorious Commission full of confidence that it can "win the argument."

Secondly, concerning time and the commitments made by him and Prodi to the Council and Parliament, that has to be kept. There has to be something on the table. Any delay would take things already late starting from now on well into the next year. Furthermore, he is merely around as long as this Commission has a mandate, but the staff is here to stay. So he would like to realize a reform that brings the Commission up to standards of modern management.

He added that it has to be realized quite new demands shall be made and this in particular in relation to and the real case of the envisioned enlargement of the European Union.

Viewpoints on the issues named above:

- promotion

Staff members complained about remaining within the C, B blocs with great difficulties to get into A as much as within the respective blocs for being parked too long in a particular slot despite gaining good grades through further qualification and participation in extra tasks.

Kinnock used that to justify the intended reform. He emphasized as well the need for more training of staff, as if this the key i.e. sufficient answer to the kind of reform needed.

However, this did not answer why there exists the problem of motivation and lack of confidence in the Commission despite the fact that there are many highly qualified people. Indeed, Kinnock himself used the term "intellectual administration" and the resolution of the General Assembly refers to the "European administrative culture" that exists already. That includes commitment to the treaty, democracy and high standards of work. Again Kinnock pointed out that there prevail different viewpoints amongst Member States and by MEPs of the European Parliament on how they regard the work being done by the European Commission.

In other words, the Commission is shaken by what has happened (the resignation of Santer) and the clear problem being created by the difference in jobs being obtained through competition (and qualification) and political appointments. As one staff member pointed out, this phenomenon of political appointments and this being done as a rule according to national considerations does not exist merely at the top, but prevails at all levels down the ladder. Thus there exist vast differences as far as motivation is concerned. Kinnock replied that one of the first things he did was to stop the national flagging of obs, for new management of such a vast administration cannot allow itself to be governed by such a procedure. Things and appointments have to be done on the basis of merit, and nothing else.

- competition for new jobs

The actual issue here is that competition for new openings was to have taken place last December but was then stopped. Kinnock answered here by pointing out that upon hearing that not all people could enter the competition because someone had forgotten to add his or her birth certificate, another this paper etc., that he asked for advice from the services and asked them, what could be done to make the competition into an equal opportunity for all, rather thand defaulting people alone on the basis of technical reasons, and after hearing the advice, he decided to postpone it.

The issue seems to be simple but it is a rather complex matter related to new appointments, in particular when it means contracts are given by the Commission to externals (in competition to the already existing staff who may have even trained the very person prior to being hired.) Thus the issue goes quite deep and has been for many quite a painful experience. The real truth about the kind of competition created within the staff has yet to be fully articulated. What stands in the way of such articulated position is that until now promotion depends also upon a) political appointments and b) having good connections to the top.

What was also mentioned in the consultation process with Mr. Kinnock relates to the overall reform package: is it a reform for the sake of reform (in answer to the criticism of the media and especially by Parliament) or it is really something substantial and well thought out in order to upgrade the work done by all the staff of the Commission?

Another term used for creating a competitive climate is modernisation understood as efforts to privatise (externalise) certain functions of the Commission, e.g. drivers or chauffeurs. Kinnock was very clear on this matter: public functions should be carried out by public servants.

- equality

The consultation in the presence of Mr. Kinnock fielding questions while facing a fully packed auditorium with many more outside following the discussion inside on television screens set up at five different locations, indicated that the issue of equality was understood as being one between man and woman. Kinnock set himself here an ambitious target. He sees here a special problem especially at the top management level. There are too few women. He would like to increas the number of women by 20% by 2005. But this would involve only the A level, as was pointed out by one woman, and she dadded but the same problem exists also with those who have a C post. At the end of the discussion come person coming from India, but natural citizen of Great Britain and by now 27 years with the Commission, spoke out that equality should mean also equality regards of race, that is colour. Kinnock affirmed this immediately as being also his major concern and priority. He shall do his utmost in relation to the influence he has in his present job to advance equality.

However, this does not touch upon the kind of equality needed to be realized through the reduction in the strict hierarchical structures in which the Commission finds itself trapped in. If a head of unit can say to 'his' employees, but you are only slaves, then disregard and abuse, even humiliation and many other negative kinds of encroachments will mark daily practices within the Commission. As someone pointed out, it is alarming as a matter of fact how many people die, get sick, loose weight or are over weight, suffer under depression, loneliness, broken marriages etc. all because the job is such a permanent stress and often due to incompetencies being covered up by authoritarian behaviour of those higher up in rank. In reality, work for the Commission ends up being a horrid and humiliating experience.

