Our responses are in black in italic.
Ref. Ares(2012)628193 – 25/05/2012
Dear Mr. Mackenzie,
Thank you for your above-mentioned letter addressed to Vice-President Viviane Reding regarding the move of the European School Luxembourg II from its provisional site on the Kirchberg to its permanent site in Mamer. Vice-President and Commissioner for interinstitutional relations and administration, Maroš Šefcovič, asked me to answer your letter on his behalf.
In your letter you put forward that the opening of the European school Luxembourg II on its permanent site in September constitutes a breach of rights of the children concerned to protection and care and of the human rights to non-discrimination, property, and healthy working conditions of their parents. You also consider the mobility plan proposed by the Luxembourg authorities and supplemented by the parents’ association as insufficient and inadequate to remediate the negative impact of the location of the second European School in Luxembourg.
I read your letter with great interest; however, I do not share your analysis of the situation.
As you know the European Schools are managed by an intergovernmental organisation in which all EU Member States and the European Union, represented by the European Commission, are voting members.
The new Member States were not involved in the decision to vertically split the school, even though their nationals are disproportionately affected by it.
At no stage has any official study been done into the pros and cons of the vertical/horizontal alternatives, simply a series of platitudes and excuses for not examining the issue in depth – which has now been exposed as a mistake (see later paragraphs). Studies of this sort should be a standard requirement for public expenditure decisions at national (site+buildings) and European (future operating costs) level which have such magnitude and impact, and it could be considered negligent to have refused to do so both in the first place and when subsequently invited to do so.
According to the Convention, on which this organisation is based, the host state proposes the European Schools’ sites and finances their infrastructure. The only site proposed by Luxembourg in January 2002 for the European School Luxembourg II was Bertrange-Mamer. Thus this site, confirmed by the Board of Governors of the European Schools including the parents in May 2002, is the only possible measure to ensure European schooling for the more than 6000 children whose parents work for the European Institution in Luxembourg and who wish to send their children to the European Schools in the coming years.
Not relevant – the complaint does not concern the site, but the discriminatory criteria for deciding who goes there.
Moreover it is inaccurate to suggest that the vertical split has ever been supported by the parents. The constant position of parents and their representatives (the APEEE) is to support a horizontal split and reject a vertical split, a situation which is well documented and well motivated. The representative who attended the initial meetings made it clear her support was only given in a personal capacity as she had no mandate to take such a decision without consultation of members – and when her tentative support for the action become public knowledge without having undertaken such a consultation, she was immediately sacked. See also the preceding point (absence of any official study which should be an automatic precursor to any decision of such magnitude and impact).
The already overcrowded site of the European School Luxembourg I cannot receive more than the approximately 4.400 pupils it currently houses without compromising the safety and welfare of the children. On the contrary, the number of pupils on the site needs to be reduced urgently. With the exception of the vehicular language sections, no section is big enough to be viable on two sites.
Not relevant. The same objective of reducing numbers at Kirchberg will be achieved by the horizontal split.
A horizontal division of the Luxembourg schools with a purely secondary school in Mamer and a purely primary and nursery school on the Kirchberg was excluded by the Board of Governors of the European Schools as early as October 2003. Such a split would have meant a fundamental modification of the structure of the schools and therefore required a unanimous decision of the Board. However, although the Commission considered it a reasonable option and defended it subsequently when it was rediscussed on several occasions in different fora, unanimity could never be reached.
Not relevant. See paragraph 9 below. The Board may have had difficulties approving a horizontal split before, but that possibility is now accepted by the Commission and planned for new schools in Munich and Brussels – and there is even a precedent in Luxembourg (one set of buildings on the Glacis, one set on Kirchberg). It is in keeping with the modern reality that women work and men are involved in the raising of their children. Horizontal split is also standard practice in national systems – where few would consider it desirable to keep nursery-age infants and near-adults on the same campus.
Evidence has accumulated to prove the initial concerns of parents (decrease in pedagogical quality eg. reduction in subject options due to smaller pupil numbers, reduction in extracurricular activities for similar reasons or big increase in costs of participation, reduction in possibility to integrate in community life due to time spent on transport, reduction in concentration levels due to extended school day, reduction in tolerance for other nationalities, reduction in interaction with other nationalities; increase in financial cost eg. huge annual transport investment for host country and increased burden placed on parents; increase in environmental cost; increase in health risk…) – and no valid arguments have been advanced to justify vertical approach.
In particular Luxembourg has been opposed to such as split from the beginning, since the planning for a school for all age groups had already advanced too far and since it considered such a split inadmissible under the Convention defining the Statute of the European Schools.
