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For a strong international public service

The importance of international organizations in Europe

The numerous international and European organizations based in Europe employ together many tens of thousands of international and European civil servants. The members of personnel of these organizations are subject to various legal regimes and have to appeal against administrative decisions before different administrative tribunals (e.g., ILOAT, UNAT, EUCST, OECDAT). CERN being one of the larger European organizations, it is important that we stay abreast of the latest developments in this area. Therefore, the Staff Association sent two representatives to a colloquium “New developments in the legal protection of international and European civil servants”, held in Luxembourg the 1st and 2nd of April 2011. 

This is not the place to review in detail the different aspects of the recent evolution in the various legal systems, which were presented there (the proceedings can be consulted in the Secretariat of the Staff Association). Nevertheless, we would like to share with you some of the thoughts of Paul Dühr, Secretary General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Luxembourg, who opened the Colloquium.

It is not easy to be an international civil servant these days

Mr Dühr started by saying that, based on his 25-year-long diplomatic career, half of it working with international organizations, he had to admit that these days it is not easy to be an international civil servant. Indeed, staff reductions, non-indexation of salaries, precarious contracts, increased subcontracting, physical or moral attacks on international staff and their families are all difficulties to which the international civil service is increasingly subjected. The situation is becoming critical in many places, with demands for ever bigger cuts in the budgets of these international Organizations.

Challenged from all sides

He explained that the international civil service is being challenged from three directions.
First, there is the 2008 financial crisis and its sequels. The absence of even elementary regulation or control mechanisms of the American banking sector has plunged the Western world, and beyond, into an unprecedented economic crisis, resulting in lower tax revenues and hence reduced means available for the national and international public service. This leads almost automatically to a questioning of staff numbers and salaries, rightly or wrongly.

Second, and more worryingly, this world economic crisis resulted in a withdrawal into themselves of several countries, many being major economic actors, thus casting doubt on the usefulness and effectiveness of international bodies. This reflex is well known and happens all too often. When one or more States implement or allow policies that weaken the international community, it will almost never be their fault but that of a failed global governance. The ideal culprit in these cases is the network of international bodies and civil servants. This denial of confidence often translates into a crisis of confidence within the international organizations themselves.

Finally, when the economic situation is bad, we note that some have a tendency to put the public and private sectors in opposition to each other. Such attacks were previously mostly limited to the national public sector, but opponents of the civil service no longer hesitate today to discredit the international civil service using populistic arguments, such as complaining about inflated salaries, undue fringe benefits, inefficiency, arrogance, and mismanagement of the national and international civil servants. According to them only the private sector can guarantee efficiency and an adequate return on investment, these being some sort of general virtue exclusively inherent to private enterprise. Of course, one can compare employment conditions in the private and public sectors, consider their pros and cons, and weigh advantages and disadvantages of the respective career prospects. Yet it seems that all too often this theme is abused for political domestic reasons, and that discussing employment conditions is only an alibi. Nevertheless, this populist rhetoric leaves a bitter taste in the mouth of the deserving civil servants of their country or of the international community.

Today, as yesterday, a strong and motivated international civil service is essential

What a long way we have travelled since the golden age of the international civil service in the 1950s and 1960s when the international organizations were at the heart of European and worldwide progress, economic growth, peace keeping, and integration. How is it that at a time of increased regional integration and global exchanges the recognition of the work of the international civil service is so low?

It is essential that answers be found to these questions. An international order, based on the recognition of core values, relayed through a network of international, multilateral and regional organizations which each can count on competent and motivated staff is the only possible answer to the problems the world faces today, as it did yesterday. Only a well-organized global governance, with staff capable of measuring up to the challenges of its various tasks and provided with adequate resources, can assure that the international community will be able to function in a spirit of mutual respect, move beyond national selfishness, and escape the temptations of national isolationism.

We can only hope that these wise words of Paul Dühr will find some echo in the discussions between Member State delegates in their next meetings, be it at CERN, or in the many other international organizations, in Europe or elsewhere.