UK hits back at EU over national expert layoffs

Seconded national experts are sent from the civil services of EU countries and work in the Commission on a short-term basis. [Shutterstock]

The UK will retain all the rights and obligations of an EU member state until it leaves the Union and this includes national experts who work in the European Commission, a spokesperson from her majesty’s government told EURACTIV.com.

The Commission recently “invited” a handful of UK national experts who are involved in trade and financial services dossiers to leave the institution within three months to avoid any conflicts of interest ahead of the Brexit negotiations.

Seconded national experts (SNEs) are detached from the civil services of EU countries and work for a limited time in the European Commission.

The EU executive is reportedly trying to find a solution for more than 70 British officials working as SNEs.

The start of negotiations over Britain’s exit from the EU has made the situation for many of these officials untenable, as they are directly involved in sensitive dossiers including trade, financial services and aircraft landing rights.

Some of these experts were relocated to less sensitive units or dossiers. However, sources confirmed that a handful were not so lucky and received orders to pack up and leave at the end of the summer break, after a three-month notice period.

The number of early leavers is expected to rise as more areas, such as fisheries, become strategically critical to the EU’s negotiating team during the Brexit talks.

The contracts of these national experts are limited to a maximum of four years.

“We are talking about national civil servants temporarily assigned to the Commission under specific rules. In other words, this is not about British nationals, but about people working for – and paid by – her majesty’s government,” a Commission spokesperson said.

“We are still members of the EU”

EURACTIV was informed that the relevant services from the UK government and the Commission are working to find a “constructive” solution to the issue and aim to continue the secondment programme in areas of shared interest.

Speaking to EURACTIV on Tuesday (11 July), a British government spokesperson stressed that the UK would continue to enjoy all the rights and obligations of an EU member state until it leaves the Union.

“This includes seconding national experts to the EU Institutions,” the spokesperson said, adding that when on secondment, these officials offer expertise on specific issues such as counter-terrorism, security, and the economy.

“UK secondees are valued and respected by their European colleagues for their expertise and professionalism,” the UK official added.

Survey: national experts are independent

A survey published by three professors at the London School of Economics (LSE) and the European Politics and Policy (EUROPP) raised the issue of the independence of national experts working in the European Commission.

The research covered around 400 SNEs in the EU executive and found that they are in practice “likely to be relatively independent of member state influence”.

According to the professors, the results indicate that seconded national experts “are more likely to be attached to the Commission than their home country”.