If there is no mutual recognition and no appreciation of what heavy work everyone does, in order to make this place be not only better, but recognizable in terms of the responsibilities it has to Europe and the world, then indeed there is a problem with this reform, if it does not depart from the one and main recognition, namely that the problem of hierarchy is still the greatest since unresolved issue.

To this has to be added, that there prevails a mad confusion between what are privileges and what is abuse of power. No one should have power over the other person as if an administrative Right can overrule basic Human Rights. There should not be any abuse of power, while recognition of responsibilities must be clearly defined and supported by all.

The need to respect the individual in all his or her human dignity should not be in need of a demand, but a principle of good practice by all working within the Commission. This is said on the basis of understanding that no person is any better than the other for no single person knows everything and can decide really in a competent manner on how existence of life can be fulfilled without consulting others and taking their viewpoints into consideration.

In other words, human beings are not perfect and only together, by being open to different viewpoints, can they come to such conclusions and decisions which facilitate a working progress and a positive atmosphere in which work is possible.

At the same time, the outcome of the reform as to be as concrete as possible in this matter, while at the same time, it has to be initiated a continuous learning process and should involve also the Council of Member States, European Parliament and through the press the general public.

There where no takes place, and that means not listening to others, respect of other meanings will not prevail, for only the taking the opinions of others seriously, there shall be guaranted equality will prevail.

Equality means also giving the other the information to have learned something from what that other person has just said or given as an infromation, for learning is the art of asking good questions to bring forth the answers needed (the philosopher Kant called it the art of posing such good questions that they bring out the truth and strengthen honesty) but also the giving of recognition of having learned something from that other person. Responses based on mutual recognition and criticism in respect of the ability to disagree, that should be a part of the basic understanding of communication and working together.

Communication is very much about giving clear responses i.e. feed-back. This should be made in a differentiated manner in order to indicate what is vlauable, immediately needed, or to be retained in memory for latter on and to be followed up with asignments to concrete tasks. Learning in this way does not require management orientated reforms from the top, but bottom-up approaches with the aim to encourage the ability of working together on the basis of equality and the Right to take initiatives in responsibility to the problems which exist outside the Commission and which reflects what the people of Europe go through and experience daily.

- framework (time within which the reform has to be realized)

Here some things have been said already, but in addition following observation can be made: the consultation with Kinnock centred around a time existing right now when there is no space (tolerance) for any kind of cynicism. An example of this would be to say but "we have heard all that before", and therefore dismiss it as being relevant since nothing is new. If that attitude would prevail, no reform would have any chance of making any improvement. Kinnoch came over and again back to this major point: cynicism. It is an indication that the Commission is largely demotivated, indeed resigned after the experiences with Santer as President of the Commisison, and that there is something needed to restore not only confidence, but also a new kind of open mindedness if any approach taken to the need for reform is to have a minimum chance of success. Kinnock would like that the Commission could work independently and efficiently in the knowledge that it can win its arguments vis a vis Parliament and Council.

Indeed, if cynicism exists, then it is a special kind of resignation. It is a position of thinking to know everything what is being said and tried, is not need and therefore shall bound to be a failure as judged by previous experiences. Such a position is not only a defensive position but would trap everyone in a vicious cycle. The staff should not become assertive, but self confident, that is aware of its own excellent qualities and hence open to the reform. He added that everyone in the room knows how difficult it is to start a reform process, but it has to be done and this within the time framework to which he and President Prodi have committed themselves.

- bottom-up as opposed to top-down reform

One staff member stated that the reform is not very precise on this need for bottom-up reform. In his reply, Kinnock said he was glad that this is being mentioned and of course he is all for it, but there has to be a top down reform (working especially with the Commissioners and the heads of unit since the reform is a political project). He hopes only (but gave no assurances) that this approach would not neutralize completely the bottom-up efforts made by all the staff as indicated alredy by the criticism articulated on the White Paper and also what is linked to the freedom or not for taking own initiatives.

- consultation and decisions already made

Fear was exypressed that the consultation is meaningless because the decisions have been made already. Kinnock could not alleviate that fear but did give assurance that the arguments made and the criticism given would bear upon the final outcome, that is the "reform is...a process and not an event. It relies on credible timetables, detailed deliverables and clearly assigned responsibilities" (see opening statement of 'Summary on the Reform and modernisation of the Commission: Communication by M. Kinnock" (No. 4/2000 PE 232.988)

- media-orientated reform

The criticism of being a media-orientated reform was not fully developed, but underlines the impression of the new Commission being very media orientated, in the belief that there the battles are won or lost. It reflects itself in the kind of advisors Prodi has gathered around him, but also in the appointment of media experts like Viviane Reding who put in charge of Education and Culture. There is even to be noticed a tendency to look for symbolic gestures as if something big is happening, when in fact these are desparate éfforts to hide misunderstandings and of being lost in a world of complexities. There is also the problem of being simply overflooded by information with no certainty and guidance as to what one should respond to first. Openness and being creative exactly in moments of uncertainty and incomplete knowledge (information) with reassurances, staff is quite often being over demanded by those higher up to deliver the impossible. Subsequently the language being used is a very diminished in human terms technical, highly factural language with no human being anymore visible, not even between the lines, and highly doubtful if understandable for any outsider i.e. ordinary citizen of Europe.