Not relevant. What the Luxembourg government delegate may initially have considered as inadmissible is no longer the case – particularly as it is based on no independent analysis or study and because contacts taken with different Luxembourg representatives suggest they never expected anything other than a Lycée and would never have authorised the proposed transport of young children in national context. Planning will have to be adapted to acknowledge this and for it to be lawful, i.e. non-discriminatory.
When, upon a request of the Commission, the Secretariat General finally confirmed in 2009 that a horizontal split was admissible in principle, the works on the site had already advanced too far to adjust the project to a purely secondary school. This is all the more true now, shortly before the opening of the site, which has particular facilities for young children, including an afterschool childcare centre.
As you acknowledge, the horizontal split of schools is now admissible and the preferred option for new European Schools. The cost of adjusting the project to a purely secondary school is a microscopic fraction of the cost of supervised transport for hundreds of maternelle and primary children for every school day of every year into the future – and the associated increased risks to health and safety. Add to that the cost of continuous legal claims arising from the discrimination, should that project not be adjusted.
The move of Luxembourg II to its permanent site does not constitute an unjustified discrimination on the basis of the language. The selection of the single language sections and the languages of pupils without a language section in the European School Luxembourg II (CS, DK, EL, HU, IT, MT, RO, SL, SO) took place on the basis of objective criteria such as ensuring a mix of new and older Member States, Member States from the South, East, West and North of the European Union, proximity to the residences of an important part of a linguistic community, section sizes and the possibility to regroup some sections belonging to the same language family or present in the same Member State. These are the considerations that are taken into account also in other locations where there are more than one European School and consequently a repartition of language section between schools becomes necessary. Furthermore, the decision of March 2004 concerning the language sections was generally accepted by the Member States concerned (with the exception of Italy).
This argument is false. To counter an allegation of discrimination, objective criteria have to be given for the decision to send children to Mamer on the basis of language and not age. You don’t start talking about objective criteria after that discriminatory decision has been made.
There are no objective criteria that justify the dramatic reduction in the quality of life of children and their parents merely because of the language they speak. The horizontal split alternative exists, which treats children and their parents equally, with all benefiting from early schooling close to work and all sharing the inconvenience of sending their secondary age children to Mamer.
The obscure reasoning to explain how some languages are favoured and others discriminated against is of no relevance to the objective criteria issue.
Since then the families concerned were aware that the permanent site of the school of their children will be in Bertrange-Mamer. They thus had eight years to adapt to the upcoming situation. Many have done so and moved to the area close to the new site. For the distribution of children of the vehicular language sections (EN, FR, DE) between the two schools the residence is also taken into account. Changing the whole system now would run counter to the legitimate expectations of the parents who already adapted to the upcoming situation.
Workers arriving recently to Luxembourg and those thinking about it in the future will not have eight years to prepare for the discrimination resulting from the vertical split. Even if they did, that does not justify the discrimination. The argument is cynical and arrogant and will not be accepted by any judge or independent observer. Why should a job in Luxembourg be more attractive to a Finn or a Swede than to an Italian or a Greek, just because a handful of bureaucrats refuse to accept that they are wrong?
Changing to a horizontal split will not prejudice those who have moved closer to the Mamer site. They moved there to reduce the damage caused by the vertical split but their interests and those of their children are still better served by the horizontal split. If they have secondary age children, the horizontal split will ensure a better selection of subjects and career options, better transport because of the economy of scale, a broader range of language sections and the knowledge that their children are receiving the same treatment as all other nationalities. If they have young children, they are better off close to work, as they can be accompanied to school more easily and the commuting is still shorter. Those children can take part in extra-curricular activities, which is not the case if they go to Mamer, as parental involvement is much less likely in Mamer. It may inconvenience, but not prejudice, a small number of families who have moved there if one spouse is not working, but the educational offer is still better with the horizontal split.
Moreover, changing to a horizontal split is still feasible, even at this late stage – or even if the school does opens in its current suboptimal structure. Most equipment and materials linked to age (eg. size of tables and chairs; books and worksheets; etc) are of course completely mobile. The cost of converting specific-use facilities such as the size of toilets in nursery school block in Mamer, or existence of school laboratories on Kirchberg is minimal in comparison to the explicit and hidden costs of persisting with the current approach.
