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23rd Jan 2021

MEPs deliver blow to EU body embroiled in harassment case

  • The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) issues non-binding opinions on EU law and policy (Photo: EU)

MEPs have refused to sign off the accounts of the EU's smallest institution, in yet another blow to the reputation of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC).

The move by MEPs overseeing budgets is an embarrassment to a Brussels-based institution that has been embroiled in psychological harassment cases against a former senior Polish member who was set to become its next president.

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"We refused the discharge to the Economic and Social Committee," announced Monika Hohlmeier, the German centre-right chair of the budgetary control committee on Thursday (1 October).

MEPs had already postponed signing off the accounts earlier this year, in a bid to allow the EESC to explain itself, after the Belgian prosecutor launched a case against Jacek Krawczyk.

Krawczyk is facing possible criminal charges following years of alleged abuse against a number of people working with him or for him. He has denied all the claims, saying the allegations are politically-motivated efforts to derail his leadership ambitions at the EESC.

Those claims come despite numerous whistleblower testimonies and an investigation by the EU's anti-fraud office Olaf, which then led to the launch of the Belgian prosecution against Krawczyk.

Krawczyk's immunity had been waived over the summer due to the affair.

He had also been told by the EESC leadership to leave as head of the Employer's Group, one of three bodies inside the institution. He eventually stepped down, claiming the request to do so as hostile and a violation of the presumption of innocence.

Krawczyk seeks return

He is now seeking to make his return to the EESC, for the next five years - with Poland expected to put forward his name among the list of national candidates.

Member states had in mid-September appointed new members for the 326-body assembly to cover the next 2020 to 2025 term. Krawczyk's name was not on that list, amid speculation Poland was waiting to see the results of the MEP vote first.

Now, a new listing is set to be adopted in its place on Friday (2 October). Some EU states may ask for even more time, meaning the final list may not be adopted until next week.

"The deadline to adopt the decision is Friday. If member states need a bit more time it could be longer," said an EU official.

The MEP vote is likely to loom over the current EESC leadership, after the director of human resources in early September attempted to convince MEPs that every effort had been made to help the alleged victims.

But victims disputed this account, noting that things like legal assistance only came after at least one of them had to complain to the European Ombusdman.

The office of Czech Pirate Party MEP Mikuláš Peksa said he had since managed to convince the majority of other MEPs to also vote against granting discharge to the EESC.

"His [Peksa] position became clear after he was directly contacted by several victims and a whisteblower, who described a very different situation than the one presented to the parliament," noted his office.

MEPs say No

The final vote result was overwhelming, with most MEPs voting against the EESC.

The shift of attention may now turn towards the EESC leadership, which had known about the allegations made against Krawczyk on harassment for years.

Some complaints date back to at least 2014, where one staffer ended up in court after Krawczyk fired her. She had accused him of verbal abuse and physical violence. She was awarded €2,000.

But Krawczyk himself said he had never been reprimanded by the EESC's secretary-general Gianluca Brunetti over harassment in the lead up to his bid to become the institution's president.

"Over all these years, there has been no signal from the EESC's Secretary General, HR and administration that my management of staff or behaviour towards members of the Group and the EESC may have been inappropriate," he said last month.

The whole casts a long shadow over Brunetti, who headed the human resources department up until landing the post of secretary-general.

The human resources department is tasked with receiving and listening to whistleblowers, who say they had endured psychological and verbal attacks within the institution.

Asked to comment, the EESC in an emailed statement said he had "always treated this subject with the outmost importance, both as Secretary General and as HR Director, with a zero tolerance approach."

A code of conduct was also set up. MEPs says it lacks any meaningful sanctions.

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