Union sues Prodi over 'favouritism' to his former aide

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The Independent Online

A staff union in Brussels began proceedings yesterday against Romano Prodi, president of the European Commission, claiming he displayed favouritism and broke official rules by levering an aide into a senior post.

A staff union in Brussels began proceedings yesterday against Romano Prodi, president of the European Commission, claiming he displayed favouritism and broke official rules by levering an aide into a senior post.

Officials in Brussels were taken by surprise at the move, which was seen as an attempt to turn the tables on the European Commission. The Commission had promised a new, reformed appointments regime based on promotion on merit rather than national quotas.

The Fédération de la Fonction Publique, which says it represents 3,000 officials, made its complaint over the "illegal" and "improper" decision to give a post to Ricardo Levi when he was moved from his job as Mr Prodi's press spokesman.

The six powerful staff unions in Brussels are bitterly opposed to reforms being drawn up by the European Commission vice-president, Neil Kinnock, which include a review of staffing in all sectors.

So controversial has this package of measures proved that the hierarchy has been bracing itself for industrial action. But by focusing instead on the case of Mr Levi, the union has probably found a more effective and less risky way of embarrassing the president of the Commission.

The allegation is particularly sensitive because the previous Commission was forced to resign over claims of sleaze, favouritism and nepotism.

A long-time ally and friend of the president, Mr Levi was moved sideways in May after press criticism of Mr Prodi, and was given the post of director of the Commission's think-tank, the Forward Studies Unit.

Launching the case yesterday, Loek Rijnoudt, the union president, said that if an internal complaint fails - as expected - to achieve results, the union would appeal to the part of the European Court of Justice that deals with such cases.

Mr Rijnoudt said yesterday that official rules had beenbroken by the failure to advertise the vacancy, interviewcandidates and have the appointment approved by the entire Commission, and claimed that violated his right to be considered for promotion.

Moreover, Mr Rijnoudt added, the need to accommodate Mr Levi had necessitated a game of "musical chairs" to create a vacancy.

Mr Rijnoudt said the union "considers such procedures are unacceptable because they are illegal and because theyviolate the principles of equal treatment of all officials. Furthermore such actions tarnish the reputation and image of the Commission."

Those suggestions were rejected by the Commission, which said that Mr Levi was classed as a "temporary agent", a category of employees for whom it is normal "to change their duties at the request of the institution".

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