The Fonctionnaire (Part 2): The Manager

From the previous post, it became clear that the "Can't-get-fired" policy has turn the European Institutions, and the Commission in particular, into an unmanageable beast. The reason for this policy, once again a legacy of France, was to insulate the civil servants from the politics.

But before let's recap a bit. At the AD level (Administrators), you have in order: the Fonctionnaire, the Head of Sector, the Head of Unit, the Director, the Director General. It is very compact, given that head of sector is just informal, the head of unit is the one really managing the troops. One very odd thing is that each level is only achievable with a given grade, which, in fact, poorly relates to your competencies. The grade thing (when you move one grade up, you have been promoted) was not really a reward of your competencies rather than a "tour-de-role" (it is changing now). Every year, one fourth/fifth of the unit got some promoted and in 4-5 years, the whole unit moved on step up.

As a result, you have Heads of Unit at around 50 who gets their first real management position. No time to train first on small team... And units can go up to 120 people.

But with the "Can't-get-fired" things, managers have basically no sticks... You end up with quite a huge management issue there.

Imagine yourself at the head of a team and basically no way to reward or punish your people. Quite often, you focus on those people who are still motivated (because they are usually new) or on Contract Agents. On the other hand, you have some unmotivated or lazy bastards who do nothing... What you do with them? you just gave them good points at the end, hoping that another unit will get them!

Heads of Unit are not generally bad bosses. But at this level the competencies required are management skills, and I don't think people are prepared well enough in their transition from technicians to managers.

Eventually, you have units working at the 100% level with only 50% of the headcount. It is not then unusual to have people working until late (those who have a minimum level of motivation or ethic)... The others are just, well, they are just waiting for retirement.

It is now changing, since 2004 with the Kinnock reform, for the worst or for the best... but that will be the subject of an other post.

The "Fonctionnaire" (Part 1)

This is now the beginning of a long serie of posts on the "Fonctionnaire" or Officials (the proper English term).

The Fonctionnaire is a civil servant of the European Institutions who has successfully passed a "concours".

According to Wikipedia:
"Policy makers are divided into a set of grades: from AD 5, the most junior administrator grade, to AD 16, which is a director-general (AD = administrator). Below the AD category is AST (assistant). [...] EU civil servants work 37.5 hours a week, though they are theoretically available 24/7. They receive a minimum of 24 days of leave a year (maximum of 30), with additional leave on grounds of age, grade and distance from home country. The lowest grades receive between €2,325.33 and €2,630.96 each month, while the highest grade receives between €14,822.86 and €16,094,79 a month."

Among other, Fonctionnaires, like other type of employees of the European Institutions, have reduced income tax rates, 16% premium if they are not Belgium, the right to buy furniture and a car VAT-free for a year, free tuition for children at European Schools, family allowances, yearly travel to their country of origin and generous social security and pensions.

So on top of a nice salary, lot of benefits which make the position particularly attractive.

It is not unusual for a 50 year old Fonctionnaire of grade AD to have net stipend of €10,000 per month.

Oh something you should not forget: they cannot be fired! Literally. Unless of course they steal some money (but some have managed to stay even with grafting) or murder somebody.

I believe the Fonctionnaire Status was inherited from the French Tradition of Civil Service when the European Institutions were set up. This would explain a lot of the articles in the Status. Basically the Status (you can find it here) is the Deuteronomy of Fonctionnaires.

This "Can't-get-fired" clause is quite an interesting one as it has create a very special dynamic in the administration.

With such salaries and job security, you would believe that every Fonctionnaire is a happy one. Not really. I would say that there is a high level of frustration, that have even pushed some colleagues towards suicide (that serious). So in latter posts, I will blog about the daily life of a Fonctionnaire, his career expectations, his management perspective, his relation with contract agents (and other temporary staff), his trouble relation with young and attractive female stagiaires...

Microsoft vs. EC

Microsoft is releasing soon its 8th version of the infamous Internet Explorer. Microsoft and the European Commission have maintained a bitter relation, the latter accusing the former of abuse of market position. A fine of €497 million was imposed on the Redmond giant in 2004. An addition €899 million was billed in 2008 for non-compliance...

Yes the European Commission is protecting the right of European customers, after all why IE8 when I can use Firefox, why WMP when VLC is much better.

BUT... what does the Commission use on its computer? MS Office, IE7, WMP and many of the Microsoft goodies. Count over 24,000 employees and calculate the licensing fees!

There is no Linux, no Firefox, no OpenOffice available. I doubt it's a technical issue, as DIGIT (DG in charge of IT) is a very capable DG (I will blog more on that). So why is the Commission not putting its words into actions? Maybe the fine was just to repay the licensing fees...

Admin for newcomers

To inaugurate this blog, let me share the crazy experience of getting a job offer at the European Commission.

So you have passed the numerical and verbal tests, you have excelled on the European Union Knowledge, you mastered your competency test, you survived your panel... Well you are now a laureate of a "Concours", unfortunately you are not yet an official of the European Institutions.

If you are lucky enough, you will be invited to an interview and then you can consider yourself a new European Fonctionnaire! Well not really. Unlike any other regular employers, you will not sign your contract (and be sure to have the job) only after you start your job!

In the meanwhile you are required to deal with Admin. Admin is the DG in charge of Administration (the more schizophrenic as well). Admin will first check your references, ask you to pass a medical test and "fix your right". During all this time, you need to give your notice and hope that all will go smoothly...

I don't fully understand why Admin is so afraid to commit. Maybe they know that once you are in, there is no way out...