President of the European Patent Office (EPO) Benoit Battistelli is a disgrace to his country, the French National Assembly heard Wednesday.
"La présence du Français Benoît Battistelli à la tête de l’Office nuit aujourd’hui gravement à l’image de notre pays," stated MP Philip Cordery in an address to the secretary of state for industry, Christophe Sirugue.
The extraordinary personal attack comes as a number of politicians, media organizations and staff unions across Europe have joined a growing chorus of criticism against the civil servant for continued attacks on his own workers.
For over a year, Battistelli has held several key members of the EPO staff union in disciplinary hearings and on restricted pay, claiming that they had been intimidating other employees. Last month, he took the momentous decision to fire the union's former secretary, Laurent Prunier, despite an explicit resolution of the EPO's governing Administrative Council telling him not to do so.
Those outside EPO senior management claim Battistelli's accusations are baseless, that the disciplinary procedures are a sham and the staff are being targeted for resisting Battistelli's reform efforts, many of which give him greater personal power over the international organization.
Support for that perspective came this week from the International Labour Organization Administration Tribunal (ILO-AT), which reviewed two EPO decisions to deny challenges to disciplinary hearings ordered by the president.
The ILO found not only that the challenges had been handled improperly [PDF] but that the EPO's Appeals Committee itself was illegitimate [PDF] since two of its five members had not been selected by the staff committee. They were instead "volunteers" selected by EPO management. The staff committee had refused to put people forward because it felt that the process was unjust in the first place, so the president moved ahead regardless.
The upshot of that decision – sent back to the EPO – will likely mean that every internal appeal since October 2014 will have to be reheard by a newly constituted appeals committee.
Back in the French National Assembly, secretary of state for industry Christophe Sirugue referenced that ILO decision and said it "confirmed the extremely negative nature of the decisions taken" by EPO leadership recently.
Sirugue also noted that "the actions of the leadership of the European Patent Office have been the subject of convictions by the courts of the Netherlands, by the ILO bodies and the Board of Directors of the agency."
MP Cordery urged the French government to use its position as one of the 36 members of the EPO's Administration Council to force action against Battistelli. Under the unusual make-up of the EPO, it has legal immunity from the laws of the countries in which it operates, and only the Administrative Council is in a position to fire the EPO president.
"The immunity enjoyed by this international organization must not become synonymous with impunity!" complained Cordery.
Sirugue agreed but his response highlighted how and why Battistelli continues to stay in his post: a majority of representatives from other European countries are not prepared to act. "We continue to pressure [but] I must admit that we lack allies in this matter," he confessed.
The council, which meets next in Munich on December 14 and 15, has twice failed to take action against Battistelli despite continued requests. ®