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Gerrit van de Kamp: president European Police Union (EPU)

The European Police Union is an independent trade union for police unions from all across Europe. The members of the EPU jointly represent over 700,000 police officials. The EPU's main goal is to improve cooperation between the various European police unions in the field of public order and security. This calls the EPU to focus on police-specific themes which have immediate consequences for policing and the reinforcement and improvement of work-related issues, as well as the legal standing of police officials in a safe Europe.
The EPU monitors the processes of all its affiliated police unions as far as work and salaries are concerned. This includes developments within the police sector in Serbia, Moldova, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Romania, Spain, Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, Lithuania, Latvia, Croatia and Hungary.
Due to our regulatory and unifying position, as well as input from our members, we are perfectly aware of all security-related developments that take place in Europe as well as any concerning/relevant bottlenecks.
We feel it is very important to convey our vision on this front.
Each and every day, we see, hear and feel how our society is becoming a more unwelcoming place. Civilians are protesting against the higher costs of living, cutbacks in social security, poverty and corruption in our countries, and are turning their backs on Europe - a Europe where the gap between rich and poor continues to grow.
Organised crime has (due to open borders) increased in almost all European countries. Human trafficking, trade in heavy weapons, narcotics, fraud and internet crime is increasing. More and more heavy automatic weapons are being used for criminal offences. Excessive forms of aggression and violence are increasing on a large scale. Europe is becoming increasingly unsafe.
Europe is also becoming more of a target for religious terrorists who use violence to reach goals based on their religious beliefs. It is not a question of whether your (member) country will be the next victim of a terror attack, but a question of when.
Despite major concessions by Europe, aimed at stopping alarming developments in security-related risks, not enough initiatives are currently being taken to follow up promises with actual actions.
Due to austerity measures and wrong decisions in the field of security, safety cannot be properly safeguarded in the street and at ports and airports. Capable police officers are falling victim to cut-backs, or are prematurely leaving the police force due to sub-standard and unsafe working conditions, while further investment is needed in greater detection capacity, training, weapons and equipment for police officials.
We have not only noticed major differences in the knowledge, expertise, attitude, bureaucracy and effectiveness of our leaders in Europe, but also that not enough is being done to acknowledge security risks within and beyond national borders.
The shocking truth is that many (member) countries are not suitably prepared to deal with a major emergency. In the long-term, it is nigh on impossible to maintain a heightened terror alert throughout Europe. Police officers and their fellow service providers are reaching the end of their mental and physical capacities. This increased exhaustion will lead to decreases in alertness and vigilance.
A great deal of research has been carried out into how to counter crime and terrorism within Europe and beyond. This pile of research offers a broad and comprehensive insight into developments and trends in Security over the years, which means we now have a rich source of information at our disposal.
But we have noticed that many pieces of expensive and time-consuming (scientific) research is quickly consigned to libraries and is only dusted off to serve as study material for new, expensive research projects. After recent attacks and the persistent threat of terror in Europe, it became painfully apparent that many years of implementing a policy of 'see, hear and keep quiet' in the EU has caused us to pay a heavy price for our security.
For quite a few years, the EPU has attempted to highlight the failings of the 'it will be fine, no need to worry' approach adopted by our politicians. Often enough, we warned our government leaders security could no longer be guaranteed in their perceived European utopia.
In a joint statement by the European Commission (in response to the attack on Charlie Hebdo), a plea was made to form partnerships to counter the use of illegal firearms in the EU. This can only be done by improving the exchange of information between member countries. Ministers also feel it should be possible to modify agreements in the Schengen Treaty, in order to offer more comprehensive access to the Schengen Information System. A call was also made to establish a framework for storing and exchanging the details of European passengers.
We fully support these initiatives because, in our opinion, they cannot be introduced quickly enough to reduce security risks within Europe and beyond. However, what we are missing in these security-related issues, are essential structural measures which must be taken to address major security risks experienced by police officers, not to mention the poor working conditions that accompany them.
