EU institutions preparing staff nationality quotas

Maroš Šefčovič [European Commission]

EU institutions will work hard to fill management posts with administrators from new member states by the end of 2010, European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič said yesterday (11 March), presenting a major overhaul of the EU’s recruitment procedure.

When the  European Union took in 12 new member states, quotas were introduced to ensure that the EU institutions employ a fair proportion of staff from the new member states, and since then, recruitment has been dominated by the need to satisfy these requirements.

“By the end of this year, we’ll have kept our word and the quotas will be filled at all levels,” said Šefčovič, who is responsible for inter-institutional relations and administration at the EU executive.

Speaking at the launch of the EU institutions’ new recruitment system yesterday, he said: “We’re doing very well on quotas. They have been filled for administrators, and we intend to use this year to make sure we fill our quotas for high-level and management positions to ensure that geographical balance is properly represented”.

‘Faster and more efficient’ appointments

Outlining the reasoning behind the new recruitment system, Šefčovič said the EU needed to be “faster and more efficient” in making appointments to attract the best minds.

“In an increasingly competitive jobs market, the European institutions have to be able to attract a diverse range of top-quality applicants,” Šefčovič added, underlining that “hanging on to these people” would require giving them attractive positions “without undue delay”.

Tests to recruit staff will be held on an annual basis for the most common job profiles, which the EU hopes will allow candidates to plan their application more effectively and help human resource planning in Brussels.

The annual tests, administered by the European Personnel Selection Office (EPSO) and held in three waves for administrators, assistants and linguists, will be complemented by individual competitions for specialists when required.

Specialised knowledge of the European Union will no longer be the main focus of tests to recruit EU officials under the new guidelines, with the focus instead shifting to assessing the skills and competencies of people on-the-top, as revealed by EURACTIV last year (EURACTIV 23/11/09).

“There will now be just two stages in the selection procedure: computer-based pre-selection testing in individual EU countries and an assessment stage in Brussels,” said Commissioner Šefčovič.

Testing at pre-selection, designed to assess cognitive ability and situational judgement, will focus on seven “core competencies,” identified as analysis and problem-solving, communicating, delivering quality and results, learning and development, prioritising and organising, resilience and working with others.

Successful candidates will be invited to an assessment centre in Brussels where they will complete exercises relating to professional skills – including case studies in the field in question – give an oral presentation, take part in a group exercise, and undertake practical language tests before attending a structured interview.

Exercises at the assessment centre stage will be held in candidates’ second EU working language, be that English, French or German.

Previous system ‘much too slow’

“The new cycle will take between five and nine months, rather than up to two years as was the case under the previous system,” Šefčovič said.

“Very often we were not able to attract the best people, because if you are young and bright, it is very difficult to wait up to two years to get a job,” he explained, adding that he understood successful candidates’ frustration at having to wait for the EU institutions to find them positions after having been placed on the reserve list.

Admitting that the recruitment process is currently “much too slow and in some cases ineffective,” EPSO Director David Bearfield said the new competence tests would replace detailed EU knowledge questions, “which we found give no indication of future competence in the job”.

Whether successful or not, candidates will receive feedback in the form of a ‘competency passport’ detailing their strengths and weaknesses in a move to address criticism that the previous selection procedure was not transparent enough.

French skills ‘essential’ for EU job

Commissioner Šefčovič strongly denied suggestions that the new system would lead to a decline in the number of French-speakers working for the EU institutions. Insisting that “French is essential,” he explained that “during meetings it is expected that you can switch between English and French, which very often leads to the ‘Franglais’ element”.

Šefčovič nevertheless admitted that “we want people to master other languages too” and insisted that the EU’s aim was to “increase the number of languages used, not reduce them.

Echoing the commissioner, EPSO’s Bearfield said “we need to strike the right balance between having working languages for professional needs, and ensuring multicultural and multilingual diversity”.

“The chances are reasonably high that you will need three EU languages if you are to be promoted,” he added.

The first competition to be held under the new regime, aimed at recruiting administrators, will be published on 16 March.

"In an increasingly competitive jobs market, the European institutions have to be able to attract a diverse range of top-quality applicants," said European Commission Vice-President for Inter-Institutional Relations and Administration Maroš Šef?ovi?.

"It's also important that we hang on to these people, which we will only do if they have the prospect of finding an attractive post without undue delay. The new system is based on best practice across the public sector. It will provide the EU institutions with the right people at the right time, while remaining true to the principles of fair and open competition," he said.

Outlining the thinking behind the changes, David Bearfield, director of the European Personnel Selection Office (EPSO), said "we'll see around a third of European Commission staff retire in the next ten years and over half in the European Parliament, while fewer young people will be graduating in the next 10-15 years, so the EU institutions need to be even better at attracting Europe's best people".

"Many of the EU's achievements of the last 50 years are down to the talent we have right now. We need to make sure this talent is replaced," he added.

The European Personnel Selection Office (EPSO) selects staff on behalf of the EU institutions.

In July 2008, EPSO announced plans to reform its recruitment process to make appointments more focused on the personal and professional competences of candidates rather than detailed EU knowledge (EURACTIV 22/07/08).

European Commission Vice-President Siim Kallas told EURACTIV in an interview in October that the Commission should address the EU's "rigid" recruitment and career development systems to bring them more in line with today's flexible labour market (EURACTIV 16/10/09).

Faced with a "succession crisis" in its languages department, the European Commission has launched awareness-raising campaigns aimed at encouraging young people to consider a career in languages amid concerns that retirees are not being adequately replaced (EURACTIV 18/02/09EURACTIV 20/11/09).

  • 16 March: Publication of first administrator competition under new regime.
  • Late April: First competition for specialists opens.
  • July: Publication of first competition for linguists.
  • December: First competition for assistants.

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