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7th Jun 2020

EU's smallest institution warned on 'threats, blackmail'

  • The EESC is a Brussels-based institution with a €136.5m annual budget tasked to issue opinions on EU law (Photo: EU)

The EU's smallest institution has been told by the European Parliament to protect harassment victims and whistleblowers against "threats, blackmail and bribery attempts."

The demand comes as the next president of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) faces possible criminal charges in Belgium over serious harassment claims.

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MEPs on Thursday (14 May) voted in favour of telling the EESC, which bills itself as a platform for civil society, that it must do more to strengthen the effectiveness of its anti-harassment policy.

It says one of the key priorities of those measures must be "real and urgent protection (including against threats, blackmail and bribery attempts) of all of the victims and whistleblowers."

The EU's anti-fraud office Olaf earlier this year alerted Belgian authorities following long-standing allegations of harassment against Jacek Krawczyk.

Krawczyk has denied those claims, depicting them as politically-motivated. He also described one of the victims named by Olaf as a purveyor of fake news.

The EESC is tasked to issue opinions on EU policy and is composed of three groups, each separately dealing with employers (Group I), workers (Group II), and diversity (Group III).

Krawczyk heads the employers' group and was nominated to become the next president of the EESC around the same time Olaf had alerted Belgian authorities.

Krawczyk is set to take up his new position in October.

The EESC has been given until before autumn to respond to the demands made by the European Parliament, which also includes calls for greater transparency.

Home office allowance up due to pandemic

The MEPs lists other problems.

EESC members are entitled to a daily €290 subsistence allowance to cover travel, food, and hotel expenses for attending a meeting.

Last year an EUobserver investigation disclosed that some 30 EESC members already living in Brussels had pocketed the allowance to the tune of around €1.47m over a period of several years. One admitted to spending it on her apartment.

The EESC is itself based in Brussels.

To get the money, a member must sign in at the start of the meeting. But when asked to also require the same members to sign in at the end of the meeting, the EESC refused.

MEPs are now demanding the EESC improve its working methods and report back.

That demand follows an April decision by the EESC's internal administration, known as the Bureau, to temporarily increase its total IT allowance by over €600,000 to buy equipment like telephones and computers. Each member's allowance will go from around €3,000 to €5,000 this year, during the pandemic.

The EESC says it is needed because members are teleworking from home due to the outbreak, although they won't get the money until after the summer.

Cristiano Sebastiani, the head of the RD trade union defending staff rights at the EESC, says the increase doesn't make sense.

"Why have they decided to increase this in IT, while now perhaps we are going out of confinement?" he said, describing the hike as a gift to members.

For its part, the EESC says they are busy working on issues linked to the pandemic. It says the EESC Bureau and plenary session are focusing on the most important and urgent legislative procedures linked to the coronavirus crisis and recovery plan.

"Gradually the agendas will be open to other topics, as we hope to return to a normal situation in the coming months," an EESC spokesperson, said in an email late April.

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