The president of the European Patent Office has responded to a formal rebuke of efforts to impose his will on the organization by asking for more power.
The man who last week was called a disgrace to his country in the French National Assembly has been accused of targeting EPO staff who opposed his reforms and of running sham disciplinary hearings as part of a campaign of intimidation.
Some of Benoit Battistelli's reforms have been enacted, whereas others – especially those that grant the president additional powers and effectively place him above the EPO's independent review and appeal processes – have been bitterly fought.
Several staff members, including the staff union's secretary, were placed on administrative leave by Battistelli over a year ago and have been put through what many claim have been a series of illegal and irregular hearings.
In a decision that lent significant weight to the staff's complaints, those hearings were effectively nullified last week by the International Labour Organization Administration Tribunal (ILO-AT). The ILO-AT found that Benoit Battistelli had delegitimized the EPO's Appeals Committee (ApC) by inserting two staff "volunteers" on the five-person panel rather than allowing the EPO's central staff committee to select them. It also found the EPO's management had mishandled critical aspects of the appeals process.
But, true to form, Battistelli has reacted by doubling down.
Red pill, blue pill
In a letter to the EPO's ruling Administrative Council following the ILO decisions, Battistelli painted himself as the victim and argued the only solution is to give him yet more power.
"After boycotting of the sessions of the ApC by its appointees, the Central Staff Committee refused, despite several requests to comply with the statutory obligation to make the necessary appointments," he wrote. "In order to guarantee efficient access to the internal system of justice, and after several unsuccessful reminders to the CSC, I called for volunteers among the staff representatives."
The staff committee did indeed refuse to name people to the appeals committee but for a wide range of reasons that it has also outlined in a letter to the EPO's Administrative Council.
The staff claim appeal meetings were rescheduled at short notice, leaving those under investigation without representation, and a range of tactics were used to undermine their case, including a failure to provide briefs or basic case information and in some cases decisions being made without even giving the staff member a chance to speak.
In response, the staff committee refused to name two members to the Appeals Committee. And Battistelli's response was to continue the hearings without the two staff members present – a practice that was ruled illegal several months later.
In response to that, Battistelli wrote to all EPO local staff committees and asked for "volunteers" to fill the posts. The Central Staff Committee argues those who put themselves forward did so out of fear of becoming the president's next target.
Now that approach – of having two staff volunteers – has also been deemed illegal. So what is Battistelli's solution? That's right: to give him the power to appoint people to the Appeals Committee.
In a formal proposal to the EPO's General Consultative Committee, Battistelli has attempted to reintroduce a change to the EPO's "service regulations" that he previously put forward, but which was rejected.
Under his "new" proposal, "if the Central Staff Committee fails to make appointments to these bodies, the President shall take appropriate steps to ensure the necessary appointments, such as by drawing lots or calling for volunteers from among all elected Staff Committee members."
In other words, Battistelli's response to the ILO's damning decision is to simply change the EPO's rules to formally give him the power to do exactly what he was being criticized over. (The central staff committee's solution, incidentally, is to replace the current Appeals Committee with a body of independent judges.)
This approach – where Battistelli tells people what he wants to happen; is told that breaks the organization's rules; and then attempts to rewrite the rules to give him the power to do it regardless – has become the president's modi operandi and the reason he has been dubbed "King Battistelli."