If you’re a Brit working in or around the UN, you’ll be familiar with the fact that your nationality doesn’t exactly help you when it comes to applying for UN jobs – given the extent to which Brits are proportionately over-represented in the UN as it is. So you might have supposed that the same would hold true in Brussels too – right? Actually, no:
Though the UK represents 12 per cent of the EU population, its citizens make up only 6 per cent of Commission staff. Britain is now the least-well represented country in the Commission by head of population, with the exception of new-joiner Romania.
What’s going on? According to the FT, the problem has long-term roots: although a generation of UK heavy-hitters joined after Britain’s accession in 1973, they’re now coming up to retirement – and not much has been done to plan for what comes next.
“If you look at the most senior levels of the Commission, we are doing very well, there is no problem there,” said one diplomat. “But there are far, far fewer Brits at lower levels. It is still not clear where the next generation is going to come from.”
Officials point to several reasons for the declining British presence in Brussels. Fewer jobs are available, as the Commission in recent years looked to citizens from new member states for the bulk of its recruitment needs. Careers in Brussels became less appealing to graduates, many of whom opted for the City. A period of political disengagement with Europe also made civil servants doubt the wisdom of gaining experience in Brussels.
“We could have been more consistent with our encouragement,” one official admits. “Europe was perceived by some as a cul-de-sac, not the best way to further your career.”