Poland has become involved in a long-running dispute over alleged harassment at an EU body, going against the wishes of the European Commission.
Warsaw weighed into the scandal at the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) just as the European Parliament’s budgetary control committee is set to refuse to approve the EESC’s accounts, with MEPs to say Thursday that it failed to adequately protect and support victims of the alleged misconduct.
The complaints were made against Jacek Krawczyk, who served as one of the EESC’s three senior group presidents for seven years. Belgian authorities announced in June their intention to prosecute Krawczyk over accusations of psychological harassment that were also investigated by the EU’s anti-fraud office (OLAF).
Krawczyk always denied any wrongdoing. He left his position this month, having earlier rejected calls to step down, and he also withdrew his candidacy to become the next overarching president at the EESC — an EU body bringing together employers, workers and civil society organizations.
However, Poland put forward Krawczyk as a delegate for the EESC’s next five-year term, which starts in October (there is no indication of which job he would get), triggering a direct intervention by the Commission. In August, it wrote to the Council of the EU, urging Poland to reconsider the reappointment of Krawczyk.
“I firmly believe that presumption of innocence as a fundamental citizen’s right ought to be respected by European institutions” — Jacek Krawczyk
“The [EU] treaty confers on the Commission the responsibility of providing the Council with an opinion before the latter can appoint members” of the EESC, said a Commission spokesperson, adding that the process was generally about checking whether EESC candidates represent employers, workers or civil organizations and have no conflicts of interest.
“However, it seems appropriate for the Commission to also make other relevant considerations, with the general aim of preserving the reputation, integrity and working conditions of all EU institutions and bodies as well as of their staff,” the spokesperson said.
A Polish diplomat said Warsaw was standing by Krawczyk after the Commission’s objections had been considered by the employers’ organization Lewiatan that nominated him.
“The Polish government has not been officially asked to reconsider the nomination of Mr. Krawczyk to the EESC for the period 2020-2025,” the diplomat said. “Mr. Krawczyk was nominated by one of the employer’s organizations and this organization maintained the nomination … If the organization maintained the candidate, the procedure does not provide for his replacement at this stage.”
Krawczyk told POLITICO he was confident of returning to the EESC.
“Lewiatan has reconfirmed my candidacy for EESC membership for the years 2020-2025,” he wrote in an email. “This decision is based on the same reasons as initially presented to the Polish government a few months ago — my vast contribution to the EESC work over the last 16 years as well as my 30 years very successful, highly recognized and impeccable managerial reputation in Poland.”
Krawczyk’s reappointment still needs to be approved by EU countries by reinforced qualified majority. The majority of the EESC’s 3o0+ members for the 2020-2025 term were appointed in September with unanimous backing from EU countries.
“My expectation is very modest — that the Commission and the Council will respect the choice of the member state,” Krawczyk said. “I firmly believe that presumption of innocence as a fundamental citizen’s right ought to be respected by European institutions in each and every case.”
The European Commission said it had no comment on Poland ignoring its objections. Lewiatan did not reply to a request for comment on its decision to support Krawczyk’s reappointment despite the concerns raised.
Meanwhile, the European Parliament plans to send a message to the EESC and the Council that it believes the affair is far from being resolved.
Lawmakers on the budgetary control committee, who in February postponed budget approval for the EESC because of the harassment complaints, are expected to refuse to approve its accounts — so-called discharge — because of concerns about the EESC’s handling of the case.
“We want to point out by our decision … that we cannot grant discharge if we don’t see improvement on the ground,” said Tomáš Zdechovský, a Czech MEP from the European People’s Party.
Zdechovský, who is leading the parliament’s budget oversight for the EESC, said the EU body had done too little to help the victims of alleged misconduct and adopt measures that would allow it to sanction EESC members in the future.
“Why haven’t victims of the incident been offered help so that they could resume their work in their previous units or positions? Why hasn’t even a scandal of such a magnitude speeded up a lengthy reform of the code of conduct for members?” he asked, adding: “Unfortunately, still too many statements of the EESC’s secretariat and presidency only stay on the paper.”
Mikuláš Peksa, a Czech Green MEP, said he was concerned about the possibility of Krawczyk returning to the EU body.
“I am afraid that it would not be a wise decision,” Peksa said. “His presence complicates all the systemic changes within EESC necessary to prevent any similar harassment cases in future.”
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