Only Romania has fewer European Commission staff per capita than Britain

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.”

On the web: Hillary’s big speech, water in the Middle East, British defence spending…

– Over at Politico, Ben Smith has more news about the Secretary of State’s big foreign policy speech, to be delivered today at the Council on Foreign Relations. Placing the last six months of US diplomacy into perspective, it will also offer Hillary the chance to begin putting her own distinctive stamp on policy. As Smith comments:

Clinton appears increasingly comfortable expressing her views. State Department officials have suggested that she’s been a hawkish internal voice, pushing Obama toward more confrontational stances toward adversaries from Iran to Cuba.

– The NYT has an interesting article highlighting the importance of water, as well as land, to Middle East peace. “[W]hen it comes to water”, Stanley Weiss suggests, “every nation is in the same boat”.

– Elsewhere, the FT’s Brussels blog identifies five priorities for the next European Commission – defending the single market; reforming financial regulation; clarifying climate change and energy security policy; unifying a foreign policy voice; and finally the small matter of appointing a new President. Deutsche Welle, meanwhile, has an interview with Hans-Gert Pöttering, the outgoing President of the European Parliament.

– Finally, a veritable slew of polls – well ok, two – on British defence spending. A PoliticsHome poll suggests 66% of voters feel defence should be protected from inevitable cuts in public spending (79% among Conservative supporters, 64% for Labour supporters, and 49% among Lib Dems). Details here. The Guardian, meanwhile has an interesting ICM poll (pdf) indicating that 54% of British voters now support nuclear disarmament, with only 42% in favour of replacing Trident.