Monday

3rd Oct 2022

Too few central and eastern Europeans at top of EU

  • Outgoing presdient of the European Council, Poland's Donald Tusk (r) hands over the official bell to incoming president from Belgium, Charles Michel (l) (Photo: Council of the European Union)

Central and eastern Europeans are continuously underrepresented in the EU's leadership, which could "severely undermine support for the EU's institutions, values and policies", a new study by the consultancy European Democracy warns.

Western European countries continue to be dominant in EU leadership positions, a trend that has not changed significantly since the 2004 'Big Bang' of enlargement with 10 new member states.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

In the last 10 years, western Europe has continued to receive over 60 percent of appointments for EU institutions, the study found.

Countries of southern Europe come second, receiving around 25 percent of all leadership appointments, and are actually overrepresented in leadership positions compared to the region's number of member states.

Northern European countries come in third, with around seven percent of total appointments and mandate durations (counted in number of days), but again exceed representation when compared to its population.

Central and eastern European countries have been "outliers" with each receiving around 2.5 percent of all appointments and two percent of mandate durations. In recent years their figures increased, but only from around five percent to seven percent of all appointments.

Central and eastern European appointments are concentrated mostly in the EU agencies - which are legally separate from the EU institutions and are aimed at accomplishing specific tasks, and have weaker political weight.

The study warns that the current composition of the EU's top jobs (three western Europeans and two southern Europeans) "reflects the duopoly of western and southern Europe over EU institutions, for which they have received a combined 90 percent of appointments and 95 percent of mandate durations since 2004".

Last July, when EU leaders decided on the top positions of the EU institutions, Bulgaria's Sergei Stanishev, president of the Party of European Socialists, was discussed briefly as a possible president of the European Parliament, but Italy's David Sassoli ultimately got the job.

In recent years, two Polish politicians have held top jobs in the EU, Jerzy Buzek as parliament president, and Donald Tusk, as president of the European Council.

'Indefensible'

European Democracy Consulting said it does not advocate for an exact representation but adds that the continued under-representation, or "even just a feeling of lasting under-representation" will lead to frustration and will impact EU governance and cohesion.

It adds that four-out-of-five central European countries were also the four least-voting countries in the EU in the European elections in 2019.

While other factors also played a part, "it is clear that the absence of these countries from leadership positions is sure to further alienate their citizens from the Union," the report added.

"With central and eastern Europe representing 40 percent of member states and 20 percent of the EU's population, their almost complete absence from EU leadership positions becomes indefensible", it adds.

Central European countries have not received a single leadership appointment for EU institutions (that is, the seven institutions defined in the EU treaties: the Commission, European Council, Council of the EU, Parliament, European Court of Justice, European Central Bank, Court of Auditors) or other bodies, almost only for EU agencies, the report found.

While the lack of internal experience might explain the low level of representation in the first years after the 2004 accession, central and European member states fare worse than countries in other regions following their own accession, the report added.

Western European dominance did decrease since the early 1990s, the report found, from close to 80 percent to over 60 percent, but that has mostly benefitted southern and northern European countries. The gains for eastern and central European counties remain "marginal", the study said.

The report said the ultimate decision-makers, EU leaders and the EU Commission, should acknowledge the issue, and set goals and commit to targets for more equal representation.

The report surveys 72 entities, 89 positions, and close to 500 office-holders from 1952 to 2020.

It defines "northern Europe" as Sweden, Finland and Denmark, "western Europe" as Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, and the UK (until Brexit), "central Europe" as the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia and Slovenia, "eastern Europe" as Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria, and "southern Europe" as Cyprus, Greece, Malta, Italy, Portugal, and Spain.

Analysis

Eastern Europe wakes up with Trump hangover

Trump's legacy in the region is mostly linked to the bilateral accords normalising economic relations between Kosovo and Serbia. During the signing of the Washington Agreement, Trump allegedly pressured the Serbian president to move Serbia's embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

Visegrad Four 'nothing to hide' on rule of law issue

Central European countries say they have "nothing to hide" on rule of law issues - while justice commissioner Vera Jourova said they should agree to the Commission's controversial budget plans on rule of law conditionality.

Feature

Why northeast Italy traded in League for Brothers of Italy

EUobserver spoke with several business figures and all confirmed they voted for Georgia Meloni's Brothers of Italy because it promised stability, less bureaucracy and tax cuts. Matteo Salvini's anti-EU rhetoric scared them, while they trust Meloni has "more common sense".

Europe's far-right celebrates Meloni victory

In Warsaw and Budapest, the prime ministers were quick to congratulate the new Italian leader, who — they hope — will back them in their battles with the EU over civil rights, rule of law and democratic backsliding.

Podcast

How Europe helped normalise Georgia Meloni

Should Georgia Meloni be considered neofascist? She insists she's a patriotic conservative. And indeed, if she's prime minister, she's expected to respect Italy's democracy — if only to keep money flowing from the EU.

News in Brief

  1. Czechs warn joint-nationality citizens in Russia on mobilisation
  2. Greece to unveil proposal for capping EU gas prices
  3. Four dead, 29 missing, after dinghy found off Canary Islands
  4. Orbán: German €200bn shield is start of 'cannibalism in EU'
  5. Lithuania expels top Russian diplomat
  6. Poland insists on German WW2 reparations
  7. Russia halts gas supplies to Italy
  8. Bulgaria risks hung parliament after inconclusive vote

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. The European Association for Storage of EnergyRegister for the Energy Storage Global Conference, held in Brussels on 11-13 Oct.
  2. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos
  3. European Committee of the RegionsThe 20th edition of EURegionsWeek is ready to take off. Save your spot in Brussels.
  4. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”
  6. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries

Latest News

  1. EU wants probe into alleged Nagorno-Karabakh war crimes
  2. EU officials were warned of risk over issuing financial warning
  3. EU debates national energy plans amid calls for more coordination
  4. What Modi and Putin’s ‘unbreakable friendship’ means for the EU
  5. EU leaders have until Friday for refugee resettlement pledges
  6. Cities and regions stand with citizens and SMEs ahead of difficult winter
  7. Editor's weekly digest: A week of leaks
  8. Putin declares holy war on Western 'satanism'

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us