Italy’s lettori get no help from European Commission

Brussels ‘to close file’ on foreign scholars battling ‘xenophobic’ law

October 10, 2013

Source: Getty

Brassed off: marchers express opposition to a recent package of reforms to Italian higher education, including deep cuts to non-Italian lecturers’ pay

The campaign by lettori - foreign nationals working as lecturers in Italy - to secure equal status with their Italian counterparts with respect to pay and conditions has suffered a major setback.

Central to this development is the so-called “Gelmini law” (named for former education minister Maria-stella Gelmini), which came into force in January 2011. It changed the terms under which non-Italian academics were employed and scrapped lawsuits being pursued by the lettori.

David Petrie, chair of the Association of Foreign Lecturers in Italy, said the group had given the European Commission “detailed information” on 91 non-Italian lecturers who had suffered pay cuts of up to 60 per cent. It also provided examples of “lecturers all over Italy who have had their court cases ‘extinguished’ by judges applying the Gelmini law”, which he said was “in blatant violation” of Article 47 of the European Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights.

But in an official letter sent to Mr Petrie on 19 September, Armindo Silva - the Commission’s director for employment, social legislation and social dialogue - says that after consulting the Italian authorities, he “had not found evidence that would allow us to propose that the Commission starts infringement proceedings against Italy”.

He acknowledges that the European Court of Justice had already “ruled that the Italian legislation or contractual and administrative practices operated in certain public universities concerning the ex-lettori has infringed EU law in some limited aspects”, but claimed it had also “acknowledged the conformity of the Italian legislation with EU law”.

Mr Silva notes his intention “to close the file”, but offers the lettori four weeks “to provide…any new relevant information that could lead us to change our position”.

In response, Lorenzo Picotti, a law professor at the University of Verona who has twice successfully represented the lettori in the ECJ, issued a press statement attacking the “illogical and self-contradictory” decision.

“By adopting such a position, the European Commission relinquishes its essential role of overseeing and guaranteeing the application of EU law by member states,” he says.

The Commission had made its own legal process “subordinate” to the judgment of an EU member state’s domestic jurisprudence, Professor Picotti adds.

The “application of a law which targets a specific group of immigrant workers - and only immigrant workers - is xenophobic and racist by definition”, he writes.

Last week, Mr Petrie sent an appeal to Viviane Reding, vice-president of the Commission and commissioner for justice, fundamental rights and citizenship, about what he calls “the clearest mass systematic breach of free movement of workers in the history of the EU”.

He and his fellow lettori, he writes, are “angered, stunned and bitterly disappointed” by Mr Silva’s letter, which he says shows “absolutely no consideration of the self-evident and shocking fact that the economic treatment and the reconstruction of the career of the lettori in service in Italian universities is absolutely inferior with respect to what is enjoyed by national workers who perform analogous teaching duties with analogous length of service and experience”.

The case’s closure “would leave at least 137 of our members without an effective remedy, after 30 years’ litigation in domestic courts” and six ECJ judgments, he writes.

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