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05.31.19

António Campinos Didn’t Even Last a Year

Posted in Europe, Patents at 1:43 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

It’s like Benoît Battistelli still controls the Office in absentia

EPO change

Summary: The Staff Union of the European Patent Office explains why the ‘new’ EPO President is more or less the same as his predecessor, Benoît Battistelli, who put him in this job

WHEN Battistelli came to the European Patent Office (EPO) it took a couple of years before things started to really heat up (breakdown started 3-4 years later). António Campinos seems to have lost the staff’s faith (or benefit of the doubt) within just months and less than a year after his arrival there’s already a call for strike. On Wednesday the Staff Union of the European Patent Office (SUEPO) linked to the World Health Organization’s new page about burnout* and the following day came out a 2-page publication (“Seven reasons why Mr Campinos’ first year is far below expectations” by SUEPO Munich, dated yesterday). It is “the most recent SUEPO Munich publication,” told us our source, adding the joke that “Antonio Campinos, according to the Administrative Council the award winning social peace keeper!”

Here it is in HTML form:

Munich, 30.05.2019
su19016mp – 0.2.1/0.3.2

Seven reasons why Mr Campinos’ first year is far below expectations

Almost one year after the arrival of Mr Campinos as President of the EPO, we note with regret that the social situation has not improved, and that none of the root causes of the many issues that trouble our organisation have been addressed. There are many reasons for discontent and it is high time to voice our claims:

1. Fair settlement for all SUEPO Officials/Staff Representatives abusively sanctioned by the Battistelli administration

Mr Campinos suggests that those Staff Representatives who were abusively sacked and now claim the status quo ante and/or restitutio ad integrum are making “excessive claims”. There is nothing excessive in demanding that they now be in the situation in which they would have been if they had not been unlawfully sanctioned. In his Communiqué of 20 May 2019, Mr Campinos even dared to suggest that they were claiming “significant amounts of taxpayer’s money” which should be handled with “due diligence, due process and careful legal assessment”. This suggestion is disingenuous and offensive. It is the Office who, through unlawful acts, has caused the damage and is now engaging in victim blaming. This also contrasts ironically with Mr Campinos’ attempt in the Budget and Finance Committee meeting on 21 May 2019 to obtain no less than EUR 600 million for allegedly necessary and urgent building investments. Some delegations seemed to have spotted that the real amount might be even higher, close to EUR one billion!

2. Fair reporting instead of artificially underrating hundreds of colleagues with “(far) below expectations”

Mr Battistelli proudly claimed that the reforms he introduced – mainly cutting staff benefits and applying greater pressure on staff through a new reporting system – had secured the long-term sustainability of the Office. Mr Campinos’ financial report of December 2018 continued along the same lines. It claimed an “all-time high” operating result of EUR 390 million, rising revenues, and increased efficiency. The EPO Reserve Fund for Pensions and Social Security was topped up with another EUR 200 million. EPO staff was thanked, but not rewarded, for these good results. Instead, Mr Campinos reintroduced a hidden box marking and labelled it “(far) below expectations”, with a record-breaking 8% of staff supposedly receiving this rating. According to our information, the actual figure may be even higher with DG1 being particularly targeted, especially in directorates considered to be less “productive”.

3. Respect for staff instead of threats of incompetence procedure

Only two months after starting his new presidency, Mr Campinos dismissed an examiner colleague for alleged professional incompetence. He did so even though the Central Staff Committee (CSC) had drawn his attention to the unlawfulness of any procedure based on Art. 52 ServRegs (dealing with professional incompetence), until and unless implementing rules to Art. 52 are defined. In GCC meetings, Ms Bergot declared that 7 or 8 procedures are still in the pipeline. In February 2019, instead of waiting for consensus with the CSC, Mr Campinos nevertheless forced through the implementation of new performance management guidelines with a 4-point scale for retroactively assessing the performance of the year 2018. This reminds us strongly of the Battistelli times. The newly-introduced rating “far below the expectations” will put or keep a staff member on a track leading to possible dismissal for incompetence. Clearly, procedures for dismissing staff for incompetence are meant to be used only in truly exceptional cases. The exponential increase of staff underrated at “(far) below the expectations” is worrying and reminds us of the early declarations of Ms Bergot that “there should be a turnover of 10% at the EPO”.

