The aim of the third Eurorings seminar which took place in Frankfurt in cooperation with the Municipality, was to examine the impact a decentralised political and administrative EU system could have on the European public service. Thanks to the 15 experts who joined the meeting, it was possible to tackle in a highly original and innovating way the tricky issue of the future of the European public service ; both envisaged under a new light, that of its adaptation to a polycentric system ; and considered in the general framework of the on-going processes of reflection conducted within the member-states.
“Polycentric” instead of “decentralized”: here is indeed one of the important theoretical results of the Frankfurt session. The debates have enabled to define more accurately the underlying concept of Eurorings, and it appeared that the geographical distribution and institutional architecture proposed by Eurorings did not relate so much to decentralisation (which presuppose a precise centre) than to polycentrism (in which each city/region/institution constitutes an autonomous centre altogether in constant interaction with the others).
In parallel to this, it was reminded that European administrative diversity had to be thought more in terms of functions (local, regional, national, European) than in terms of levels (local, regional, national, common).
Meanwhile, as the European Central Bank gives evidence of (the ECB has de facto already implemented many of the recommendations resulting from the present seminar), innovation in the field of human resources management is more feasible when the institution is newly created. Therefore these recommendations might rather concern the future institutions that will be created by some of the member-states only to deal with the political and economic aspects of the Euro, or with the defence/external relations management. In the present situation (and the enlargement to 25 member-states will slow down even more any chance of positive evolution), there is very little hope to see the historic European institutions enter into any process of modernisation of the management of their human resources.
Several big orientations were commonly identified by the speakers and participants.
1. The process of deployment of the EU system promoted by Eurorings relates to the need to bring the European institutions closer to the citizens. It is therefore imperative that the public function serving these institutions is conceived with the same aim: to reduce the gap that separates the citizens from the European civil servants.
2. Simultaneously, the polycentric nature of the EU system described by Eurorings generates two specific constraints for its efficiency to be guaranteed:
a. The need for a very strong inter-institutional staff-mobility, in order to avoid the partition and fragmentation of the system. b. External mobility seen as a condition of optimal use of the various employment-basins of the cities/regions hosting each institution.
3. In parallel, the move towards the citizens as well as the requirement for internal and external mobility, impose the set up of a European public function based on private-contracting and freed from the various privileges and immunities acquired in the years of foundation of the EU.
4. The osmosis with the European society as well as the resort to professional competence as main recruitment criteria, impose to focus on mid-carrier recruitment and to eliminate both competitive entry examination processes and life carrier systems.
5. Mobility within the system and between the institutional system and the outside world, can be obtained by two means: incentives or time-limitation. Incentives can play a role, like it already does within the ECB, in the decision to offer only merit- and performance-oriented carrieer perspectives with reasonable limits and the need to compete for higher level positions, or to fix a salary-ceiling (contrary to the existing system of wages index-linked to length of service). Time-limitation would consist in fixing a maximum length of service within a given institution (5 or 10 years are possible durations), and favour mobility towards other institutions.
6. The integration of the institutions within the cultural background of their host-city/region/country is essential to their good functioning. For instance, it is a central objective that each institution supports the development of European or International schools, open and accessible to the children of the host-city/region’s citizens. It would prevent the institution from any “cultural and social autarkic » drift (as it is the current situation among the main EU institutions) as well as it would stimulate human exchanges.
7. The resort to private-contracted staff appears as the best way to preserve the efficiency of the political control over the European institutions, and to prevent two major democratic risks, perfectly illustrated by the current system :
a. A growing resort to external contractors in order to assume the central tasks (see the various problems generated by the Technical Assistance Offices around Brussels), out of reach from any serious political control b. The development of a European bureaucracy, a life-long one, totally out of reach of the democratically elected political officials.
The permeability between administration and society is indeed a characteristic shared by all dynamic democracies.
8. Mobility between local, regional, national and European administrations is certainly a future bearer track, likely to ensure not only the openness of the EU system towards the other administrative functions ; but also a large dissemination within the local, regional and national administrations of European contents and methods.
9. Finally, maintaining a strong diversity in terms of nationalities remains a central requirement for the political credibility of the EU institutions and for their operational efficiency. However the required flexibility imposes to avoid at any cost the set up of a system of national quotas and to promote on the contrary a system of « minima-maxima”. The quota-system was not in fact in the mind of the founders of the European Community but gradually imposed itself all along the speeches and practices of the current EU leaders. The seminar has on the contrary resulted in underlining the relevance of a “system of fork” (minima-maxima), the only one capable to guarantee both the diversity of nationalities and minimum representation of one given nationality (excluding any durable over-representation of a nationality); and the flexibility required for the best possible function/competence allocation.
The big orientations and concrete recommendations resulting from these debates are greatly inspired by some concrete policies implemented by certain Member-States, as well as by modern EU institutions such as the ECB. They reveal that the aspiration for an institutionally poly-centered Europe requires a radical revision of the concept of public service currently inherited from the 50’s and from pyramid-based models. These significant changes are the price to pay for the administrations to recover credibility, legitimacy and efficiency. However it is to be feared that oppositions to such re-consideration of the « acquis-communautaire » of privileges, will make it very difficult for EU-25 to undertake the task.
But the field is open to the future EU institutions or specific European agencies that will emerge in the coming years from growingly prevailing reinforced co-operations.