It is true that property prices are particularly high on the Kirchberg, but it is unclear how this discriminates against the families whose children attend school in Mamer. Property is generally expensive in Luxembourg and on the rise since 2009. However, staff members from all nationalities and income levels live west of Luxembourg City, many of them in the neighbouring Belgium. The new school itself will open for the school year 2012/13 and is equipped to the highest modem standards of education and safety and includes an indoor swimming pool. The Luxembourg authorities set up 15 new bus-lines including shuttles departing from nine different sites on the Kirchberg in the morning and returning to the site of the European School Luxembourg I in the afternoon. On the basis of the results of the survey among parents of Luxembourg II, two further bus lines have been requested to ensure that the demand is entirely met. This goes beyond what Luxembourg provides for the parents of the European School Luxembourg I.
This does not address the issue of economic (and therefore gender) discrimination. The criterion that was used to send children to Mamer is that they are not living in the most expensive areas close to Kirchberg, but in lower cost accommodation further from the centre.
It is not true that many staff live west of Luxembourg or in “neighbouring” Belgium: the overwhelming majority live in the Centre and East, within easy commuting distance of their place of work (Kirchberg) and place of schooling (Kirchberg). Those that do have chosen for other reasons. And for staff who will now have to drive out every morning to Mamer from points between Mamer and Kirchberg, and then back to Kirchberg to start work (and vice versa in the evenings), the satisfaction levels are unlikely to be high!
It is true that the vertical split may have encouraged some on modest incomes to move closer to Mamer (if they could in fact do so), but this has a negative impact on their disposable income. They would be financially better off if they didn’t have to make that move.
The talk about building standards and swimming pools etc is the same empty sales pitch that was used to impose the Mamer site in the first place. It does nothing to compensate for the loss of sleep, study and leisure time, the absence of parental involvement and the massive increase in commuting. All schools have access to a swimming pool. If the Mamer is so desirable, why are so many parents trying to squeeze their children into Lux I, or changing their children to Luxembourg schools or to private schools? Why is there this sense of dread, where teachers don’t even know how many pupils they are going to have?
It may be a good school – but it is in the wrong place and with the wrong structure for the target population: children of EU officials working on Kirchberg.
There can be no rational planning of transport until we know who the transport is for. During our meeting with the Ombudswoman for Children’s Rights, she agreed that it was damaging and bad for the ethos of the school to divide up the children along language lines. If there are ongoing concerns and official processes regarding discrimination and child welfare, how can any appropriate transport plan be approved?
Furthermore, Luxembourg is constructing a bypass under the roundabout close to the school, to be terminated by September 2012, and a flyover over the N6, to be terminated at the latest in September 2013, to improve the access to the school further.
The existence of flyover works, continuing until at least September 2013, in conditions that are already going to be extremely congested, is another reason why the school is not yet ready to be opened. The failure to estimate flowthrough of vehicular traffic at the roundabout and single entry point to the school, and consequent risk of regular and major blockages, are further evidence of rushed, incomplete and inadequate thinking.
Accompaniment of the nursery and primary school children is ensured by one adult per bus to be recruited by the parents’ association. This corresponds to the practice in the school busses of the other European Schools. Furthermore, in the case of the shuttles, the accompanying adult will remain with the children for 15 minutes after their arrival. This goes beyond the regular bus service, which normally ends at the bus stop upon arrival.
Who is going to pay for this supervised transport for the less-favoured children who have to undergo this additional commuting simply because of the language they speak? It is totally unnecessary if the vertical split is reversed. And there is as yet no commitment from the EU institutions to make any space available in their offices to receive the children on these shuttles following their return journey from Mamer to Kirchberg.
In view of the above I can reassure you that all is being done by those responsible, i.e. the Luxembourg authorities, the school administration, and the parents association to assure a good functioning of the European School Luxembourg II in Mamer.
We do not accept that reassurance. What is being proposed by the school system with – astonishingly – the support of the Commission supposedly working on behalf of the EU institutions based in Luxembourg is scandalous, unjustified, unlawful discrimination. It is a betrayal of the founding principles of the European Union and will effectively set up a system of apartheid at the school for its 60th anniversary. It will cause serious and unnecessary harm to children and their parents. It will cause deep resentment between workers on the basis of nationality, as Italian and Greek women will know from the minute they become pregnant that they are facing a very inferior quality of life to that of their Swedish or Finnish colleagues.
We will continue to oppose the vertical split of the school, which represents serious discrimination directed at us and one of the most divisive decisions that has ever confronted EU workers in Luxembourg.
European School Non-Discrimination Campaign
Within the last 14 days of lobbying, the European School Non-Discrimination Campaign has obtained the declared support of the following trade unions representing EU staff: USL, SAFE, EPSU-CJ, U4U, SID.