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The Standing Committee...A historic Coincidence ? - By Frans VANDERSCHELDE


The Honorary President of SCECBU, Frans VANDERSCHELDE, succeeded to Maurice Gousseau as President of the SCECBU between 1981 and 2000. He goes back over the visionary initiatives undertaken during those years.

The question whether  the Standing Committee is a historic coincidence,  is at first sight a question inspired by the curiosity (inquisitiveness).

 

The answer is at the same  time double and simple: the creation of the  Standing Committee is not a coincidence , but the will of a small number of men and convinced unionists.  What really is a coincidence is that these men had the chance to meet and speak with each other in order to achieve their great common dream.

 

The historic truth also obliges us to admit that this coincidence has been helped by sports exchanges between the central banks.

 

In fact , without these sports exchanges, the three founders of our Committee: Andreini, Clotten and Gousseaus  would never have been able to meet and their dream would probably have remained uncompleted. It were three courageous men because all three have overcome the atrocities of the war in a personal and corporal  way.

 

All three wanted to build another world, a world of peace and social justice.

 

All three overcame the war  in a different way:

 

  • the German Clotten, social democrat and convinced unionist, has  first of all been a soldier in the Wehrmacht, has also participated in the offensive of  the east front and was then made prisoner of war;
  • the Italian Andreini, convinced and respected Communist, has played an important role in the antifascistic resistance in Rome;
  • my friend, the French Maurice Gousseau, convinced and antifascistic socialist, has done  the same in Paris.

 

Taking into account the numerous delegates that are  going to attend for the first time a Convention of the Standing Committee, what proves the zing of the Committee, it is useful to recall the way how Maurice Gousseau, our honorary President, evoked the creation of the Committee at the Convention that was held in Frankfort from 19 to 23 October, 1981, the Convention where I have been elected president:

 

" It is in 1964, that an Italian friend, Andreini, came to Paris to take contact with us to tell us that the common Market took more and more importance and that it would be abnormal if  the European central bank unions didn't  become aware of it and didn't  try to regroup in order to tempt to take a stand  every time that it would be necessary, in the interest of the central bank workers.  The French unions met his expectation, and mine in special .   Since the beginning, I have fully sustained this very motivated but unfortunately also deceased friend, while saying that we may have divergent positions on the common Market, or even hostile to the common Market, but that it was necessary to take this reality into account.

It is therefore thanks to him that the Committee is born, although with great difficulty, in Rome in 1964.There was a rather numerous French delegation, and, of the Italian side, all unions were represented:  l'Unione Sindicale, adhesive in the C.G.I.L., a minority staff union  and a minority general union.  Of the side of the Federal Republic of Germany, we have  only got one official involvement, the one of the civil servants.  On the other hand, Wolfgang Clotten, the representative of the ÖTV, came as an individual , because his union organisation had not commissioned him ,  probably because of the mistrust of  this organisation that created itself outside the confederations ".

 

This distrust of which Maurice Gousseau spoke in his intervention, is something we have known and overcome since the creation of the Standing Committee.

 

Since its creation, the Standing Committee has gone through periods of high activity and periods of resignation.

 

We can distinguish four periods:

  • the creation period, which can also be called the period of the great  hopes, lasted until May 68 when several French delegations, that were united at the Congress in Frankfurt, hastily returned to their country;
  • Then a long interruption followed during which the activity of the Committee was limited to personal contacts and to some bilateral contacts ; in 1975, Maurice Gousseau, who meanwhile had become the General Counselor elected by the Staff of the Banque de France, went on a crusade and tried to organise a new Congress of the Standing Committee.
  • This one took place one year later in Rome.  One may speak of the second breath of the Committee.
  • since then, the activities of the Committee have increased, it endowed itself with structures and the number of trade union organisations has grown ever since.

The tentative to put the Standing Committee again on the tracks coincided with the projects of the creation of a European Central Bank, known under the name of Werner plan, the former prime minister of Luxembourg.

 

At that time, the Werner plan provided for the creation of the FECOM, a sort of precursor of the future European Central Bank.

The Standing Committee knew that the directors and the heads of staff had been invited to elaborate a draft statute for  the staff of the FECOM. We were conscious that it was necessary to seize the opportunity and to try by all means to be involved in the development of the staff's terms of employment.

We discussed it during the meeting in Dublin in 1978, and already then we were able to formulate a set of amendments.

 

Unfortunately, the plane Werner plan was thrown to the dungeons when the Americans put an end to the convertibility of the dollars, although the date for the first meeting with the heads of staff had been fixed.  A comparison of the Werner plan and the process that has been followed for the creation of the present European Central Bank, points out that there certainly are many parallels, but that the politicians and the boards of central bank knew how to learn from the Werner failure.

