5th ECO Council of Administration - Copenhagen

The fifth Council of the European Communications Office (ECO) met last 22-23 November in Copenhagen, chaired by Chris van Diepenbeek of the Netherlands. It was his last meeting as chairman of the ECO Council.

The Council approved Turkey’s request to reduce its ECO financial contribution from ten to five contribution units. The Turkish administration therefore opted to request an amendment to the Convention. More specifically, Annex A of the Convention will be modified.

The duly mandated administrations began the amendment signature process at this Council. Several states signed the amendment; for most this depends on an internal ratification, acceptance or approval process. Such was the case of Portugal, Spain, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Turkey. Although formally not a contracting party to the Convention, Belgium also signed the amendment.

The amendment means that the contribution of each ECO Convention contracting party will increase by 2 percent when it takes force. But this will only take place if all the Convention signatory states endorse the amendment, as any change to the Convention can only be implemented by unanimous agreement.

Although not on the agenda, at Sweden’s suggestion the Council held a lengthy discussion regarding the future admission of ECC international experts based on the nationality criterion. According to the Swedish proposal only nationals from ECO member states would be admitted and not those from all of the CEPT. The Netherlands and Spain supported the proposal, which generated some conflict, as the director and the Council chairman both had reservations, considering that it was discriminatory for some European Union member states who are not ECO members, namely Malta and the Czech Republic, and because it might infringe Danish law or exclude the best candidates. Portugal suggested that this criterion be included in future hiring as a ‘preferential factor’, which was seconded by France and Switzerland. The Council mandated the director to seek legal advice in this area. 

Regarding current issues, the 2012 budget was approved along with the ECO financial plan for the 2013-14 period, both previously debated at the spring Council. Note that the contribution unit level will remain unchanged next year and most likely for the next three years, as has occurred since 2003 by decision of the Council. This decision has to do with the financial crisis affecting the administrations and also with the fact that the Office’s reserve fund, known as net capital, is too high, virtually triple what is advisable, as Portugal has repeatedly emphasised.

The replacement of the current Office auditor, who has been providing services to the ECO for 20 years, was also discussed. This proposal originated with Sweden and once again divided the council members, who ended up recommending that the director should present a first analysis of the costs involved in preparing a competition for the open position. The director should present a recommendation on the subject at the next spring Council.

The Council also approved the ECO work programme for 2012, adjusted to fit the needs of the Electronic Communications Committee (ECC) and its working groups, especially bearing in mind the termination at the end of 2011 of the Regulatory Affairs working group (WG RA).

Likewise approved was the second contract extension, for two more years, of an expert (Alexander Gulyaev, Russia) and the hiring in 2012 of new experts to replace the two experts whose contracts are ending, one of them the current ECO vice-director (Marc le Devendec, France), whose hiring process was discussed and agreed. The director should present a recommendation to the next spring Council, for which he will be supported by a human resources consultant. The replacement of the current and only Office expert on Numbering, Names and Addresses (Jukka Rakkolainen, Finland) was however somewhat controversial, as some administrations contested the respective need.

The inclusion of a new pensions option in the staff rules and internal instructions was discussed. It implies recourse to an identified and protected ECO bank account for depositing staff pensions (up to a maximum 13.8 percent of the ECO base salary scale, applied to both the staff member and the Office). The Council decided to endorse the proposal after the director confirms its legality.

The Council appointed by acclamation Norway (Geir Sundal, current vice-chairman) to the position of chairman and Switzerland (Peter Pauli) as vice-chairman of the ECO for a three-year mandate.

The Council's first day coincided with the 20th anniversary of the Office's creation, an event commemorated with a small reception.

The next meeting of the ECO Council has been scheduled for 9-10 May 2012.