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Tuesday, November 15, 2005

You don't have to be mad to work here...

I saw this in the Sunday Telegraph . When you read stuff like this, you wonder how any honest person can claim the EU is a democratic alternative to the USA.

EC declared us mad so it could sack us, claim staff By Justin Stares in Brussels
(Filed: 13/11/2005)

The European Commission has been accused of trying to have troublesome staff declared mentally ill in order to provide an excuse for giving them the sack.

Critics claim that the commission has resorted to tactics "worthy of the KGB" by pronouncing staff unfit for work after grillings from psychiatrists.

Paul van Buitenen: 'The commission is violating fundamental rights'
The practice is alleged to have developed unofficially because the commission's generous employment terms make it all but impossible to dismiss staff. In the past, employees who have had run-ins with the commission, or simply underperformed, have generally had to be persuaded to leave by offers of expensive early retirement packages.

Among those who claims to have been a victim of the new tactic is Jose Sequeira, 58, a Portuguese official who is now taking the commission to court over what he says was a deliberate attempt to sack him using psychiatric tests.

Mr Sequeira, who worked in the commission's ministry for development, says he was astonished to read personnel reports which said his behaviour "sowed doubt regarding the state of his mental health".

He was put on permanent sick leave after tests found he suffered "verbal hyper-productivity" and a "lack of conceptual content" in his speech.

"They offered me early retirement in February 2004 and I refused," he said. "The medical service then began to call me straight away asking me to come in for consultations, which I thought was strange. A month later I received notice that I had been placed on compulsory medical leave for psychiatric reasons but told that the commission would drop the issue if I agreed to early retirement.

"I protested, and a few days later the doctor came to my desk with security guards to physically remove me from my building. There is a system of psychiatric trials in place in the commission and I am a victim. I am not the only one, but the first to decide to fight the system."

Mr Sequeira, a career diplomat first employed by the commission in 1987, claims that his relationship with his superiors soured when they became wrongly convinced that he was planning to blow the whistle on an internal fraud scandal. He says that he had no knowledge of any fraud, but that he then fell victim to a campaign to discredit him.

A document sent to his private e-mail from the commission's personnel department claimed that his "perturbing" behaviour dated to 1999. In 2001, according to the same document, an internal report on his mental health revealed signs of "megalomania and paranoia". Another document said that he "suffers from an astonishing lack of daily awareness in the world of work". It concluded: "All this signals a pathological state."

To prove that he was of sound mind Mr Sequeira underwent psychiatric tests at four different hospitals, seen by the Sunday Telegraph, all of which found nothing wrong with him. Their findings were declared inadmissible by the commission as it would accept testimony from only its own accredited medical list.

Mr Sequeira's case has been taken up by a Dutch Euro MP, Paul van Buitenen, who tabled a question at the European Parliament about his treatment. "Following his refusal to accept early retirement the official was forced under duress to consult a psychiatrist, even though he had just received the results of his biannual medical examination, which made no mention of any anomaly or pathological condition," he wrote.

Mr van Buitenen added: "The commission is violating the most fundamental rights of an official in its unstatutory [sic] abuse of the remit of the institution's medical services."

In a written reply Siim Kallas, the Finnish commissioner responsible for internal administration, said: "As a rule no communications are made relating to individual staff issues." He added that it was inappropriate to comment further while the court case was pending.

Mr Sequeira is not the only former employee to accuse the commission of using specious medical grounds to prise him from office. Ataide Portugal, a colleague of Mr Sequeira, left the commission two years ago after a long dispute. "They said that if I wanted they would declare me unfit to work as a way of solving my problems," he said. In the end he declared himself unfit to work.

A third employee, still at the commission, has also begun court proceedings after being summoned for psychiatric testing.

The method of getting rid of targeted employees through psychiatric reports was described by a lawyer in Mr Sequeira's defence team as "worthy of the KGB".


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