European Ombudswoman Emily O’Reilly has today (17 February) criticised the EU’s External Action Service for not paying its interns in foreign delegations and advised an overhaul of the programme to improve access for less well-off young people.
O’Reilly’s intervention comes after a complaint from an Austrian intern in the EEAS delegation to Asia. The young woman noted that while it is normal practice for the EU’s other institutions to pay their interns, the EEAS’ 600-strong cohort of fulltime overseas trainees was unpaid.
This, the ombudswoman agreed, puts young people from less well-off backgrounds at a disadvantage, as they are less likely to be able to take an unpaid position.
“Traineeships in what is in effect the EU’s foreign service can be a significant stepping stone in young people’s careers and should be available to as broad a range of people as possible,” she said.
The European Parliament pays interns on its 5-month traineeship cycles around €1,200 per month, while Commission trainees earn around €1,100 per month.
Marta Jasinska, a former European Commission trainee, left a paid job in the UK to take the internship in Brussels. “I would never have been able to move here and take the job if it had not been paid,” she told euractiv.com. “This opportunity simply would not have been open to me.”
Many other trainees in her cohort were in similar positions, Jasinska said, with no income to fall back on besides the traineeship grant. Others had left highly paid professional jobs to take the Commission internship, she added, though these were a minority.
O’Reilly suggested that the EEAS should offer an allowance based on the cost of living in the country where interns are posted. She added that ensuring everyone has a fair and equal chance to access these internships “will benefit both trainees and delegations”.
In response to the intern’s complaint, the EEAS responded that she had known that the job was unpaid before she started, and had signed an agreement stating that she was to work full time as a “volunteer”.
Asked at a press briefing on Friday whether the institution planned to pay its overseas interns in future, an EEAS spokeswoman said, “We are exploring the possibilities in this regard. We have already taken measures to improve transparency over pay in our internships.” She stressed that the EEAS currently offers both paid and unpaid internships.