 

Immediately after that, we focused our attention on the Committee of the Governors. In order to understand this move, one should know that at that time, even though a large number of governors received us cordially and with a lot of considerations, the Committee of the Governors as a body refused any official recognition of the Standing Committee.

 

It is at that moment that we took our pilgrim's stick, in order to try to convince, with the help of our different central bank colleagues, the governors individually of the necessity to recognise our Committee.


 

 

I always had the impression that this recognition could have taken place toward the middle of the eighties if there had not been the competition and the above mentioned sometimes difficulties in the relationship between the Standing Committee and Euro - FIET.

 

Indeed, for the Committee of the Governors, having to choose between two active European union trade union organisations within their institutions was a step too far.

Moreover , they used the argument that the Committee of the Governors did not have a mandate to negotiate on behalf of the National Banks.

 

Today one would say that they insisted on the principle of subsidiarity, but this word had not been rediscovered again at the time by Delors.  They based their attitude on the hypothesis that every national central bank was completely free to take its decisions (legally correct) and that there was no interrelationship between the decisions of the Committee of the Governors and the decisions taken by the national central banks (in practice a forgery).

 

At least, the Committee of the Governors nevertheless agreed that the governor of the Danmarks Nationalbank, Mr. Hoffmeyer, would meet a delegation of the Standing Committee and Euro - FIET.

Every union organisation explained its structures there, its way of working and its objectives.

After this first meeting, a lot of regular meetings were organised until the creation of the European Monetary Institute.  It is maybe an irony of history that the last president of the Committee of the Governors whom we negotiated with was the present president of the European Central Bank, Wim Duisenberg.

 

After the creation of the EMI, we immediately contacted the new president, Mr. A. Lamfalussy, and asked him to be involved in the elaboration of the social statute of the future staff of EMI

He accepted our request, although officially, we would not negotiate, since the EMI only called on the advice of social experts.  Thanks to our presence, we could improve the social statute on a series of essential points (see report of the Congress of 1995, in Frankfurt).

 

The great strength of the Standing Committee has always been its capacity of analysing and proposing things.

 

The democratic confrontation of the ideas and the experiences of some people have given remarkable results, but a certain period  was and is always necessary before achieving them.

In fact , it has to be stressed that in  the beginning each organisation was before all convinced of the merits of its own system and its own trade union policies. They didn't understand  the reasons why, in other circumstances and in a completely different environment, trade union organisations could  act in a different way .

 

So, in the beginning, the unions of the north  were convinced that they were superior to those of the south , because they favoured a consensus model, practised the social dialogue and succeeded to avoid the big social conflicts of the south .  Neither did they understand that the trade union organisations of the south wanted to be involved in the policy making of the companies .  For them, the main task, or even the only task, of a trade union organisation, was the defence  of the staff's social statute and especially of the affiliated members.

 

The trade union organisations of the south disapproved " the close collaboration " between employee and employer representatives in the north.

 

They considered that organisations in the North behaved in a rather corporatistic manner. In their eyes the northern organisations refused to analyse  the problems in a large and global perspective and to take into account the struggle of the classes.

 

Only when  the European central bank integration progressed and became a reality, they understood that the differences between the North and the South were less deep and more  subtle.

 

It is only thanks to a common and advanced analysis that they realised that in Europe there are fundamentally two basic models of central banks : the continental model and the Anglo-Saxon one, with, depending on the countries,  important variations.

 

The economic crises  in  the seventies and eighties   heralded the end of the famous " welfare state " that was introduced all over  Europe after the second world war.

 

When Mrs. Tatcher in Great-Britain and other conservative governments in other European countries came into power, the ultra liberal ideas had the wind in their sails .

 

The trade union organisations, and especially those within the national central banks, understood that it was necessary to close the ranks and that the staff's social statute could only be defended efficiently in the long term if central bank activities were maintained or developed.

 

That's  why the Standing Committee spent a great part of its time in searching for new tasks and activities.

 

The Committee was so successful in doing so that it is regularly consulted by the research services of the national central banks, the European Parliament, the union and employers' organisations and the press.

 

Among the more appreciated studies, we quote those on the situation of the agencies and the network of branches, the social consequences of the introduction of the new payment systems, the impact of the development of activities in the field of statistics and, last but not least, the printing  and production of banknotes.


 

 

Of course, we are very conscious that a union organisation or a European union committee is not the same as  a research service and that it is more important to make the union action successful.

 

The great  difference between a research unit and a union is that a union makes its studies and its analyses with the intention to reach a goal and (with the purpose) to be able to defend the staff's interests better.

 

 This means that a unionism that wants to be credible should take initiative and should not eschew reality, but must have the courage to take it into account.

 

However, I believe that the Standing Committee may be pleased that so many economic researchers and responsible staff members of  central banks. The European Central Bank co-operates with the Committee and  works within its processes.

 

For the Committee,  this is  its real war chest.

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