Media reform means also that the infrastructure of e-mail etc. has altered the 'interface' of working together or not. As a recent study in America has shown (as reported by the Herald Tribune, 17.2.2000), the more people spend time in front of the computer screen with e-mail and internet, the more they are making themselves illusions about communication possibilities and the less real communication takes place i.e. face to face dialogues. People lose then the ability to talk person to person, to enter complex debates, in order to evaluate possible consequences of decisions about to be taken if they do not take alternatives into consideration. Instead their concentration to listening and to argueing in favour of different viewpoints by just extrapolating, in order not to get trapped or confused, has become highly negative and increasingly marked by growing frustration, equally impatience. The monologue in front of the computer screen hides the loneliness in real terms when it comes to interacting with other people. As someone put it, persons start to feel closer to others the further away they are from one another.

However, the illusions of virtual reality is not something Kinnock had in mind when he became very stern about the intention behind the reform. He underlined it by saying, "but no one should any illusion about this commitment."

Yet the problem of illusion is that people should not be robbed of the last illusion. Even a small remark by Kinnock to that point should be noted, for he cited the example that sometimes a person can become a jewel when not feeling well and just staying home for one day. The truth is nevertheless that the more stress and demands are made upon the individual by the Information Society to manage all the information, while there prevails the conventional way to serve the person higher up, this way of working stands in contradition to the illusion of universal equality. As a result of this contradiction, that demand to serve the needs of the decision makers at the top will generally tend to become more and more unjust. This is intensified by the media orientation since the latter needs fast, precise statements to the factual and nothing else. Artificial pressure and tension builds up solely to serve that purpose: to appear convincing to the outside world. It rules out any doubt and articulation of reasons why something is not convincing. All that means false needs are being created all the time until the unimportant is taken to be important even though it means that the really important issues are downgraded out of fear of over demanding the public being informed by a press already diminishing insights into what is really involved, if the work is to be done properly.

- location of the problems: staff or management at the top

Another staff member out that the real problem is not with the general staff, but with the management at the top. Edith Cresson was cited as an example.

- type of reform already experienced under the new Commission

Although the term 'modernisation' is used by Kinnock, he did not make efforts to distinguish this from an American kind of management system. Here more thoughts need to be given in order to identify and to name the real intentions behind the current reform and to anticipate what conclusions the Commission itself shall come up prior to taking up negotiations with both Council and Parliament.

- motivation

Since much has been said already about this aspect, it is only necessary to repeat a basic truism: if a staff member works constantly with self dout, that is whether his or her work is being appreciated or not, then this lack of confidence will have an impact upon what information that person passes on or not. The less self confidence there exists, the less risks are being taken when delivering or demanding something. The person will play it safe. In the end, the entire unit, Commission and the overall Commission shall be demotivated by people who know no longer what it means to go out of your way to make things possible and what they also demand of European projects, namely to produce and to use extra value as part of fulfilling the European dimension.

Indeed, Mr. Kinnock agreed on this point that the European idea is weak and he does see this problem of the European dimension missing. Part of the problem appears to be also how member states and other institutions treat the Commission which is not a national or a regional-local boy, but has quite other tasks to take care of.

REFORM package itself: Key terms

Decentralization - adaptation of general guidelines by individual institutions as favoured by Kinnock or what the trade union of the staff stresses, insofar as they demand that "a single set of Staff Regulations continue to apply to all Community institutions and that any idea of 'light' Staff Regulations with different implementing provisions for each institution be opposed."

Media orientated reform - the role of the press in this process and what is done effectively to please via the media the audience, that is the European citizens, but in reality vested interests in but a certain kind of Commission, given the roles played not only by national governments, that is the member states, but as well by regional and also local authorities, with ending up in Europe being used when convenient and being dropped the moment a burden, that this leads merely to creating impressions and no real dialogue between those working inside the Commission and those requiring but not knowing how to solicit its services in a proper way. Thus the orientation to avoid bad press, but still in need of the media for creating the image that 'the Commission is not only about those bureaucrats in Brussels earning a lot of money while doing nothing', leads to making some basic mistakes. Kinnock was criticized for advising the staff not to read the newspapers as to what they say about the Commission, while on the other hand he made a mistake in numbers when referring to how many translators are working for the Commission. In an interview he gave to 'The Spiegel' he stated 6000 which was not true and thus he had to defend himself by saying that he had corrected this mistake immediately, but what can one do in a hour interview when he had so much else on his mind, and although he usually does not use numbers to make a point.

