Simplification of the Staff Regulations
The Staff Regulations, which lay down the employment conditions for officials and other servants of the European Communities, date from 1968 and in many ways reflect the sort of thinking that was prevalent at that time.
The Staff Regulations accordingly needed to be reworked in order to modernise and simplify them. Several provisions, such as those on the sickness insurance scheme, needed to be updated so that they can be properly applied under today's conditions. Other provisions were difficult to understand or are simply no longer needed.
Accordingly, the terms of the Staff Regulations also needed to be simplified or made clearer. In connection with this, it is important to revise the rights and obligations of officials, in particular the right to express opinions.
- Conflicts of interest/external activities
- Invalidity and absence from service
- Freedom of expression
To avoid conflicts of interest , there was a need to make the provisions on officials' rights and obligations clearer. Serving officials are thus prevented from dealing with any matter in which they have an indirect or direct personal interest, and particularly a family or financial interest. More specifically, the following aspects have been clarified: external activities, political office and business interests:
- Permission for external activities can be granted except where the activity can give rise to a conflict of interest or be detrimental to the interest of the Communities. To this end an official has to inform the Appointing Authority of her/his activity during his/her three past years of active service at the Commission and any future activities. S/he has to provide in particular information on potential links with the official's functions exercised in the Commission.
- Work dealing with active service in the Commission to be authorised: If the official intends to undertake work that requires him/her to deal with subjects that fall within a policy area in which s/he was or has been working during the last three years, s/he has to provide full details. An official is not allowed to deal with individual cases that s/he had worked on. If s/he has done so prior to this three year period, s/he is not automatically authorised to deal with those individual cases. In that case participations in professional meetings with a former directorate general are restricted.
- Contracts with the Commission: No official on leave on personal grounds may be given paid work of any kind by the Commission.
- For a period of 2 years after leaving the Commission, a former official wishing to take up an outside activity has to provide the Commission with detailed information about former and future activities.
- Former officials receiving a retirement pension, on non-active status or retired in the interests of the service may be requested by the Commission to carry out activities, provided that such assignments or activities are unpaid.
- Restricting provisions are in force for former officials receiving an invalidity pension (see below).
- For activities carried out in the framework of a mission an official is not allowed to accept any remuneration. The official should, however, ask for the costs of the mission to be reimbursed.
Article 22 of the Staff Regulations stipulates that an official may be required to make good, in whole or in part, any damage suffered by the Communities as a result of serious misconduct on her/his part in connection with the performance of her/his duties.
In such a case the Commission is obliged to give a reasoned decision in accordance with the procedure laid down in regard to disciplinary matters.
Only a serious personal misconduct can lead to the staff member's financial responsibility (Art 22 of the Staff Regulations). A simple error or a slight fault made by an official causing financial damage to the Commission does not require this procedure. In such a case it falls on the Commission to care for the financial impact of the acts of its staff members.
Officials will only be deemed financially liable in cases where all three of the following conditions are met:
• they have breached a legal obligation (this can include infringements of the Staff Regulations or financial rules),
• they have caused financial damage to the Communities and
• they are guilty of serious personal misconduct. It covers deliberate misconduct, for example in cases that involve fraud or bribery, and which will usually lead to personal enrichment or enrichment of a vested interest.
The power to decide if an official has to make good the damage undergone by the Commission following a serious personal fault and the power to fix the extent of repair falls exclusively to the "AIPN" (Appointing Authority ). Before taking its decision, the AIPN will be advised by the new established Panel for Financial Irregularities (PIF) when a financial irregularity has been committed by an official.
Basic rules under the Commission guidelines for applying Article 22 are:
• Deliberated misconduct: the official is likely to be asked to make financial reparations for the amount of damages incurred; this would cover cases such as fraud and misappropriation of funds (see above). In this case the Commission will seek full compensation of the damage.
• serious personal misconduct arising from gross negligence. This means that staff cannot be held financially liable for an ordinary mistake or error, even if the act of failure to act caused significant financial damage to the Communities. The maximum compensation that the Commission can seek to recover is one year’s basic salary of the official in order to avoid that official be compelled to risk their means of existence while fulfilling their day-to-day functions. The extent of reparation might be reduced proportionally in accordance with the seriousness of the fault committed by the official On the other hand, a very narrow definition of gross negligence is given, as behaviour that ought never to be committed by a staff member in the given grade exercising normal care in a comparable situation.
• A head of unit, empowered to act as authorising officer on subdelegation, signs a payment order without having checked whether the company was entitled to receive money from the Commission. An amount of 10,000 € is paid. A young official, who had no experience nor training in the financial field, had prepared the file. But as a matter of fact, the company in question had not carried out the services for which it had claimed payment. Shortly after the company has become bankrupt and the money cannot be recovered.
The fact that the head of unit had not checked the file before signing the payment order is an infringement of the obligations, which fall on the authorising officer on subdelegation according to Article 79 of the new Financial Regulation and, as such, a gross negligence for which the Commission is entitled to initiate the Article 22 procedure against the head of unit.
The young official has had neither experience in financial matters nor appropriate training. Even if s/he would have had to check the creditor's rights, her/his omission cannot be regarded as gross negligence within the meaning of Article 22. Thus she/he is not financially responsible.
But if, on the other hand, the head of unit can prove that s/he suffered from an overload of work at that time, of which s/he had informed her/his hierarchy in written on various occasions, the behaviour of the head of unit may not be considered as a serious negligence.
As mentioned above and underlined by these examples there is in all cases room for interpretation in judging misconduct:
The AIPN will amongst other things take into account: the seriousness of the misconduct, possible personal enrichment, all the circumstances of the work environment (e.g. workload, stress or instructions), the financial training of the official concerned, his professional experience and, if necessary, the fact that the damage has been caused by several people.
When appropriated, before deciding to initiate the procedure provided for in Article 22, the AIPN will ask IDOC, its Investigation and Disciplinary Office, to carry out an administrative inquiry in order to establish all the relevant facts.
The invalidity allowance continues to be worth 70% of the final basic salary while in active service. But automatic advancement in step has been removed. Furthermore, the allowance is subject to the deduction of pension contributions, and will be replaced by a retirement pension on reaching the normal retirement age. The pension will be calculated on the basis of final salary in active employment, but years of invalidity will also lead to acquisition of pension rights.
Absence from service: officials who are unavailable because of illness must, within five days, send a medical certificate to the Commission. If they fail to do so, the Commission may at any time require them to undergo a medical examination by a doctor chosen by the employer. If that examination fails to take place, the official's absence from service is to be regarded as unauthorised, possibly leading to misconduct and disciplinary proceedings.
A fair procedure has been established for officials wishing to publish information relating to the activities of the Institutions in a manner that is compatible with basic rights without compromising the legitimate interests of the Communities. Officials are bound to inform the Appointing Authority of their intention to publish such material. If the AIPN is able to demonstrate that the matter is liable to seriously prejudice the legitimate interests of the Communities, it must inform the official in writing within 30 working days or it will be deemed to have no objections.
In addition to the national criminal law provisions to which officials are subject at the Commission's places of employment, the Staff Regulations - as amended to reflect developments in society - expressly prohibit officials from engaging in harassment. The definition of harassment covers all repeated, constant or systematic behaviour which - through words, deeds, gestures or written statements - is capable of harming a person's physical or psychological integrity.