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02.03.18

Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on “Jurisdictional Immunity of International Organisations and Rights of Their Staff”

Posted in Europe, Patents at 8:10 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Resolution No. 2206 adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on 26 January 2018

Local copies of relevant documents (PDF):

Summary: A reader-contributed article about the issues associated with immunity at the EPO and what European officials have been saying lately

On 26 January 2018 the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) held a debate on a Resolution dealing with the subject of “Jurisdictional immunity of international organisations and rights of their staff”.

The Assembly adopted the Resolution (no. 2206) and an accompanying Recommendation (No. 2122).

Both documents can be downloaded from the website of the Council of Europe.

Resolution No. 2206 is here.

Recommendation No. 2122 is here.

The story behind this action of the Parliamentary Assembly goes back to a written declaration (No. 596) of 25 June 2015 entitled “Rollback of fundamental rights at the European Patent Office” which was tabled by the French parliamentarian Mr. Pierre-Yves Le Borgn’ and signed by a total of 82 members of the Assembly.

The written declaration was followed by a motion for a resolution tabled by Mr. Le Borgn’ and others on 6 October 2015. The motion for a resolution (Doc. 13905) was entitled “Jurisdictional immunity of international organisations and rights of their staff”.

On 29 November 2017 the Legal Affairs Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly issued a report on the matter including a draft resolution.

The Rapporteur for the Legal Affairs Committee was Mr. Volker Ullrich (a member of the German Federal Parliament). One of the expert witnesses heard by the Committee was the Dutch human rights expert Prof. Liesbeth Zegveld who has played a prominent role in attempting to tackle human rights abuses at the EPO.

Point 44 of the Report refers specifically to the situation at the EPO: “Following the case brought by SUEPO and the other unions before the Dutch courts, EPO management had started a campaign against members of SUEPO; some of them had been dismissed or suspended, or their salaries or pensions had been cut. As the EPO is subject to no public scrutiny, its Administrative Council, the organisation’s supervisory body, has done nothing to prevent unfair disciplinary proceedings and internal investigations. As a result, the activities of IOs, which often lie beyond the democratic scrutiny of national parliaments and the media, should be more transparent and monitored more closely by States, which are held responsible for the abuses taking place in these organisations. This case also shows the importance of upholding freedom of association in cases of disputes with employers, especially if the employer is an IO, and the need for trade unions to have access to all available means of redress.

On 24 January 2018 the Social Affairs Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly issued an Opinion on the Report of the Legal Affairs Committee and included some proposed amendments to the draft resolution.

The Rapporteur for the Social Affairs Committee was Mr. Stefan Schennach (a member of the Austrian Parliament).

The Opinion of the Social Affairs Committee contains further comments about the unacceptable situation at the EPO. For example: “It is no secret that the signatories of the original motion for a resolution had the situation at the European Patent Office (EPO) in mind when tabling this motion. The EPO – like other international organisations – is not exactly a paragon of transparency when it comes to its internal workings, but the situation has deteriorated so badly over the last few years that there has even been some media attention. From this media coverage it appears that the President of the EPO installed in 2010 has waged a campaign against staff who oppose his reform efforts (with staff representatives members of the trade union SUEPO being in the first line of fire): by 2016, three elected staff representatives had been dismissed, others had been demoted and/or had seen their salaries or pensions cut. Staff complain about a campaign of intimidation, harassment and discrimination, resulting in burn-out and other sickness, and even suicides: Over the past four years, five EPO staff members have committed suicide, two of them at their place of work.”

The Rapporteur had some strong words of criticism for the current style of management at the EPO: “Quite frankly, if the “success” of an international organisation such as the EPO is built on campaigns of harassment and intimidation which drive staff members to suicide, then the price of this success is too high. This should be obvious to the governing body of the international organisations in question, and thus, ideally, in case of such abuses, the governing body would ensure that the international organisation’s management stops the abuse and goes back to respecting staff rights. If this is not the case, then the internal remedy system of the international organisations should be able to put things right again. This is why I fully support the proposals made by Mr Ullrich and the Committee on Legal Affairs to ensure that all international organisations introduce appropriate mechanisms to protect the rights of staff, along with procedures for lodging appeals.”

Following a debate held on 26 January 2018, the Assembly adopted the proposed Resolution and the accompanying Recommendation.

A video of the debate is accessible on the Council of Europe Web site.

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