In order to tackle security in a truly effective manner, Europe will have to move away from expensive investments in pseudo-security and start investing in security issues that really matter.
The time has now come for an 'extreme' make-over of Security in Europe. Our (member) countries urgently need a European Union with the collective strength and ability to address several key areas within the field of security. Only a well coordinated and integrated Europe will be able to deal with the countless challenges being faced by our countries when it comes to reduced levels of security. There is no shame in not knowing something; the real shame will come if we do not (want to) learn our lessons and decide to ignore things. Requesting help from external experts is not a sign of weakness, but actually a sign of strength.
And this is another area where we can be helpful; to improve interaction between the various players in the field of security, so a comprehensive strategy can be realised to address ambiguity in security-related issues in our (member) countries. European rules must be implemented in a comparable manner within member countries. The increase in cross-border criminality requires more intensive collaboration. This is only possible if norms and methods have been effectively coordinated.
(Police) unions regularly face the problem that agreements in national and European laws and regulations are not being complied with and/or are being breached. We waste a lot of energy fighting unlawful acts by governments and even human rights breaches. We believe Europe must perform more proactive monitoring, and even impose sanctions, to ensure (new) European regulations and guidelines are actually translated into national legislation. Once again, we have noticed that our core values in the field of (social) security and human rights are becoming blurred and that our national interests are at risk.

The Working Hours Act features legislation which is regularly and structurally breached by many European police organisations. Unfortunately, 60-hour working weeks, which are not compensated (in holidays or salary), are fairly commonplace. This also applies to 24-hour shifts and only 2 days leave per month.
The guideline by the Council of 12 June 1989, concerning the implementation of measures to improve the health of employees at work, is being breached or is barely being implemented, whereby the health and safety of (police) employees is not being safeguarded. The two main requirements in this guideline, which are regularly ignored, are:
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Another paradox was the fact that the signal for serious problems in MI came from inside rather than civil society.
Iliya Kuzmanov- Vice President of the Management Board,TUFEMI

How many of you have witnessed the creation of a trade union?
Do you know any newly created trade union of employees in the Ministry of Interior?
In your opinion, what should happened to make sector “Security” organize themselves and create a new organization, that is an alternative to all currently existing?
One of the reasons is that often verbal flood drown the truth, because of which we have started talking in first place.
Another reason is that often during the process of talking, it changes or the dialogue turns into criticism, ending in obsequiously laudation.
Often laudation and criticism magically turn into excuses and the voice of the truth goes down, not so much from fear but from the feeling that there is no sense to be said.
In the Bulgarian Interior Ministry we were detaining our truths, locked deep down in us, for years and we did not let them go out.
For years, union leaders who had to defend our rights and fight for a decent working conditions and life, succumb to their instinct of self-preservation, which ingloriously push them to the roads of circumbendibus, weasel and redefined thoughts, in the mist that they have obligingly maintained, in order to able to escape.
For years, the opportunities that were provided (very rare), which were about sharing our opinion, standing our position and speaking the truth, has been skipped on purpose.
This did not solve any problems. This did not relieve the employees of the Ministry of Interior. This did not make the service with higher quality or the citizens more pleased of the functions of the law enforcement. On the contrary! This made our problems more serious, deepened them to a very high level and caused spontaneous resentment of the employees of the Ministry of Interior, passed naturally through self-organization and the creation of the trade union.
The year is 2009!
TUFEMI / Trade Union Federation of the Employees in the Ministry of Interior / was created!
The federation has been created, because there was a need of solution to many problems. Before we started searching for their solutions, we had to introduce them to the public… and we had to give a start to a real and effective social dialogue.
The reality brought us to the necessity of the appearance of new subject or more specifically new content in the trade union of the employees in the Ministry of Interior in Republic of Bulgaria.
Because of the accumulated tension among the employees in the Ministry of Interior in Bulgaria, there were held several unauthorized protest of policemen, firemen, rescuers in December 2008…
The analysis of the situation about police protests shows conclusively that among the policemen has accumulated a lot of stress. The reasons about that are all these problems that has been hiding for years and now come to the fore, at worst in terms of government time. It sounds ironic how in our neighbor country Greece anarchists rampaged and in Bulgaria policemen were protesting using smoking, drinking water or making any other symbolic gestures.
