09 May 2017
Strasbourg
Reporter: Barney Dixon

SUEPO takes the Netherlands to human rights court over EPO tension


The Staff Union of the European Patent Office (SUEPO) has brought the Netherlands to the European Court of Human Rights amid rising tensions and alleged abuse at the EPO.

In a blog post on 9 May, SUEPO said that it previously sought protection from the Dutch courts in the form of an injunction to prevent the violation of EPO workers’ rights.

But the Supreme Court of the Netherlands upheld the EPO’s immunity, failing to “discharge their duty of care, thereby allowing a breach of fundamental rights on their soil and de facto condoning, if not endorsing, the EPO’s abuses”.

“When the legal system applicable to an international organisation does not provide for protection in the form of an injunction, which is essential to prevent irreparable damage, and even worse when it is virtually indisputable that the organisation is violating rights, the host state has a serious difficulty.”

“In our opinion, it has only two options: either to lift the immunity of the organisation for the benefit of a party aggrieved, or to take itself action against the rogue organisation by resorting to international arbitration.”

SUEPO said the Netherlands has done neither, and forced its hand in filing a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights.

In March, the International and European Public Services Organisation contacted German Chancellor Angela Merkel, raising its “extreme concern” with the EPO.

Senior IPSO officials said that EPO president Benoît Battistelli has conducted “massive abuses” of power, and that the EPO’s administrative council has adopted “passive attitude”, and even supported his initiatives and provided more power.

They argued that the EPO is currently experiencing “authoritarian, indeed dictatorial, attitudes”.

SUEPO held a demonstration in November last year, in solidarity with dismissed senior official Laurent Prunier, and have continued regularly.

Battistelli was criticised for attempting to change work practices at the EPO, including an end to fixed wage increases and a move to promotions by seniority rather than work performance. SUEPO resisted these changes and said it was met with severe harassment and intimidation.

Staff strikes were then banned, but SUEPO engaged regardless, leading to disciplinary proceedings against its three main representatives.

Last month, Union Syndicale Fédérale (USF) wrote to members of the European Parliament, drawing their attention to the “seriously deteriorated situation at the EPO”.

“Countless reports in the media about dismissed staff representatives, other scandals and a total loss of trust of the staff in the current EPO president, Mr Battistelli, are evidence of the seriousness of the situation at the EPO.”

The candidacy procedure for the post of president of the EPO is to be launched soon, with the position to be filled on 1 July 2018.

The EPO declined to comment.

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