4. Fair career progression for everyone, no managerial arbitrariness

Staff members have expressed major concerns about the new career system. The comments in the Willis Tower Watson survey are eloquent: “Reduce targets and pressure and clearly define minimum targets for getting a reward/step.” “[We need] honesty and transparency from higher management concerning planning, goals and rewards, including admitting errors.” “Reform the new career system to make the achievement of a pensionable reward fair – transparent – deterministic”. Following these results, Mr Campinos introduced new “Guidelines for the reward
exercise 2019” which do exactly the opposite and state that “there is no automatic link between appraisal reports and the reward exercise. While performance is a pre-condition, it may not be sufficient to warrant a reward.” The reward exercise will thus continue to be arbitrary and lack transparency. Regardless of the recent white-washing initiatives concerning Gender Diversity and Inclusion, women who are pregnant, work part-time or take parental leave are still affected negatively in their career and newcomers continue to be an asset in which the EPO refuses to invest (only 15% received a reward compared to the EPO average of 50%).

5. People-oriented management, instead of management by fear

As FICSA wrote in its letter of 23 May 2019, Mr Campinos should understand, “given [his] legal background and as a former EU official, that the leftover dysfunctional policies of the EPO would not be acceptable within the EU institutions”. By keeping in place the senior managers of the Battistelli administration and by refusing to condemn their most egregious abuses, Mr Campinos is de facto endorsing them. In the Willis Towers Watson survey, 63% of the respondents consider that insufficient effort is made to get the opinions of staff and 58% do not feel free to speak their mind. Even more worryingly, only 20% state that they do feel free to speak up. Nearly half (49%) responded negatively to the statement that “all staff are treated with respect here” and 44% of staff feel that they lack any opportunity for personal development. A proper assessment of the psychosocial risks at the EPO is becoming urgent.

6. Fair assessment of the EPO financial situation, no pension reform based on a heavily
biased study

“A dystopian fiction!” This is how the European Patent Institute (EPI) qualified the Financial Study performed by Mercer in the Budget and Finance Committee meeting. In Mercer’s “Matrix”, the fee income is understated (part 1) and the return on invested capital is deliberately omitted (part 2). These are some of the tricks used by the consultants to artificially create an alleged financial gap.

7. Fair salary and pension adjustment procedure for the coming years, no erosion of purchasing power

At the EPO, financial studies tend to be a prelude to cuts in staff benefits. The latest study is no exception. Immediately after presenting the results of the Financial Study, management cited the coming reforms aimed at covering the artificial financial gap: the pensions, the tax adjustment on pensions, the yearly salary adjustment (which also affects pensions), and the education allowance. Since November 2018, the number of retiring employees has increased sharply. More will follow if Mr Campinos continues to refuse to commit in writing to transitional measures and a respect for the legitimate expectations of (future) pensioners. His statement in GCC meetings: “I come from a world where acquired rights don’t exist. There are no acquired rights” is far from reassuring and all the more surprising from a former EU official.

SUEPO Munich

The gloves actually came off some time back; we’ve meanwhile created new Wiki pages, e.g. for Bergot, Minnoye and Bristows. It certainly looks like a tough ride ahead; Campinos has changed virtually nothing. Things can get even worse.

In the words of “Concerned observer” (earlier this week):

It seems that Märpel may have identified an explanation for the EPO’s management seemingly inexplicable attempt to sell the fantasy that the EPO’s finances are in a precarious position.

https://rip-kat.blogspot.com/2019/05/financial-study.html

This is no joke. Do applicants really want the EPO to prioritise, above all else, cutting their internal costs for providing the services (examination and opposition) that are the very reason for the EPO’s existence? Avoiding waste is one thing. However, there comes a point where cutting costs has an inevitable, detrimental impact upon service level.

Given the many complaints about the downward trend in the quality of examination at the EPO (including on this blog), I would have thought that the EPO’s management would by now have got the message that applicants do NOT support any drift towards a “cheap and cheerful” approach to examination. This therefore raises another question: why on earth would the EPO’s management be pursuing an approach that is not supported by applicants?

Whilst I can only speculate, one possibility is that it has something to do with the remuneration for those managers who can demonstrate that they have made a significant “saving” for the EPO. If this is actually what is happening, it would suggest that we can now expect intense competition for the top management jobs at the EPO … from candidates motivated solely by the possibilities for self-enrichment (at the expense of applicants and less senior EPO staff).

It would be wonderful if it could be proven that such speculation is wide of the mark, and that something far less sinister is going on. We shall just have to wait and see whether any such proof emerges … though I will not hold my breath waiting for it.

A lot of low-quality patents would also be good for the litigation ‘industry’ and patent trolls — a subject we shall touch in our next post.
______
* Meanwhile, the media is covering another story, “World Health Organization classifies ‘gaming disorder’ as an illness” (dozens of articles like this over the past few days, e.g. “‘Gaming disorder’ officially on World Health Organization’s list of diseases” and more in our daily links).

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