Another paradox was the fact that the signal for serious problems in MI came from inside rather than civil society. There is something deeply vicious and vile in believing that an enemy is anybody who thinks differently. We knew that sometimes it is too unpleasant, that people do not think like us, that often we are alone in our positions, but it is so satisfying when others come to us, because of their own belief, not because somebody forced them to do it or somebody told them, that this is the only right way.
There is a big step from the human soul to the freedom of thought, from the freedom of though to freedom of speech – another step, a bigger one, and from the freedom of speech to the freedom of act - third step, even bigger one.
So the freedom is a triple jump indeed, who wants a spiritual power. With these actions we passed our way this time. We did it with the desire to be a partner. We wanted to be a partner of a reforming Ministry of Interior and in favor of an actual civil society, which the Ministry of Interior is called to serve.
TUFEMI “… After an eternity, waiting in vain, the Hope is back…”
In fact, unconsciously and definitely impulsive assembly of disgruntled employees in Ministry of Interior in order to inform the civil society and political parties, that the system’s situation is critical, marked the beginning of TUFEMI.
The hope that this was a whole new beginning, and the faith in its pureness and immaculacy, made from the Federation a very democratic organization. In my opinion it is unmatched and by formal rules and actual administration to any other in Bulgaria.
Self organized protesting policemen become famous as “policemen from the forum”. Back in those days, all heavy organization went trough the Internet.
We were supported morally and expertise of members of the national representative trade unions and employees’ organizations – Confederation of Labor “Podkrepa” and Union of Economic Initiative.
We have created the conditions for change and we are not afraid of possible reprisals and adversity in official plan. As we were convinced that the knife is resting in the bone and with a clear reluctance to be crushed in this highly conservative at that time system, called Ministry of Interior.
In our case, since the beginning we turned our backs to the founding principle of benefit, in terms of its purely physical aspect and we emphasized the change of the legal framework, considering labor workday of every employee of the Ministry of Interior. All of us remembered the time when being part of a trade union was associated with lower prices of calls, provided by the mobile operators, a little cheaper vacation and banquet in the end of the year… Because of the circumstances of incorporation of TUFEMI, we ignored these “fundamental” trade unions “treats”, led to the complete abortion of incomparably more important function, which we had to pursue, namely the corrective system and protection of the rights.
TUFEMI perspective is to be a leading factor in the social dialogue!
Our first challenge after “smoking” and “drinking water” was to not be remembered as only a “mass media” attraction, because the focus to the problems could be easily changed. To reach this aim TUFEMI has to organize, to strengthen, create a strong internal communication, needed for a better organization, because we want our individual members to be aware of what is going on, to create a new image of trade union activities in MI, to try to improve the image of the employee among people, to insure good communication with the media, to begin an active dialogue with the civil society, to receive and analyze the information that has been received, putting a place to the problems in our work and expectations of how the citizen is expected it to be, to obtain mutual trust and support.
In parallel, it was absolutely necessary for us to take a position at European plan, so we could study the best practices of the old continent, to be able to search for solution about nationally problems with the leader European institutions, the opportunity to rely on their support and solidarity from similar to our organizations…
Not least to take place in Ministry of Interior, as a principled opponent and why not a partner, trying to reach the aim MI to be a prestigious job and to be respected for their activities, with any relevant expertise, with opportunities to ensure the social peace or not (very important point when we talk about “burden” of a trade union).
Practically the choice of a trade union should be determined by the value that it brings to its members and its prospect to be a leading factor in the social dialogue at the branch or at national level, again aiming to maximum protection of its social, economic and labor interest.
At that point, each member of the Federation should be proud of what we have done. Everything said up to now has become fact. Of course in varying degrees and work continues.