Human resources  - the staff point out that this term should be retranslated into its original meaning, namely personnel politics. Human resouroces as a term is heavily used by DG Education and Culture and in particular by former DG XXII. It has been picked up by the Tony Blair government in order to stress the importance of gaining "access to human resources" as a main target of structural reform intentions. Basically the term came up in the light of heavy unemployment throughout Europe and in the face of new demands put upon the labour market in an era when job sharing, flexible working time, networking, leading on to different work settings (depending on task and volume of individual jobs needed to complete the overall demand) became common practices. Europe began to speak even about 'learning regions' and a 'culture of excellence' insofar people motivate each other by giving mutual recognition and feed-back as basic principles of a common working culture. Structural reform would mean in this sensitive area touching upon human relations all the time, that access to different human resources has to ensured. It means further that demand for work often prevails while tasks are not evenly or faily distributed. The discrepancies between those working in the Information Society as compared to the Service Industry, and staff members of the Commission who are often unconsciously members of both societies, are tremendous as is job sharing linked to giving out information i.e. willingness to share with others. Effective working together is made impossible when there is competition around scarce information as part of qualifying and promotion strategies each individual or groups or even an entire DG of the Commission may follow.

Structural changes - linked to the problem of motivation, qualification, job sharing, there are two separate and yet linked problems to be resolved by the Commission. For the implementation of programmes and of individual projects within these programmes, it has become evident that more and more different DGs have to work together as they cut across their respective fields of competences. Sometimes there is the case of positive cooperation when engaged staff members within individual DGS seek cooperation with others in other Commissions, but how far this can go depends to a large extent upon how heads of units define their competencies and thus view tasks but also limits of responsibilities of the staff members under their respective jurisdictions. That goes often contrary to the role of coordinators of specific cross DG tasks and reflects the struggle within the Commission between higher up staff members fearing competition from below and those attempting to take novel initiatives to launch new and innovative programmes.

Generally it was expressed ove and again at this consultation meeting with Kinnock that the staff considers the reform as structural intention to be against such initiatives leading to different Commissions cooperating not only closely together, but efficiently on the basis of staff being able to go outside their own administrative setting and limitations. The horizontal integration of different work tasks forming together a special program should, however, not be confused with what Kinnock mentioned in connection with promotion and competition. He meant that in relation to tasks finally assigned to staff members, since he spoke about staff members who should be in future more open to leaving one DG, in order to work in another. That touches merely upon two other problems: if people have been placed firstly at a wrong location, and if competition within the unit has become ugly and the internal conflict only resolved not by firing the person, but by deplacing that person to another unit or even altogether to another Commission, then an overall displacement of the concept of work for the Commission may be institutionalized over time.

Progress made so far

If anything is a measure, staff members complained about the way the reform is being implemented: at first everything is being changed very radical and fast, and then nothing happens, no new staff members are hired or no needed resources made available or positions filled or being assigned.

Kinnock replied to this that if one thing stands out for this reform, then it is its responsiveness and thus he has decided to hire 200 more people to be assigned to the College, in order to facilitate the responsiveness of management to the need of the staff.

Yet at another level, the bringing together of the former DG X and DG XXII, that is the merger of education and culture, as anticipated by the CONNECT program (50% of it being administered by DG Culture and the other half by DG XXII) is not working at all.

Recommendations for GREEN / EFA position in European Parliament

- in consideration of this reform process under way but in need to be followed up as to what is happened to the last Commission,

- in consideration of what was the position of the Greens during this process, including how they brought to light the financial scandal,

- in consideration that there are now Green ministers and one Green Commissioner,

- in consideration that the Commission is often viewed in an one sided manner as sole source of real money in Europe, especially when there are many organizations and dinviduals without any secure source of income even if they have to do a lot of work to keep up with the changes happening at European level,

- in consideration that over demands as much as wrong demands are made in case the consultation process between Commission and Parliament does not work i.e. bring about the right reform of how the Commission works,

- in consideration that there is a danger of re-nationalization of the Commission's owrk so that local initiatives for work with a European dimension are not sufficiently supported,

- in consideration of the enormouos tasks EU enlargement shall entail,

all efforts should be made to work in solidarity with the staff of the Commission in order to find a good solution leading on to good practice.


Brussels 18.2.2000

Dr. Hatto Fischer

Advisor for the Green / EFA group

To the Committee on Culture, Education, Media, Sport and Youth

Of the European Parliament

^ Top

« Reform of the Commission 2000 | European Agenda for Citizens »