Thursday

21st Mar 2019

UK not the only losers in EU 'generation game'

  • Square opposite EU parliament, more Polish, less English heard in cafes (Photo: FallacyFilms)

On the streets between Schuman and Place Luxembourg that mark out the EU quarter, English is the most spoken language.

The supermarket shelves stock Heinz baked beans, Tiptree's marmalade, and tea and biscuits - popular creature comforts for Brits abroad - at a hefty mark up.

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.

... or join as a group

But British nationals in the EU institutions are an increasingly endangered species even though a referendum on its continued EU membership, if it ever happens, is still years away.

The number of Brits working for the European Commission has fallen by 24 percent in seven years. They represent just 4.6 percent of the EU executive's staff, well short of its 12.5 percent share of the EU's population. Its numbers are also falling in the European Parliament, with UK nationals accounting for just 5.8 percent of senior administrative-grade (AD) posts, down from 6.2 percent in 2010.

By contrast, France, which has a marginally bigger population than the UK, accounts for 9.7 percent of commission staff and 8.6 percent of senior parliament officials.

If there is a crumb of comfort for the British, it is that they punch their weight amongst the EU's diplomatic corps. Of the 308 positions held by national diplomats in June 2013, the UK held the second highest number at 25, behind France with 39.

Does all this matter?

British leader David Cameron's government clearly thinks so, going as far as to establish an EU Staffing Unit devoted to beefing up the presence of its civil servants in the EU institutions.

For example, the government will be funding more seconded national experts (SNEs) to the EU institutions in areas considered to be of strategic importance, such as financial services.

The timing is rather awkward, however, amidst mounting speculation about Britain's continued membership of the EU.

On top of this, the 24 percent fall is just the tip of the iceberg.

A paper sent by the UK foreign office to a committee of MPs in the House of Commons earlier this month conceded that, although the UK had never taken its full share of EU staff, "the problem has become more acute and is set to get worse before it gets better."

More than four in 10 British officials will be enjoying their retirement by 2020 and, based on the number of applicants in recent years, most of them will not be replaced.

UK entrants for the 2012 concours competition made up just 2.4 percent of the total number, while the latest statistics for 2013 reveal that a mere 289 British nationals have applied, fewer than Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Finland and Lithuania.

The trend is part of what foreign secretary William Hague has described as a "generation gap."

The generation of staff who joined the commission when Britain joined the then EEC in 1973 are either retired or retiring, while officials who moved to Brussels in the 1980s to establish the single market are coming to the end of their careers.

But the problem does not just affect the Brits.

Senior Luxembourgish and Danish employees are the other nationalities set to be more depleted.

One in four German senior staffers will have begun to draw their pension by 2020. In total, 10,000 officials, including 27 percent of senior civil servants from the fifteen EU member states who joined before 2004, will have retired by the end of the decade.

Commission officials say that the 2004 austerity measures for officials, which included a 20 percent starting salary pay cut for senior civil servants, have made it tougher for the EU executive to attract high quality candidates from "old" Europe.

"The problem is particularly acute for the UK," says Antonio Gravilli, the commission's spokesman on institutional relations, who also cites the limited second language skills of many British applicants as another contributing factor.

"The trend is for the geographical imbalance to get worse in the coming years, particularly as we are not recruiting enough new staff from the rich member states," he explains, adding, in reference to the new settlement for EU staffing, that "the 5 percent cut in staff from 2013-2017 will obviously not help to rectify the situation either."

By contrast, only 5 percent of AD ranked officials from the eastern European intake will leave the service.

Not that there is anything sinister behind this statistic which reflects the fact that their countries have not been members for long enough to have significant numbers retiring.

At present, there is little the commission can do to maintain a country-by-country balance amongst its staff.

Current rules forbid them from any kind of positive discrimination. Neither they nor member states can parachute large numbers of new staff into senior positions within the EU Institutions - the only way to increase the number of permanent staff from the UK and elsewhere is through success at the concours.

However, the revisions to the EU's staff regulations, currently being finalised by MEPs and ministers, could give the commission the power to hold targeted competitions by nationality as early as 2014.

If nothing else, the demography of the "Brussels bubble" - and, potentially, its gastronomy, will change. Perhaps British ex-pats should start stockpiling their jams, biscuits and beans. The Polish delicatessens are coming.

MEPs back cost-cutting on EU staff

MEPs have backed changes to working conditions for EU officials designed to save over €1 billion a year and to improve ethical standards.

EU on path towards whistleblower protection

EU lawmakers and member states have struck a political deal on the first-ever EU-wide directive on whistleblower protection - following years of big tax-evasion revelations and the laundering of dirty money in European banks.

Germany's CDU lukewarm on Macron's EU vision

Germany's anointed new leader has echoed France in calling for EU reform to combat populism - but with a stronger role for national governments and with little prospect of sharing German wealth.

Exclusive

Sefcovic campaign videos feature fellow commissioners

Maros Sefcovic, commission vice-president in charge of Energy Union, is running to be president of Slovakia. Now two of his fellow EU commissioners have endorsed him - raising questions about their independence.

News in Brief

  1. EPP proposes suspension for Orban's Fidesz
  2. May asks for Brexit extension until 30 June
  3. Juncker: Brexit decision unlikely this week
  4. North Macedonia EU-membership talks set for June
  5. EU ups benefits rights for mobile workers
  6. Chinese leader visits Italy, France as Rome joins 'Silk Road'
  7. EU agrees to sanction political parties breaching data rules
  8. EPP votes Wednesday on future of Orban's party

Magazine

Explained: What is the European Parliament?

While domestic political parties often use the European Parliament as a dumping ground for unwanted politicians - and a majority of citizens don't bother to vote - the parliament, over the years, has become a dominant force in the EU.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  4. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  7. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  12. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership

Latest News

  1. May tosses Brexit spanner into EU machinery
  2. Centre-right EPP faces showdown with Orban
  3. A compromise proposal for the Article 50 extension
  4. US glyphosate verdict gives ammunition to EU activists
  5. Have a good reason for Brexit extension, Barnier tells UK
  6. EU countries push for new rule of law surveillance
  7. EU rolls out €525m for military projects, but bars illegal tech
  8. May to seek Brexit extension amid UK 'constitutional crisis'

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  2. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  3. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  5. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  6. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us