Saturday

6th Mar 2021

'Law of silence' reigns over EESC leaders, says staff union

  • The EESC plenary made no mention of the abuse allegations against their future president - despite an Olaf report that had just been passed onto Belgian authorities (Photo: EUobserver)

RD, a trade union defending staff rights at the EU's smallest institution, has accused its leadership of perpetuating a "law of silence" in the wake of festering abuse allegations.

The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), which bills itself as a platform for civil society, is gripped by controversy following revelations by this site that its future president Jacek Krawczyk is now under a Belgian probe for psychological harassment, which could lead to fines and even jail in the most severe cases.

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Krawczyk has rejected the allegations, calling them a political attack aimed at dethroning his leadership ambitions to take charge as EESC president later this year.

But in a letter addressed to the EESC's current secretary-general, Gianluca Brunetti, the RD accused Brunetti of placing the EESC's reputation ahead of those staff who have issued numerous complaints against Krawczyk.

"You [Brunetti] have constantly tried to confuse the more-than-legitimate requests, aimed at obtaining all clarity, with the questioning of the reputation of your institution, as if the only possibility of defending it was to resign yourself to the law of silence," says the letter, drafted by RD's president Cristiano Sebastiani.

Sebastiani says full disclosure is needed in order to expose any failures, and any other enabling factors, leading to the alleged workplace abuse of so many people by someone that has so far avoided any real blowback - in an institution accused of power capture by a ruling circle.

The RD is demanding more severe sanctions against alleged bullies, including early retirement or the abolition of pension rights.

For its part, the EESC in an email disputed the RD's assessment. It noted Brunetti had addressed the issue of harassment with staff on several occasions in his present and previous capacity.

"He also spoke about the recent developments during the public meeting with the staff on 23rd January 2020," said the EESC press office.

The allegations against Krawczyk were passed onto the EU's anti-fraud office Olaf, which, after an investigation, informed Belgian authorities of at least one case of psychological abuse.

Like all other members of the EESC, Krawczyk is entitled to immunity, possibly complicating the Belgian case.

'Not my colleague'

Brunetti told this website that he intends to follow the recommendations of Olaf - but pointed out that he does not consider Krawczyk as a colleague.

"It is not a colleague. It is not a colleague. It is a member, it is not a staff member," he said before declining all other questions.

His comments were made at an EESC plenary session last week - on the same day Krawczyk was nominated to lead the EESC, and just 24 hours after this site revealed Olaf had passed its report on to the Belgian judiciary.

No mention of the Olaf report or the allegations were raised at the plenary, and when EUobserver asked Krawczyk for a comment, he declined.

Xavier Gonçalo Lobo, a Portuguese member of the EESC, and the only other candidate to challenge Krawczyk for the top job, said neither the Olaf probe nor the abuse allegations had been mentioned in the lead up to the vote.

"Every two-and-half years we have this rotation process, and each group appoints one person to be the president and to manage this institution" said the 46-year old Lobo.

The EESC is comprised of three groups.

Group one, labelled the "employers group" is composed of 96 members, which Krawczyk also presides over. Lobo stood against Krawczyk for the EESC presidency bid within the group but lost by 66 votes to 21, with eight abstentions.

Asked if there had been any discussion of the Olaf report or the allegations ahead of the vote, Lobo said "no" and then refused to comment further on the case.

Asked what sets him apart from Krawczyk, he said it was his youth and management style. "I am a completely different personality," he said.

The entire plenary of 350 members is set to elect Krawczyk into his new office as president this October.

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