Friday

20th Jul 2018

Staff leaving EU diplomatic service amid bad working conditions

  • EEAS official: 'All the people I know are looking for other jobs' (Photo: tacker)

Working for the new European External Action Service (EEAS) used to sound like one of the sexiest jobs in Brussels.

But in the past nine months almost 60 staff have left amid reports of bad working conditions.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... our join as a group

According to its own figures, 27 people have gone off to the EU Council, the member states' secreteriat. Sixteen others went to the European Commission. Six left for the European Parliament and seven have gone to the private sector. Another three quit the cabinet of EEAS chief Catherine Ashton herself.

The departures have handicapped individual departments - one unit which organises EU crisis management operations abroad has lost six out of 12 secretaries.

Senior people are also going, with five "A grade" crisis management officials abandoning ship.

David O'Sullivan, a top EEAS civil servant, told EUobserver the numbers are not significant because they are less than four percent of his 1,500-or-so Brussels-based staff.

"I don't think we have a problem with people leaving. Some people may not be happy, but these are teething problems in a new institution ... it's not that we have a general problem," he said.

If O'Sullivan was running a private company, he would be worried.

Blue-chip firms expect to lose up to 8 percent of workers a year in so-called "natural attrition." But alarm bells ring if more than 2 percent go because of "regrettable attrition" - people who do not like their jobs.

The EEAS departures are mostly "regrettable."

Contacts described management as "an absolute mess ... a nightmare ... chaos."

One EEAS director said: "There is a major dysfunction." An EU staff trade union delegate noted: "If the EEAS was a private company and people had to work in these conditions, it would go bankrupt."

Two years after the EU began creating the new body, personnel do not know who does what in the organisation. Many cannot get access to email or do not have a working telephone on their desk. Reimbursements for foreign missions, medical fees and children's school fees are paid months late, making EU diplomats reluctant to travel and making life hard for secretaries on low pay.

Dozens of EEAS embassies abroad do not have computers cleared to send secret files to each other or Brussels, forcing staff to hand-deliver documents. Even Ashton's private office does not have a top-level-cleared computer.

The day-to-day gripes come in a general climate of bad faith.

Ex-Council EEAS staff say ex-commission colleagues get preferential treatment by the European Commission's human resources department, which handles EEAS internal affairs.

EU countries cause jealousy by parachuting in diplomats for attractive jobs.

And Ashton herself has bad relations with important departments. "Some of the questions she asks SitCen [her classified information branch], you could get the answers on Google ... You get the feeling she doesn't care," a contact said.

O'Sullivan predicted big improvements when the EEAS is installed in its new headquarters in March.

Asked what he would say to staff thinking of leaving, he answered: "It would be a shame to make a career decision based on these issues ... I would advise people to reserve judgement until this point [the March move]."

But trade speak unions speak of a worst-case scenario.

One source said if things do not change, the EEAS could fall apart, with most work going back to the Council and the commission, leaving behind a rump of Ashton and her policymakers.

For their part, the Council and the commission are building new departments which could take back EEAS powers if the opportunity arises.

Senior Council official Leonardo Schiavo has created a unit handling EU foreign affairs, while commission secretary general Catherine Day has built one for EU foreign relations spending.

"These new structures are designed to undermine Ashton and I am amazed she is letting them get away with it," an EU diplomat noted.

"There is a Taliban of people in Brussels who want to see it [the EEAS] fail," an ex-EEAS official said.

Ashton spokesman Michael Mann sent this website a "rebuttal" after the story was published.

Ashton chooses €12-million-a-year EU headquarters

The EU's new diplomatic service is to be housed in the so-called Triangle building in the heart of the EU quarter in Brussels, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony planned in the lobby in December.

Letter

Unsubstantiated tittle-tattle from anonymous 'sources'

Your article "Staff leaving EU diplomatic service amid bad working conditions" is riddled with inaccuracies and appears to be based entirely on unsubstantiated tittle-tattle from anonymous 'sources'.

EU staff to go on strike

EU staff unions have reiterated their threat to go on strike after negotiations with the European Commission failed to produce an agreement on pay and pensions.

Investigation

Commission accused of cherry picking job applicants

A pilot project scheme is giving preferential treatment for interns to land highly sought-after jobs at the European Commission - bypassing the lengthy open competition for everyone else seeking the same position.

News in Brief

  1. Libyan PM rejects EU migrant camps idea
  2. Italy's Salvini to sue critical anti-mafia writer
  3. EU countries send aircraft to Sweden to help with wildfires
  4. British ex-commissioner's jobs called into question
  5. May to tell EU to drop Irish border 'backstop' idea
  6. Trump threatens EU over Google fine
  7. Spain withdraws arrest warrant for Catalan separatists
  8. EU readies counter-measures on possible US car tariffs

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  2. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  4. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  6. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  8. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  9. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  11. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  12. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  2. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  3. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development
  4. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman Requests More Lending Transparency from European Investment Bank
  5. FIFARecycling at the FIFA World Cup in Russia
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersOECD Report: Gender Equality Boosts GDP Growth in Nordic Region
  7. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Peace and Reconciliation Is a Process That Takes Decades” Dr. Anthony Soares on #Brexit and Northern Ireland
  8. Mission of China to the EUMEPs Positive on China’s New Measures of Opening Up
  9. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOld White Men are Destroying Macedonia by Romanticizing Greece
  10. Counter BalanceControversial EIB-Backed Project Under Fire at European Parliament
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersIncome Inequality Increasing in Nordic Countries
  12. European Jewish CongressEU Leaders to Cease Contact with Mahmoud Abbas Until He Apologizes for Antisemitic Comments

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us