- TUFEMI is wanted guest in the national mass media and a lot of regional publications in discussions about the problems in MI
- TUFEMI has a good relationship with all non-governmental organizations, which have an expertise in the “Security” sector
- We have a good dialogue with the citizens, proofs of which are numerous meetings with them and their support, that they have proven the last protest
- TUFEMI won and implemented two projects – “Social dialogue” funded by the European Commission, partners with Dutch and Serbs, “Professional stress” funded by Innovation Norway
- TUFEMI has over 6200 members by far, from 28 different directorates - General Directorate Fire Safety and Protection of Population, General Directorate Border Police, Directorate “112”, Academy of the Ministry of Interior, Institute of Psychology of the Ministry of Interior.
- We have 157 trade companies.
- We have created all communication channels, so every member could search and use the information he needs, both internal organizational problems and solutions, and our activities at any time – sites, emails, over 10 facebook pages, central and two regional offices, corporate group with 4,000 mobile subscribers (we use a big amount of texts to inform our members), magazine and etc.
- We regularly contact a committee for internal order and security in the Bulgarian Parliament
- We have representatives in Social Dialogue Committees
- We have a legitimate agreement with the Ministry of Interior, defining the rights and obligations we have
- We are in a collective agreement with the Ministry of Interior which enables our members ЛРТП, to enjoy the benefits that are negotiated in it.
- TUFEMI is the only one trade union in the Ministry of Interior, who has organized and conducted 10 protest after 2008 in defense of the demands of its members during four different governments
- TUFEMI does not have any board members, who get paid for their work
- We have good contacts with MEPs, both Bulgarian and European
- We have concluded agreements for cooperation with the Union of Employees in Prisons in BG, National Association “Security”, the Union of Officers and Sergeants from the Reserve and Stock in BG, bringing together over 13 organizations.
- Excellent cooperation with Confederation of Labor “Podkrepa” and we can use their expert resources in regard to employment and pension rights
- TUFEMI is full member of European Police Union, bringing together about 800 000 employees in the security system in Europe, along with countries such Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Spain, Romania, Serbia, Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia, Hungary, Croatia, Moldova and etc
We enjoy great respect and support by the European Police Union, which is evidenced by 5 visits of the President of European Police Union on the occasion our problems and his meetings with representatives of the Ministry of Interior and representatives of the President of Republic of Bulgaria
In our activity we were looking for options to prove the necessity of focusing on the human factor in reforms. We were focused on increasing its capacity, collateral necessary minimum working conditions including technical ones. And in the end we found out that most important thing is motivation. Without motivation, even secured (and it is definitely not the case at the moment), the employee would not give everything. Otherwise good motivation would debase the lack of security. In this case, the members of TUFEMI make the organization unique which although it is a union, is called upon to protect the social and economic rights, would accept to make a step back if the ultimate goal is to improve the quality of the Interior Ministry and Security Service, provided to citizens.
We bet on the fight against acute stress among employees, research project funded by Innovation Norway, activities which should be done by the ministry itself, but in the course of our work has been undoubtedly established that the biggest problem is in chronic stress. And paradoxically, it does not have external factors, but the system itself as the biggest source of stress. The effect of this stress is significant not only with regard to the mental health of our members. It inevitably has an impact on the quality of performance of their duties, and from there - and on the safety of citizens and public safety.
Our interests in this case are very similar to those of society - we do not need stressed policemen, neither us as union and the ministry, nor the citizens served by such employees.
In its relatively short existence TUFEMI acquired a good expertise in the field of social dialogue, thanks to winning and implementation of two major projects - “Social dialogue” funded by the European Commission, partners with Dutch and Serbs, “Professional stress” funded by Innovation Norway. When we were awarded for the second project, it led naturally to the decision that the only effective tool for reducing the stress in the Ministry of Interior would be a new, in our field, forms of social dialogue in the country. It requires the creation of a council for tripartite dialogue with representatives of non-governmental organizations, trade unions representatives and representatives of the Government, which aims to create a vision and strategy for reforms in the Ministry of Interior for a long period.

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