Fall in number Britons working for EU not reversing

01 July 2013

The Government is right to have identified the UK’s declining representation among the staff of the EU institutions as a threat to UK influence but its efforts are not so far reversing the fall, says the Foreign Affairs Committee in a report published today.

In relation to its 12.5% share of the EU’s population, the UK remains significantly under represented among the staff of the major EU institutions. The Committee was seriously concerned to learn that the number of UK nationals on the staff of the European Commission has fallen by 24% in seven years. The figure now stands at 4.6% of the total, against 9.7% for France, which has only a marginally larger share of the EU’s population. Since 2010, the UK’s share of policy staff has fallen from 4.8% to 4.3% in the bureaucracy of the Council of the EU, and from 6.2% to 5.8% in the increasingly-powerful European Parliament.

The chief cause of the decline is the retirement of officials who went to work for the then-European Economic Community forty years ago when the UK joined. The numbers of UK nationals entering and moving up in the EU institutions remain too small to compensate. In the European Commission in particular, the Government must therefore reckon with what the Foreign Secretary has correctly identified as a ‘generation gap’ in the UK presence, and with declining UK representation at the most senior levels there in the medium term, the Committee says.


Despite significant Government efforts, the language requirements, a lack of awareness among potential applicants, and the toughness of the competition all remain obstacles to increasing the numbers of UK nationals joining the EU institutions. In the EU staff entry competition, the pass rate among UK candidates appears to be roughly the same as for the EU as a whole, although the Committee was concerned to note that it is on a downward trend. The Committee was disconcerted to discover that the Civil/Diplomatic Service European Fast Stream programme, which is intended to prepare candidates to enter the competition successfully, appears so far to have generated no additional permanent generalist EU officials for the UK since it was re-launched in 2010. The Committee welcomed signs that more UK nationals are becoming interested in embarking on careers as permanent EU officials. However, given the pass rate, the numbers of UK candidates remain too low (2.4% of the total in 2012) to compensate for the numbers of UK retirees.

In the EU’s new ‘diplomatic service’, the European External Action Service (EEAS), the requirement that one-third of policy jobs must go to national diplomats seconded from the Member States appears to be enabling the UK to have a slightly larger staff share than in other EU institutions, although the UK still faces tough competition for these jobs. The Committee wants to see high-calibre UK diplomats undertaking secondments into the EEAS, and recommends that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) should focus on maximising the prospect that they will return to UK service afterwards.

The Committee recommends that the FCO should report annually to Parliament on the numbers of UK nationals working for the main EU institutions, and the performance of UK nationals in the EU staff entrance competition. It says that such a publication will allow Parliament to track the impact of the Government’s efforts to increase the UK presence in the institutions. It could also act as an indicator if the Prime Minister’s commitment that a Conservative Government after 2015 would hold an ‘in/out’ referendum on the UK’s continued EU membership were to weaken the willingness of UK nationals to pursue EU careers. 

Committee Chairman Richard Ottaway MP said:

"Having British nationals on the staff of the EU institutions can be an important channel for UK influence in the EU. The extent of the UK’s influence in the Union is in turn a key element in the debate over the value of EU membership. My Committee commends the Government for recognising the importance of UK representation among EU staff and for launching an effort to try to reverse the decline in UK numbers. Our Report shows where progress has been made but that there also remains work to do."

The Committee’s short Report presents data on the UK staff presence in the main EU institutions and Government policy on this issue which the Committee gathered during its recent inquiry into The future of the European Union: UK Government policy. The Committee published its main Report on The future of the European Union: UK Government policy on 11 June 2013, as HC 87-I (PDF 3.39 MB) and 87-II (PDF 2.36 MB).

Image: iStockphoto

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