Musical chairs for top EU jobs leave countries in the lurch –

The geographical imbalance of European Commission jobs is on everyone’s radar. More EU member states are frustrated with the current situation and the EU executive’s current plans are unlikely to satisfy them, EURACTIV has learned.

EURACTIV involved 13 EU countries in researching this article representing a diverse set of corners of the continent. Only two were satisfied with the current HR status quo.

Member states can be subdivided into three categories: those lacking representation in senior positions, those lacking new blood in younger positions, and those snubbed at both ends of the seniority spectrum.

Relatively new countries are dissatisfied with the low representation of their nationals in the highest positions. Meanwhile, older Member States face a generational renewal problem, as many senior civil servants will soon reach retirement age. Those who die outright are calling for short-term solutions, such as recruitment based on nationality.

The new-ish kids on the block are unhappy

According to Geographical representation in the EU Leadership Observatorythe countries of central and eastern Europe (CEEC) have been under-represented within the European institutions since their accession.

“Western and Southern Europe gathered 85% of new appointments in 2021 and 70% over the 2019-2021 triennium. Meanwhile, no Central European citizens have been appointed to a leadership position in 2021,” the analysis warns.

“For years, we have observed a tendency to marginalize our region in the process of appointments to leadership positions in the EU,” a CEEC diplomat told EURACTIV.

According to them, the lack of equal representation leads to the alienation of citizens and undermines the democratic legitimacy of the EU, increasing anti-EU and nationalist sentiments.

However, this problem may be partly due to these countries, as many lack appropriate strategies to bring their nationals into EU institutions.

The problem of generational renewal

However, the problem does not only affect the countries of Central and Eastern Europe.

“Our current situation is satisfactory, but we can already see a downward trend which may, during this decade, lead to an under-representation of Finns in many large institutions, including the Commission where we are already under-represented. represented among young civil servants,” Mikael Kekkonen, Counselor at the Permanent Representation of Finland to the EU, told EURACTIV.

According to Kekkonen, the main reason for the problem is that many civil servants recruited when Finland joined the EU have reached or will soon reach retirement age. Moreover, few newcomers have been recruited in recent years.

As EURACTIV has learned, Ireland and Germany share similar concerns.

“It is clear to us that the EU institutions as well as the member states have to solve this problem,” Kekkonen said.

The European Personnel Selection Office (EPSO), responsible for selecting staff to work for the institutions, has already listed 17 Member States, including the Czech Republic, Germany, Denmark and Sweden, which deserve particular attention due to their under-representation.

“The situation demonstrates a long-standing systemic problem in the personnel policy of the EU institutions, where language requirements predominantly favor southern European countries (e.g. Italy and Spain) to the detriment of representation of other member states,” said Tereza Kůnová from the Czech government office.

However, the allegedly inappropriate system for selecting EU civil servants may not be the only cause of insufficient representation.

“In the Czech Republic, it is certainly due to a more lukewarm attitude towards EU membership, and therefore more lukewarm support from ministries and the government office for Czechs who want to enter the institutions. Especially for leadership positions, lobbying and support from state authorities is an important factor because the competition is strong,” said Jan Kovář, Deputy Research Director of the Institute of International Relations in Prague.

spanish miracle

In 2018, the European Commission published a policy ratethat is to say the proportion which nationals of this Member State should ideally represent in relation to its population.

“Currently at the Commission, there are indeed nationalities which are below 80% of their key rate”, acknowledged the spokesperson for the European executive.

Several EU countries have already adopted a special strategy to increase the number of nationals in EU institutions. For example, the Czech Republic approved the plan in 2015. Similar documents were also adopted in Sweden, Ireland, Denmark and others.

Spain has increased the activity of its unit dedicated to its Brussels branch known as the Support Unit for Nationals in the Institutions (UDA), which publishes half-yearly reports including the overall presence of Spaniards in the various institutions of the EU.

From the February 2021 report, seen by EURACTIV, two facts stand out: Spain has 8.4% of the total civil servants of the EU institutions (including temporary agents), only behind Italy, France and Belgium, and close to its key rate of 8.9. %.

In the years to come, this domination could even increase with the success of the Spaniards in the entrance examinations, which represent more than 14% of the total.

What’s your passport?

Meanwhile, 10 extremely concerned EU member states are calling for change and sent a letter to Commissioner for Budget and Administration Johannes Hahn in late 2021.

One of the solutions advocated by some countries is the introduction of nationality-based competitions to rebalance representation within the Commission as a short-term solution before longer-term corrective measures can come into effect.

However, the Commission countered that while such passport-based job offers are part of its arsenal, they must remain a “last resort” solution.

Although the European Commission confirmed to EURACTIV that it was already working on a new human resources strategy, it failed to answer whether it was willing to consider job offers based on nationality.

Instead, he said geographical balance is ‘a desirable goal’ but recalled that all his ‘civil servants work in the interest of the EU’ while appointments are ‘made on the basis of merit and skills regardless of nationality considerations”.

“It is important to understand how and why imbalances occur. The reasons vary from country to country. That is why, in the new HR strategy, we are proposing an action plan for under-represented Member States, which will include country-specific analyzes and tailor-made measures,” said the Commission spokesperson.

The juniors

Yet, without a systematic long-term vision beyond promotional activities in member states, the EU executive’s stance on human resources can only irritate European capitals.

However, the data on the Commission’s new decision to attract younger blood to its halls shows that there could be alternative solutions to rebalance the scales.

The Juniors Professionals Program (JPP), partially modeled on the World Bank’s longstanding similar program scheme, already shows imbalances only three years after its launch in 2018.

Yet such asymmetries could, in the long term, help tip the balance in the right direction for the whole Commission if they are managed properly.

For example, Denmark and Ireland, currently over-represented in the programme, are seeking to inject new blood into the EU civil service, in line with their national plans.

[Edited by Alice Taylor]

[Infographic by: Esther Snippe |]