Sunday

23rd Jan 2022

Opinion

Let's have positive discrimination for EU stagiaires

  • The 'Blue Book' programme offers hundreds of young Europeans each year the possibility to spend time inside the European institutions. (Photo: Helena Malikova)

We often talk about the diversity of the European Union as its strength. But pro-European slogans like 'Stronger Together'ring hollow if they only apply to solidarity among states and governments.

We are truly stronger together when all citizens — no matter their skin colour and ethnic heritage — feel at home.

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Some Europeans say that acknowledging the skin colour of European citizens is racist in itself. They say being blind to colour is the right approach.

We choose to disagree, we choose to see colour, and we wish to go further. We hold that Europe's natural place is to reach out to citizens who may feel a lack of solidarity from the public authorities.

As EU civil servants and stakeholders, we call on our institutions to take greater responsibility for making the European project one of solidarity between people of all walks of life starting with its most important asset: people.

First and foremost, the focus should be on youth and the European Commission's paid traineeship programme, known as the 'Blue Book' in the Brussels jargon.

The Blue Book programme offers hundreds of young Europeans each year the possibility to spend time inside the European institutions.

Former trainees are de facto young ambassadors of the European project. They talk about their experience to families and colleagues whom the EU probably would not otherwise be able to reach otherwise. Some former trainees head for successful careers in other organisations and companies.

We call for applying positive discrimination to the Blue Book.

This would imply quotas to ensure the recruitment of people of colour including those from non-privileged backgrounds. The selection of the stagiaires should rely on a pre-defined objective grid of criteria.

To help with talent-scouting, civil society organisations could accompany the European Commission in implementing a new-look Blue Book with the widest possible appeal.

We acknowledge the role universities must play in preparing the next generation of civil servants in the European institutions. By remedying the underrepresentation of people of color in their student bodies, universities will in turn give confidence to more diverse groups of graduates to apply for positions within the European institutions.

'Unconscious bias' training

Once EU civil servants are recruited, let's also revisit the ways they are inducted.

Many come from countries with relatively low participation by, and representation of, people of colour in public functions.

As a matter of urgency, induction training should include stimulating awareness of unconscious bias. Induction training provides a vitally important lever for breeding tolerance and better workplace performance.

For example, newcomers to the EU institutions and agencies located across the EU should be made aware of academic findings showing that diverse teams in terms perform better than all-white and all-male teams.

To this end, the powerful unions that represent EU civil servants should undertake steps to heighten awareness of issues of bias and prejudice; unions must be ready to serve the people of colour who serve Europe.

It's long past time we added more people of colour to our ranks so that the European institutions fully represent the diversity of those they serve.

We regard the wave of reactions triggered by Black Lives Matter protests following the death of George Floyd as an important wake-up call for everyone who cares about strengthening our societies and revitalising the European project.

We applaud European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen for making clear that the European Union must take a pro-active stance against racism.

We also recall that von der Leyen asked all of us, "What can we do so that our institutions better represent the diversity of our European societies?"

We acknowledge that our suggestions are only modest steps toward this goal. The effort needed to eliminate structural racism that blights so many of our societies is of an entirely different order of magnitude.

Even so, we think our suggestions can be impactful.

Last year, von der Leyen was bestowed the presidency of the European Commission.

In assuming that role, she has become a symbol for many little girls in Europe that they too can aspire to similar positions of power and influence.

We call on the EU institutions to seize the momentum created by von der Leyen's appointment and accelerate progress toward a more diverse workforce that represents all European citizens.

After all, you can't be what you can't see.

Author bio

Res Publica Europa comprises EU officials and European affairs professionals who have joined forces to create a non-partisan association to further an ambitious, fair and green Europe.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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