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European Commission


Vice-President of the European Commission - Responsible for Interinstitutional Relations and Administration

Creative solutions in a time of crisis

EPSA 2013 launch event

Brussels, 25 January 2013

Ms Pröhl, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I'm delighted to welcome you here today for the launch of the European Public Sector Awards. For the third time this year, the awards will showcase and recognise innovation in public sector, and I'm happy to be able to be here with you for the second time after 2011 to launch the 2013 awards.

The theme of this year's awards is "Weathering the storm – Creative solutions in a time of crisis" – an obvious reflection of current economic and financial reality for public sector in Europe. The harsh economic conditions have presented us with many serious challenges, and in such times we need to be more creative than ever. Indeed, every challenge also brings an opportunity. And I believe that for the public sector in Europe this is a unique opportunity to prove itself as being resilient, fit for purpose and innovative, continuing to fulfil its role of serving the people of Europe despite the unprecedented economic restraints.

The main challenge today is how to cut costs at the same time as fostering growth and competitiveness. As governments struggle to square this circle, it is inevitable that they turn to the public sector for cutting costs, efficiency gains and more effective use of resources. This, of course, is not easy to achieve. And yet these difficult circumstances have led to some wonderfully creative approaches, many of which were showcased in the last awards, showing that the circle can indeed sometimes be squared with a bit of innovative thinking.

Let's not forget that public administrations are not being asked to do less in return for the cuts – indeed, their role remains as vital as ever if we want to create the right conditions for sustainable growth. In these times when demand for quality public services is greater than ever, only an efficient, effective and resilient public sector is capable of meeting this demand.

Contrary to what many people think, the Commission has not been spared the need to do things differently. Indeed, we are constantly looking for ways to make the European public sector more efficient, transparent and trustworthy. For example:

we have followed a zero-growth-policy with regard to recruitment except for recruitments related to the enlargement of the EU,

we carry out annual screenings of all Commission jobs in the overhead areas,

we do benchmarking of the organisational efficiency of DGs

we will review our IT infrastructure to make it more efficient

we have modernised the recruitment and selection process

and my services in DG HR have been carrying out a Business Process Reengineering project since 2011 with the aim of rationalising and simplifying the processes and policies managed by the European public service.

the creation of the various Commission executive agencies is a response to the need for the Commission to refocus on its institutional tasks such as policy-making and strategic management, leaving the day-to-day implementation of policies to bodies better placed to do so. The executive agencies not only improve the management of EU programmes they also do so at lower cost. The agencies allow us to create economies of scale by grouping similar programmes and activities within one agency rather than being spread between Commission services as they were in the past. This not only ensures greater organizational efficiency but also adds greater visibility to the work of the EU and its programmes.

As you know, negotiations are still on-going on the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) which is the budget of the EU for the next seven years. This will determine our level of ambition to create growth in Europe at EU level and bring Europe closer together. You might not know it but this budget represents a mere 1% of the entire GDP of all Member States. So, it is actually very small compared to national budgets, but still it has huge impact because European programmes and projects often trigger much more additional investment on national level.

It will also come as no surprise to hear that the outcome of these negotiations will have a major impact on the Commission and its management of resources. The administrative cost of all institutions including Parliament, Council, Court etc. represent a mere 6% of the entire budget, but nevertheless it is in the limelight and a highly symbolic issue.

Faced with this politically sensitive discussion and the serious budgetary constraints, the Commission has proposed to reduce the number of staff in the EU institutions and agencies by 5%. We will also redeploy 5% of the Commission staff internally so that some DGs will lose 10% of their staff in the coming years. We proposed to increase weekly working hours for staff to 40, to lower entry and end of career salaries between 18% and 45% for a big number of staff, increase the retirement age to 65 and so on. At the same time, the Commission is being asked to do more than ever before, and this increased demand for work and widening of responsibilities proves that the optimal allocation of staff and the redeployment of posts are both a necessity and a top political priority. In this context, forward planning, strategic allocation of resources and the ability to recruit the right people has become especially important. Our needs for economic experts will increase with regard to the Commission's new responsibilities for economic governance. Checking national budgets, giving recommendations to Member States, stimulate growth through new initiatives for the single market; all this will be very challenging.

So, all of us have our challenges, in local, regional, national or European administrations.

The reality is that the current economic climate has turned what in the past were opportunities to innovate into an absolute necessity. Innovation is not just about coming up with something new or different; it is also about doing things better. That's why these awards are so important: they help with the exchange of knowledge and experience, allowing us to share creative solutions to our common problems.

The Commission firmly believes that knowledge-sharing is a vital element in providing better services, and that is why we have taken a proactive role in supporting inter-service and inter-regional learning processes, as reflected by the European Public Sector Innovation Scoreboard (EPSIS) initiative. The EPSIS initiative has been run by the Commission since 2011 within the framework of the Europe 2020 Innovation Union flagship initiative, benchmarking public sector innovation in Europe. Its goal is not only to analyse innovation in the public sector and the economic and social gains that stem from it, but also to develop the relevant policies and create the appropriate framework conditions for these innovative processes to flourish throughout the EU.

It is, of course, easy for me to stand here and say that public administrations need to be more innovative if they want to survive. But in practice, this is far harder to achieve. That's why these awards are so important, because they can offer that vital spark of inspiration needed to be truly innovative. We have seen this already in the previous awards, and I have no doubt that 2013 will be equally as inspiring.

Public servants are often misunderstood and their work poorly recognised. And yet they are not only vital to the creation and implementation of the policies that regulate our lives each and every day, they are also highly innovative and constantly looking for ways of working more effectively as their resources dwindle.

This is true for all administrations alike, be they national, regional or local, or European. That's why I encourage you all to take part in this year's awards and show just how innovative you can be!

Thank you for your time

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