Holding up a mirror to EU institutions
The workplace policy-bile pumped out of by the EU is at odds with how the EU top brass run their own ship.
Part of the aggrandised myth EU institutions like to propagate about themselves is that they are pioneers in promoting tolerance, gender equality, and diversity in the workplace. Read the promotional literature and you will find effusive descriptions of liberal workplace revolutions and the achievements of Soviet-style five-year plans. Yet, like the Soviet Union, there is an embarrassing mismatch between the trumpeted idealism and the reality.
Since its creation in 1967, DG Employment (Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion at the European Commission) has nominally been responsible for fair employment conditions in the European Union. Rising levels of workplace equality in member states (for which DG Employment take an undue amount of credit) are woefully incongruous with the situation of EU civil servants. Women occupy 19 per cent of senior management positions; compare this with the often decried 35.9 per cent of women in the top levels of the UK civil service.
Yet it is figures like the UK civil service’s that prompt EU proposals on affirmative action. One set of proposals has recently been discussed in the European parliament, for example, which if passed will introduce gratuitous and complicated legislation across the continent. That bureaucracy breeds bureaucracy is unsurprising, but it is hard to take seriously calls for equality from an institution endemically opposed to the concept.
The only European agency where women in management positions outnumber men is in the Institute for Gender Equality (the administration is 95 per cent female). Incontrovertibly, out of all the agencies, this is the one with the strongest prerogative for tackling equality in its workforce. But the message is clear: shout about equality to the world and create a dummy institute to anyone holding a mirror up to the EU bureaucracy itself. So far, the commission is on its fifth ‘action programme’ to tackle inequality within its institutions, taking the same form as every one that has come before it; vague guidelines forgotten until lobby group pressure becomes too annoying.
To take another example (and there are many) of the huge discrepancies between political objectives and the convictions behind them, the plight of the disabled in European institutions is widely ignored. A cursory glance at the EU’s set of lifeless websites reveals an abundance of ‘policy objectives’, ‘activities’ and ‘targets’ aimed at enhancing the inclusion of the disabled in the workforce. Harder to find, of course, are the results of these policies.
EU directives stipulate working environments suitable for people with disabilities: ramps, lifts, accessible doors and so on. It would normally be expected of such noble policies that case zero for change should originate with the policymakers themselves, magnanimous trailblazers that they are. Google search the street address of DG Employment offices in Brussels and nothing comes up. However, from personal experience, the offices are on a steep slope and have steps leading to the entrance, happily keeping the mandarins working for inclusion paraplegic-free. An alleged incident has a disabled woman being wheeled humiliatingly through a garage to attend a meeting encouraging social inclusion. Despite annual internal audits designed to prevent this sort of insensitivity, the offices remain as they have done for many years, unchanged. Convenient contractual obligations mean none of this can be officially confirmed; EU civil servants are barred from speaking about their employers.
The disparity between policy and actual experience within the European institutions is shocking, but it should not surprise us; it merely reflects the chasm between the political class and their underlings. Devoid of any decision-making authority, the lower rungs of the civil service are recruited for their expertise while the policy puppet-masters (the commissioners and the directors) are appointed either by their national governments or through political connections. The people in charge, as is frequently pointed out, have no democratic mandate; moreover, like most professional politicians they are career motivated and have no interest in exposing hypocrisy.
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MEPs, the only democratically mandated actors in EU policy-making spheres, have several times raised the issue in the European Parliament, only to be ignored. By far the most egregious instance of double standards lies in the EU’s obsession with harassment. Endless directives designed to fight for fair conditions in the workplace should reflect an ideological commitment to change; but this is not played out. Reports of harassment in the Institutions are rife. Indeed, in contrast to all the workplace bullying legislation churned out of the European Parliament, using their own internal procedures, a case has never been upheld in the Institutions.
The EU paints a rosy little picture of itself; the hypocrisy of this is evident as much to the casual observer as it is to the readers of the EU-sceptic press. Its institutions toil to affect the social liberation of Europe, devising seemingly progressive legislation to promote workplace equality and dignity, prevent racism and bullying and so on ad infinitum. But these are mordant, politically motivated fabrications, set forth by the self-interested cabal. Would that they swallow their own medicine.
Emmet Livingstone is a former intern at spiked.