Saturday

21st Apr 2018

Investigation

The ECB: EU's 'bad bank' (for its employees)

  • (Photo: ECB)

In the past few years, one institution has taken centre stage in the economic battle: the Frankfurt-based European Central Bank (ECB).

But, as the institution took on more responsibility, another issue came to light: it does not have enough staff to fulfil its missions of financial stability and banking surveillance, and many employees are now close to burnout.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • "The ECB is clearly understaffed," said trade unionist Johannes Priesemann. (Photo: Peter Juelich)

"The ECB has definitely not enough permanent positions," Johannes Priesemann, president of the International and European Public Services organisation (IPSO), told EUobserver. "There are overwork and burnout hotspots."

The ECB has currently 3,600 staff, split between the central banking department and the single supervisory mechanism created in 2014 to oversee large banks.

The ECB staff committee, which represents employees, conducted a survey at the end of 2016 to which roughly one-third of employees answered.

They used the 'Oldenburg Burnout Inventory', a list of questions to measure employees' and academics' burnout, such as "during work, I often feel emotionally drained," "I always find new and interesting aspect of my work," or "lately, I tend to think less at work and do my job automatically".

This document, seen by EUobserver, shows that 29.7 percent met diagnosis criteria for burnout, 23.2 percent had signs of exhaustion, and 5.4 percent had suicidal thoughts.

On a more general note, 75.1 percent of the ECB employees had an issue with workload – especially in the banking supervision department.

These figures are quite similar with those highlighted in the previous 2014 survey staff committee. But between the two surveys, the overall staff had slightly grown – by between 160 and 200 – mostly to complete the newly-launched banking supervision department.

"The ECB is the most important financial institution in the euro area, what happens if employees have a burnout?", Fabio De Masi, who is now a member of the German Bundestag, told EUobserver.

This website has learnt that the 2016 report, which is not public, explicitly points to high workload as a cause for burnout. It notices a correlation between burnout and seniority, pointing to the absence of career development plans and the lack of opportunities regarding internal mobility.

It also stresses a loss of motivation and increase of cynicism regarding the job.

IPSO

At the ECB, where IPSO is the only trade union, many think that the situation is made worse by the fact that the bank is not subjected to regular labour laws, and sets its own rules for itself.

In order to preserve the ECB's independence, article 36 of its status says that it can "lay down the conditions of employment of (its) staff."

That means that the governing council – the body whose main purpose is to decide the eurozone monetary policy – also writes the labour law for their 3,600 employees.

That includes salary and allowances, working hours, disciplinary procedures, and everything linked to pension and social security which are both dealt through ECB in-house financial schemes.

The ECB decided not to implement German legislation which gives trade unions a representation at board level.

The institution's board consults by writing to the staff committee before each decision regarding staff regulation.

"We are not in the room when they decide on work conditions, and the minutes are secret," the staff committee's spokesman Carlos Bowles told EUobserver. "We call it the 'consult and ignore' procedure."

"The consultation framework rarely displayed any useful effect, and led to frustration amongst ECB employees," said Adrian Petty, another ECB employee who is currently launching a new trade union – the ECB Staff & Pensioners Association (ESPA).

"Staff representatives were not involved early enough to have a meaningful influence on the outcome," he noted.

Petty, however, said that the situation has improved, in particular since the ECB hired a new human resource director, Anne-Sylvie Catherin, in April 2016.

The ESPA, whose interim board of management will be elected on 3 November, aims to challenge IPSO – currently the only trade union.

Petty was himself a member of IPSO until the start of the year.

According to its website, the new union wants to end the "current impasse in staff relations at the ECB" and criticises "the aggressive public and legalistic approach being followed by IPSO."

"A large proportion of IPSO's membership income goes towards legal costs", adds the website. "This strategy appears to hinder attempts to conduct a constructive dialogue with the ECB."

Conflict of interest

Priesemann also points to a 'conflict of interest': the fact that the budget and the staffing of the institution are decided by the governing council, which bring together the ECB's executive board and the 19 governors of the eurozone's national central banks.

The latter, which are not inclined to lose power, are not eager to see more staff at the ECB.

"You, when deciding upon the staff levels at the ECB, act more in your role and interests as governors of the national central banks, and less as members of the eurosystem governing council," wrote IPSO in a letter to the governors, in March 2015.

