Background – fighting on the back seat
The background to this is the fractious relationship between the EPO President Mr Battistelli and the senior EPO management on one side, and the EPO staff on the other side, as represented by their elected representatives and the staff union, SUEPO on the other. The picture is not complete without considering the European Patent Organisation's Adminstrative Council (AC).
|"It's all his fault, he started it in the first place!"|
"Not true, she started it. she hit me back!"
|The car's an AC|
What’s happened now
Matters came to a head last weekend. The Investigative Unit of the EPO paid an unexpected visit to two officials in the Hague, who were taken away for an interview. On their return, they were badly shaken and required medical treatment and have been on sick leave since. Then two days ago, three or four further SUEPO officials, who knew they were being investigated for alleged disciplinary offences, were suspended from service and banned from EPO premises. The Office says, with a perfectly straight face, that it is not targeting the union. It just so happens that, at a stroke, the union has been decapitated -- but this is simply an unfortunate and entirely incidental side effect, or so we are supposed to believe.
* Two of the officials are accused of having coerced a staff member into having signed an illegal contract three years ago (so hardly representing a clear and present danger). You see, SUEPO has a contract for providing legal support to staff members who are in a legal dispute with the Office. EPO management takes the view that this contract is unfair and even illegal under national laws, because it can require repayment of any financial support if the member breaches the rules attached to the contract, such as by engaging directly with the Office.
* Two of the officials, who include the high-profile Els Hardon, are accused of having breached the first (and second) rule of Investigation Club: You do not talk about the Investigation Club. That’s right. If you’re the subject of a disciplinary investigation and decide to waive your own right to confidentiality, you have automatically exacerbated the situation and have committed a (further) serious breach of staff regulations which can lead to suspension from duties.
* Ms. Hardon is also being investigated for having allegedly assisted “another staff member” – this being the “House Ban” Board of Appeal member suspended last year for allegedly spreading defamatory materials.
Settle down, boys and girls. Sharpened pencils at the ready, you have as long as you like to answer this question: What national laws apply in Eponia?
As you no doubt noticed, the first two union officials are at fault for having had someone sign a contract that may be illegal under national (German) law ("Such wickedness!", one might exclaim, "staff cannot be allowed to break German law!").
The second two officials are at fault for actions that would be upheld in any human rights court or labour court in any EPC state: union officials letting staff know that management was disciplining them "Even greater wickedness! And how can they think of suggesting that the law protects them when they are in the EPO?!").
So, do national laws apply in Eponia or not? The answer requires a bit of mental agility: the law of the land can simultaneously apply and not apply. Two people can be working in the same office, cheek by jowl, with one benefiting from and being subject to the law of Germany, while the other is entirely deprived of the protections provided by the same law. Or even more bizarrely, one may be doing two things at once, e.g. typing an email and talking to someone. The speech might be deemed to be illegal under national law, but the written word might be immune from any legal considerations. Neat trick.
Be in no doubt. These suspensions are very damaging to the EPO. They form part of a larger strategy which probably will involve the EPO management scratching its head in feigned confusion some day soon. “Where have all the staff representatives gone?” they will ask after firing the representatives. "It's not right that you are unrepresented. Let’s hold some new elections. Who feels brave enough to stand?"
|It Came From Eponia|
STOP PRESS: the Enlarged Board decision on the House Ban has issued and Merpel will follow up with details very shortly.
Further reading on activity in Eponia
A French Member of Parliament writes to his Minister here and here
EPO recruitment advertisement for a new Investigator here
Is there a conspiracy against the President? Handelsblad here
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Eponia: Land of Suspense and Suspensions Reviewed by Merpel on Thursday, November 19, 2015 Rating: