23rd Mar 2018

EU foreign service favours 'old' member states

Diplomats from 'new' member states who apply for jobs in Catherine Ashton's foreign service are consistently losing out to 'old' candidates and to existing EU officials.

Details on recruitment for 181 posts last year were attached in an annex to a European External Action Service (EEAS) progress report in December but not made public.

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The figures - seen by EUobserver - show that in all but one of the seven categories of jobs covered, diplomats from the 12 EU countries which joined in 2004 fared worse than those from the 15 previous members or from eligible EU institutions.

The weeding-out was not so drastic on foreign delegations. But it made a big mark on jobs in the EEAS headquarters in Brussels.

Out of 134 people who applied for 10 senior management posts in Brussels, there were 34 'new' diplomats, 74 'old' ones and 26 EU officials. None of the 'new' ones got through. For 22 mid-level posts, just one of 126 'new' candidates made the grade. In a competition for 34 junior positions, six out of 303 'new' candidates made it, compared to 21 out of 404 'old' ones.

The hiring pattern comes on top of an inherited imbalance in the EEAS, which took most of its staff en bloc from the old-member-state-stuffed EU Council and European Commission.

The EEAS declined to comment. But the December report itself says it is committed "to ensuring a meaningful presence of staff from all member states."

For his part, Polish centre-right MEP Jacek Saryusz-Wolski said that such upbeat statements are "reflected neither in figures nor in the facts." He noted that Poland has reached only 36 percent of its EEAS target, while some 'old' countries have over 300 percent. His unofficial target is based on relative population size, as used to assign the number of MEPs or EU Council votes for each member state.

Some Polish diplomats have in the past complained about anti-new-member-state snobbery in EU circles. But part of the problem is lack of candidates.

Diplomats from Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Romania applied in healthy numbers. But Poland - the biggest of the newbies by far - fielded just 145 candidates out of the 8,800 or so people who threw in their hat.

The data also casts a light on the EEAS' popularity in other quarters.

Lots of diplomats from France (891 candidates), Austria, Belgium and Greece came forward. But diplomats from Spain and the UK were much less keen, while those from Germany (148) and Italy (126) barely made an appearance.

With the EEAS gaining a bad reputation for itself in Brussels in terms of day-to-day working conditions, out of the 3,400 EU officials who applied, the majority was internal EEAS reshuffling. Around 700 commission people and 400 EU Council staff came forward.

Meanwhile, Germans got a warm welcome. Despite the low number of applications (1.8% of the total), seven German diplomats got jobs (3.9%), five of them in the EEAS headquarters.

Turkey and China host biggest EU outposts

Staff numbers at foreign delegations highlight EU interest in Turkey and China, as well as member states' ongoing reliance on bilateral diplomacy.

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