The ECB, however, did take a number of corrective measures in the past few years. Under a dedicated plan, called 'Crescendo', it hired a new director for human resources, and created a temporary chief services officer position to help the board with finance and human resources issues.

The ECB told EUobserver that it is planning to hire just over 100 extra staff in 2018, most of which will be assigned to the single supervisory mechanism (SSM).

It also plans to "soon" introduce flexible working time and additional compensatory time-off. It is working with the staff committee to implement the EU working time directive from January 2018.

"It is too early to judge," said Priesemann. "But what I can say is that the long-haul pressure of IPSO and the staff committee seems to have made our decision-makers aware of the issues."

A new staff survey is planned for 2018. It will be "the benchmark for the success of the work of the new managers", stressed Priesemann.

Reluctant Parliament

Last year, ECB employees received an unexpected bit of support from the European Parliament.

Members of the economic affairs and social affairs committees organised a hearing with the ECB management and trade union.

There were only a few MEPs in the room, and the most vocal were German S&D Udo Bullmann and Jutta Steinruck, German EPP Thomas Mann, and German GUE Fabio De Masi – but they appeared very eager to keep following the issue. Bullmann, Mann and De Masi went to the ECB's headquarters.

"There we got first-hand-information from the employees about the hours of overtime, the upper limits for working hours, differences in the workload, the process of labour law as well as stress and burnout", Mann told EUobserver in a written comment.

This year, however, the topic seems however less a priority. Steinruck declined to comment, and Bullmann did not answer repeated requests for comments.

"The ECB did not appreciate [being] put in the spotlight, last year," an MEP told EUobserver.

"There were elections in Germany, maybe that [is] why German members were so keen on talking about it," suggested another European Parliament source – pointing to the fact the Bullmann's constituency is Hessen, where the ECB is located.

Ultimately, the EU Parliament has no power over the ECB work conditions, as Steinruck's staff told EUobserver, while not explaining why she attended the hearing last year.

But the it issue recently surfaced again in the economic affairs committee, where members are currently drafting their 'ECB 2016 Report' - an annual document on the institution's activity.

French MEP Pervenche Beres put forward an amendment specifying that the parliament "is concerned by the high level of dissatisfaction among the ECB employees, many of whom [are] being currently overworked and/or at risk of burnout." The text urges the ECB to "restore an effective and sound social dialogue", and to "guarantee safe and decent working conditions."

She told EUobserver that she is determined to see the amendment go into the final text. But the rapporteur of the text – Portuguese S&D Jonas Fernandez – does not appear as eager to include the issue in his report.

He told this website that "until the end the end of the negotiations, [he] can not confirm anything."

Mann is also pushing to include the issue in the report: "We should use the earliest opportunity to integrate this important topic in the report of the ECON-committee", he told EUobserver.

The issue fell short of being included in last year's report.

The rapporteur, Spanish liberal Ramon Tremosa i Balcells, discussed the issue but finally ruled against – arguing there was a lack of data available on the issue. "It was better not to include it rather than making an accusation that we couldn't prove," his staff told EUobserver.

ECB slows down eurozone support scheme

Starting in January, the European Central Bank will reduce its emergency bond-buying programme from €60 billion to €30 billion a month.

Eurozone bank needs more scrutiny, says NGO

Transparency International says eurozone's central bank is not subject to "appropriate democratic scrutiny" and should have no say on EU bailout projects.

Varoufakis back in push for ECB transparency

The former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis and German left-wing MEP Fabio De Masi want to know whether the European Central Bank overstepped its powers when putting capital controls on Greek banks in 2015.

EU wants to fast-track the capital markets union

The European Commission says that Brexit and the loss of the City of London, the EU's main place for finance, is a reason to accelerate the integration of the bloc's financial markets.

ECB withheld information on 'flawed' bank supervision

The European Central Bank refused to provide important evidence when the Court of Auditors examined its management of the banking crisis. A court report said the system was substantial but had "flaws".

Investigation

How Romania became an EU workers' rights 'guinea pig'

"We are paid as if we were a country of unqualified workers". Union leaders and labour rights experts reveal, in figures, the catastrophic consequences of the laws that have turned Romania into the country of the working poor.

Investigation

The mysterious German behind Orban's Russian deals

Klaus Mangold, a German businessman with good connections in Russia, and who provided a jet for Commission vice-president Guenther Oettinger, played a crucial role in Hungary's controversial Paks nuclear deal with Russia, Direkt36's investigation has found.

