The Board of Directors of the Association of Spanish Diplomats (ADE) is calling on the government to adopt family reconciliation measures to facilitate the work of civil servants serving abroad.
This is not the first time that the ADE, which is part of FEDECA (Federation of Senior Bodies of the General State Administration) and is the majority association among diplomats, has made this demand, which it has now put back on the table on the occasion of the celebration next week in Madrid of the Annual Conference of the European Foreign Service Families Association (EUFASA).
The conference, which brings together more than 20 associations of foreign service families in different European countries, will take place on 5 and 6 July at the headquarters of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, organised by the Spanish Association of Families of Diplomats and Foreign Service Officers, on the eve of Spain’s assumption of the rotating Presidency of the European Union on 1 July.
The aim of these associations is to improve conditions for spouses, partners and children accompanying EU officials on their postings abroad.
The ADE points out in its note that, at the conference, it will once again become clear that Spain pays very little attention to the situation of family members accompanying its civil servants abroad. It adds that, as the fourth largest country in Europe in terms of GDP, Spain is one of the EU members that devotes the fewest resources to alleviating the many difficulties and challenges faced by the partners and children of civil servants who have to work outside Spain.
Specifically, the note states that “one of the most serious aspects in this area is the manifest inadequacy of schooling assistance for the children of Spanish civil servants posted abroad”. The annual amount has not been updated for more than 20 years and is well below the average cost of education per child in Spain.
Given the insufficient amount of this aid,” they say, “it is not possible for many civil servants to afford the high cost of international schooling to which civil servants are forced, not by choice but because there is no network of Spanish schools abroad to guarantee the essential continuity in their academic curriculum. On the contrary,” they add, “most of the foreign services of other European countries and the EU’s own European External Action Service (which, let us not forget, is paid for with our taxes) assume the full cost of these schools, as they rightly understand that the education of their children is a fundamental right that the state must guarantee everywhere.
According to the ADE, another pressing problem is the current obstacles for spouses or partners of civil servants to pursue their careers abroad. On the one hand,” the note explains, “no measures have been taken to assist the active promotion of career opportunities for spouses, in breach of the mandate of the Foreign Service Act. On the other hand, the Foreign Services of other neighbouring countries do offer couples and spouses work options abroad. In the case of Spain, on the other hand, the spouses and partners of Foreign Service officials have their careers negatively affected and, in practice, often work for the State without any compensation, supporting officials posted abroad”.
The ADE also complains that those partners who get a contract with a Spanish company on a teleworking basis cannot benefit from the health policy that the State provides to civil servants and their families because they contribute to the Spanish social security system. Paradoxically,” he says, “neither can they enjoy the health benefits that would correspond to them derived from their own contributions, as they are outside Spanish territory. In fact, they find themselves without effective health coverage abroad, despite their contributions, which is undoubtedly an anomaly unworthy of a welfare state”.
The ADE also claims that the lack of a family reconciliation policy has direct negative consequences for the civil service, because civil servants with families do not consider going to certain destinations. Therefore, it believes that having a family should not penalise the professional careers of diplomats and other civil servants in the Spanish Foreign Service.
And he recalls that the Civil Service Law and other regulatory instruments of application should also include an external dimension, always in line with the Foreign Service Law and its corresponding implementing regulations.
On another note,” the note says, “Spain also stands out for being practically the only EU country that has ceased to cover the cost of an annual trip for civil servants and their families to their country of origin, bearing in mind that for more than a decade the suspension of the rule that provided for this right has been in place”. It warns that this makes it very difficult, especially for officials posted to very distant countries, “to maintain emotional and family links with their country, which is particularly detrimental to the children of these officials”.
ADE is convinced that “a genuine policy of family reconciliation, including the reinforcement of Family Support Units in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation would not only benefit the people who travel with the official, but also the functioning of the Foreign Service itself”. At the same time,” he adds, “this would encourage women and men to join the Spanish Foreign Service, who currently rule out this professional option due to the difficulty of reconciling work and family life”.
An administration that aspires to serve citizens well in a globalised context,” the letter states, “must be open to the outside world and made up of civil servants – not just diplomats – who dedicate part of their careers to defending our interests in different international bodies according to their competence. These women and men often have partners, children and family responsibilities that are not interrupted because they are posted abroad.
For all these reasons,” he concludes, “we call on the public authorities to correct the current situation by committing to a genuine policy of conciliation in the Foreign Service, which puts us on a par with the rest of the EU countries.