The EU has changed the language requirements for its recruitment process, with prospective candidates now able to select from a wider pool of languages and no longer limited to English, French or German.
The European Personnel Selection Office (EPSO) has launched a new recruitment drive for EU administrators after electing to not organise any administrator competitions in 2016 following a legal dispute with the Italian and Spanish governments.
In a September 2015 case, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled in favour of Italy and Spain’s claim that EPSO’s recruitment policy was discriminatory, as it obliged candidates to select English, French and German as the testing languages.
The court also annulled the results of three recruitment drives launched in 2012 and 2013, which had only offered a choice between the EU’s three working languages.
EPSO responded by cancelling all upcoming plans for more AD5 Generalist competitions and only scheduled specialised tests to respond to urgent recruitment needs, such as translation and auditing. AD5 is the level where most EU staffers start their career with the European institutions.
But in a new call published at the end of last month, EPSO has compromised and extended the number of languages that can be selected by candidates taking its tests, albeit under certain conditions.
EPSO’s recruitment process is split into two halves. The first is a computer-based series of tests (CBT) that assesses numerical and verbal reasoning, as well as problem solving.
The second is an assessment day, in which candidates must demonstrate their ability to work in a team, as well as satisfying a number of other criteria.
This first part of the process can be undertaken in any of the EU’s 24 official languages, while the second part can now be taken in one of the top five languages selected by the candidates taking the test.
This introduces uncertainty and risk into the process given prospective recruits will have to pick their desired languages during the application stage and hope that a sufficient number of other candidates select the same. If candidates have not selected one of the top five languages, they will be disqualified.
Past competitions and probability point to the inclusion of English and French among the top five languages, with German, Italian and Spanish as strong choices for the other three slots. However, candidates won’t know until EPSO publishes the top five once the process has begun.
The language policy of the recruitment office has come under fire before: while EU treaties safeguard equality of languages among its 24 official tongues, EPSO has been accused of ignoring that in the past.
In 2007, Italy and Spain complained that job notices were only published in the three working languages. The ECJ backed the plaintiffs then too and recruitment drives are now published in all 24 languages in the Official Journal of the European Union.
EPSO’s decision to only offer the second part of the process, the so-called e-tray assessment, in just one of the three working languages has also been regularly criticised.
The recruitment office has defended itself by highlighting that the costs and logistics of organising the e-tray in any or maybe all of the official 24 languages would be unfeasible.
EPSO has also pointed out that the idea of a standardised test for all recruits, which was reformed back in 2010, is that new staff are immediately operational and can converse with their fellow EU colleagues.
Without a working knowledge of English, French or, to a lesser extent, German, this would be problematic.
Speculation that English could lose its status as an official language of the EU following the UK’s decision to leave the bloc appears to not have played a part in EPSO’s compromise solution, given English still retains its status.
Less clear is what impact Brexit will have on the employment prospects of British citizens. In its official call for the new competition, EPSO lists that recruits must “enjoy full rights as a citizen of a member state of the EU”.
EPSO recruitment processes can be lengthy and British citizens taking this test could remain on the office’s reserve list beyond March 2019, the scheduled date for the UK’s exit from the EU, as the validity of lists can be extended at the discretion of the EU authority.