News in Brief

  1. Audit office: Brexit 'divorce' bill could be billions higher
  2. MEPs urge better protection for journalists
  3. Dieselgate: MEPs back greater role for EU in car approvals
  4. European parliament adopts new organic farming rules
  5. EU granted protection to half million people in 2017
  6. Report: Facebook to carve 1.5bn users out of EU privacy law
  7. Greek court ruling permits migrants to travel to mainland
  8. Commonwealth summit hopes for trade boost after Brexit

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersWorld's Energy Ministers to Meet in Oresund in May to Discuss Green Energy
  2. ILGA EuropeParabéns! Portugal Votes to Respect the Rights of Trans and Intersex People
  3. Mission of China to the EUJobs, Energy, Steel: Government Work Report Sets China's Targets
  4. Martens CentreJoin Us at NET@WORK2018 Featuring Debates on Migration, Foreign Policy, Populism & Disinformation
  5. European Jewish CongressKantor Center Annual Report on Antisemitism Worldwide - The Year the Mask Came Off
  6. UNICEFCalls for the Protection of Children in the Gaza Strip
  7. Mission of China to the EUForeign Minister Wang Yi Highlights Importance of China-EU Relations
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersImmigration and Integration in the Nordic Region - Getting the Facts Straight
  9. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMacedonians in Bulgaria Demand to End the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  10. Counter BalanceThe EIB Needs to Lead by Example on Tax Justice
  11. ILGA EuropeTrans People in Sweden to be Paid Compensation for Forced Sterilisation
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsThe Danger of Standing Up for Justice and Rights in Central Asia

Latest News

  1. ECJ ruling set to end 10-year 'mouth tobacco' lobbying saga
  2. Whistleblowers, Syria and digital revolution This WEEK
  3. MEP friendship groups offer 'backdoor' for pariah regimes
  4. Macron and Merkel pledge euro reform
  5. Obscurity surrounds EU military fund's expert groups
  6. New EU party finance rules short circuit accountability
  7. Draghi to stay in secretive 'lobby' group
  8. Bulgaria offers lesson in tackling radical-right populists

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Must Work Together to Promote Global Steel Sector
  2. Swedish EnterprisesEU Tax Proposal on Digital Services Causes Concern for Small Exporting Economies
  3. Europea Jewish CongressCondemns the Horrific Murder of Holocaust Survivor Mireille Knoll in Paris
  4. Mission of China to the EUAn Open China Will Foster a World-Class Business Environment
  5. ECR GroupAn Opportunity to Help Shape a Better Future for Europe
  6. Counter BalanceControversial Turkish Azerbaijani Gas Pipeline Gets Major EU Loan
  7. World VisionSyria’s Children ‘At Risk of Never Fully Recovering', New Study Finds
  8. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMeets with US Congress Member to Denounce Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  9. Martens CentreEuropean Defence Union: Time to Aim High?
  10. UNESDAWatch UNESDA’s President Toast Its 60th Anniversary Year
  11. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Condemns MEP Ana Gomes’s Anti-Semitic Remark, Calls for Disciplinary Action
  12. EPSUEU Commissioners Deny 9.8 Million Workers Legal Minimum Standards on Information Rights

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ACCAAppropriate Risk Management is Crucial for Effective Strategic Leadership
  2. EPSUWill the Circular Economy be an Economy With no Workers?
  3. European Jewish CongressThe 2018 European Medal of Tolerance Goes to Prince Albert II of Monaco
  4. FiscalNoteGlobal Policy Trends: What to Watch in 2018
  5. Human Rights and Democracy NetworkPromoting Human Rights and Democracy in the Next Eu Multiannual Financial Framework
  6. Mission of China to the EUDigital Cooperation a Priority for China-EU Relations
  7. ECTACompetition must prevail in the quest for telecoms investment
  8. European Friends of ArmeniaTaking Stock of 30 Years of EU Policy on the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict: How Can the EU Contribute to Peace?
  9. ILGA EuropeCongratulations Finland!
  10. UNICEFCyclone Season Looms Over 720,000 Rohingya Children in Myanmar & Bangladesh
  11. European Gaming & Betting AssociationEU Court: EU Commission Correct to Issue Guidelines for Online Gambling Services
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina Hopes for More Exchanges With Nordic, Baltic Countries