Eurocrats forced to earn promotions

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The Independent Online

Reforms of the European Commission reached the highest echelons of its bureaucracy yesterday, forcing its highest-paid officials to face appraisals for the first time.

The scheme, masterminded by Neil Kinnock, the Commission vice-president, is intended to introduce modern management techniques into the EU's 20,000-strong civil service by rewarding merit and cutting the number of promotions granted automatically because of years of service.

The appraisal system is the latest of a series of Kinnock reforms that began after the mass resignation of the European Commission in 1999 over sleaze and cronyism allegations.

Accused at one point by the trade unions of attempting "la Thatcherisation" of Brussels, Mr Kinnock has also sought to break national strangleholds that had developed in some departments.

Several reforms have concentrated on the top officials who earn €12,000 to 15,000 (£7,000-£9,000) per month. One initiative was to ensure top officials did not stay in one post for more than seven years.

The latest plans will require the highest-ranking bureaucrats, known as A1 and A2 officials, who have traditionally been exempt from any staff appraisal, to take tests.

A pilot scheme, to be completed by September, will see the first assessments. Full appraisals of all the senior officials will be done by April 2003. The proposal outlined yesterday includes self- appraisal, and allows appeals against such assessments.

Mr Kinnock, a former Labour Party leader, said: "Regular appraisal of the quality of performance is an essential means of assisting staff. This applies to all personnel and it has particular relevance for the men and women who hold senior management positions since they are, by definition, leaders."

Although Mr Kinnock was, at one stage, on collision course with the trade unions, successful negotiations headed off the threat of a strike and the two biggest unions now back his reform plan.