- Being part of the European development
- The list of pre-registered substances published
- Matti Vainio: "Socio-economic analysis is not an afterthought"
- Ulrike Kowalski, Chair of the Forum: "REACH enforcement has started"
- The Risk Communication Network (RCN) invites stakeholders as observers
- Appointments to the Board of Appeal
- Visit of the Delegation of the Court of First Instance to ECHA
- Quality - a catalyst for excellent performance
- ECHA inaugurated its new conference centre
- Interview: Jef Maes, Director of Resources
- Out and about
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Article related to: people_and_perspectives
Interview: Jef Maes, Director of Resources
If anyone could be described as an expert on the European Agencies in the North of Europe then that man has to be Jef Maes. ECHA's Director of Resources since November 2008 has worked in an agency setting for the last twenty years, four years in ECDC in Stockholm and before that ten years in EEA in Copenhagen. Prior to that Jef also spent fi ve years involved in EEA's precursor programme in Brussels. As soon as he knew that ECHA was coming to Helsinki, Jef was immediately attracted to the proposition of being involved in the set-up phase of another new Agency.
"I find start-ups fun…. they are fascinating! There is a special atmosphere - almost like a sense of pioneering - it is as though a new family is starting. When you bring up a child they change completely within the first two years, and that in some ways is comparable to the development of a new Agency."
As Director of Resources Jef's areas of responsibility are the Budget; Human Resources; the IT related to internal support; the provision and maintenance of the offi ce environment; and, working together with the Directorate C (Registration & IT tools), on REACH IT. "The way I can best explain it is by saying that Dir C assembles the car by developing and programming it, and our Directorate drives it."
His key objective is to see ECHA through its growth phase, a challenging task considering the rapid rate of expansion. "There are currently 300 occupied desks at ECHA (including temporary agents, contract agents, interims and consultants) and this number is expected to rise to 650 within the next two years." Of course this has an impact both in terms of human resources and also in terms of offi ce space which is currently in short supply within the building. "We need to fi nd the right organisational structure and the right management structure within an organisation where different parts are developing at different paces… so the whole thing is quite a challenge."
On arrival at ECHA Jef was impressed at what he describes as ECHA's "advanced state of development" after such a short time in existence. He says that this is due to a very large extent to the initial support that was provided by DG ENTR. "Forty offi cials from the Commission were made available to help with the start-up phase. This amount of assistance is unprecedented. There was a strong commitment to REACH from the beginning which politically is extremely important." In terms of budgetary issues Jef sees ECHA's biggest challenge as coming in 2010. "ECHA received subsidies from the Commission for its fi rst two years of operation, but from 2010 ECHA will have to be reliant on the fee income it generates. The problem is that the timing of fee income is linked to registration deadlines, meaning that most of ECHA's fee income will not be received until the end of that year."
Jef is grateful for the strong support promised by DG ENV to enable ECHA to manage fi nancially during the fi rst part of 2010. In terms of staffi ng issues Jef admits that there are some challenges involved in attracting people to Finland. "Helsinki is perceived by some as being peripheral - very remote. People seem to think it is on the North Pole, even though it's only 400 km from Stockholm! They are frightened by the climate - less so by the language as it is widely known that you can get by with English here." Jef says that there have also been concerns about the possibility of spouses and partners fi nding work in Finland.
On the plus side though ECHA has been able to offer many significant advantages in terms of good rates of pay, and high grades on offer for experts. "So far we have been able to recruit people without too much of a problem, but the challenge of course is keeping people motivated so that they want to stay." Jef is optimistic however that he will be able to achieve his goal by developing the right policies. "We need to develop an active policy to make the work challenging which will keep people interested and increase their development perspectives" So why yet another Nordic posting? "It was purely a coincidence that I ended up in another Nordic posting after Sweden and Denmark," he claims.
Having heard horror stories from colleagues in other agencies though Jef is impressed at how smoothly the Finnish system works, and at how much support ECHA received from the Finnish government. "There was a real commitment from the Finnish government in making sure that ECHA worked. They set up a new European School, introduced an advantageous VAT system for the staff and developed a programme to help new staff settle in to the country. Their help was invaluable." It is clear that Jef has many positive views on the Finns themselves and the way the country works, although he maintains that he fi nds the language to be "impenetrable".
Despite these challenges however, Jef is proud to be a part of what he sees as being groundbreaking legislation. "Europe has really taken the lead globally on this issue. REACH proved to be a major challenge politically and of course has and will have a major impact on industry. Europe is being very closely monitored by the US on this issue." In his personal life Jef is married and a father to three daughters, Ada 20, Esther 18 and Justine 16, who are planning to visit Helsinki at Easter when a trip to Lapland is also on the agenda. (One of Jef's most memorable trips includes a dip in the Tornio River in the light of the midnight sun). Jef's other passions in life are cooking, gardening and his love of motorbikes. "I am still looking for a companion to join me on a motorbike trip to the North Cape," he says smiling. With Jef on the trip, whoever is lucky enough to go can be assured of having found an excellent traveling companion!
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Biocidal Products Committee:
26 February-1 March
Committee for Risk Assessment:
6-8 March and
Committee for Socio-Economic
Management Board meeting:
23-27 March (tentative)
Member State Committee:
20-24 April (tentative)