Wednesday

13th Dec 2017

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.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

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.

Analysis

Suddenly, digital single market doesn't 'need' EU agency

EU digital commissioner Gabriel downplayed the rejection of the commission's plan for a strong EU telecommunications watchdog, highlighting that the elements of the digital single market are not set in stone.

News in Brief

  1. Russia looks to crypto-currencies to evade EU sanctions
  2. Juncker embroiled in Luxembourg wire-tapping trial
  3. Kurz close to forming new Austrian right-wing government
  4. Ministers reach deal on fish quotas but overfishing continues
  5. UK parliament to vote on right to veto final Brexit deal
  6. French government rules out Corsican autonomy
  7. Salmonella food poisoning on rise in Europe
  8. EU institutions agree to start talks on lobby register

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ACCACFOs Risk Losing Relevance If They Do Not Embrace Technology
  2. UNICEFMake the Digital World Safer for Children & Increase Access for the Most Disadvantaged
  3. European Jewish CongressWelcomes Recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel and Calls on EU States to Follow Suit
  4. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Boost Innovation Cooperation Under Horizon 2020
  5. European Gaming & Betting AssociationJuncker’s "Political" Commission Leaves Gambling Reforms to the Court
  6. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Applauds U.S. Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital City
  7. EU2017EEEU Telecom Ministers Reached an Agreement on the 5G Roadmap
  8. European Friends of ArmeniaEU-Armenia Relations in the CEPA Era: What's Next?
  9. Mission of China to the EU16+1 Cooperation Injects New Vigour Into China-EU Ties
  10. EPSUEU Blacklist of Tax Havens Is a Sham
  11. EU2017EERole of Culture in Building Cohesive Societies in Europe
  12. ILGA EuropeCongratulations to Austria - Court Overturns Barriers to Equal Marriage

Latest News

  1. 2018 fishing quotas agreed - but Brexit muddies waters
  2. Medical HQ to spearhead EU military push
  3. Facebook to shift ad revenue away from Ireland
  4. EU renews glyphosate approval, pledges transparency
  5. Romania searching for EU respectability
  6. Last chance for Poland to return property to rightful owners
  7. Commission attacks Tusk on 'anti-European' migrant plan
  8. VW to EU: We will fail on recall promise

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Centre Maurits CoppietersCelebrating Diversity, Citizenship and the European Project With Fundació Josep Irla
  2. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceUnderstanding the Social Consequences of Obesity
  3. Union for the MediterraneanMediterranean Countries Commit to Strengthening Women's Role in Region
  4. Bio-Based IndustriesRegistration for BBI JU Stakeholder Forum about to close. Last chance to register!
  5. European Heart NetworkThe Time Is Ripe for Simplified Front-Of-Pack Nutrition Labelling
  6. Counter BalanceNew EU External Investment Plan Risks Sidelining Development Objectives
  7. EU2017EEEAS Calls for Eastern Partnership Countries to Enter EU Market Through Estonia
  8. Dialogue PlatformThe Turkey I No Longer Know
  9. World Vision7 Million Children at Risk in the DRC: Donor Meeting to Focus on Saving More Lives
  10. EPSU-Eurelectric-IndustriAllElectricity European Social Partners Stand up for Just Energy Transition
  11. European Friends of ArmeniaSignature of CEPA Marks a Fresh Start for EU-Armenia Relations
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Energy Ministers Pledge to Work More Closely at Nordic and EU Level