Irish nationals have held the top civil service post in the EU since 2000 giving successive governments unprecedented access to the main decision-makers. But since 2010 just five Irish candidates have been selected for a panel selection for EU posts.
The number of Irish people applying for jobs has been so low as to prompt the Eu ropean Personnel Selection Office, the EU's recruitment body, to target Ireland along with five other member states to try and boost applications.
"I am very concerned and it is something I have raised with all Government departments," said Minister of State for Europe an Affairs Lucinda Creighton.
“Having those contacts is very important. If you have someone there that’s from your own country you can pick up the phone and have a chat. You can’t tell them what to do but you can talk to them,” she added.
Just over 1,200 Irish graduates applied for EU jobs between 2010 and 2012. This compares to just under 2,000 applications from Finland, near2,400 from Slovakia, over 8,600 from Greece and almost 11,000 from Belgium.
Ms Creighton said she regularly visits universities to encourage students to apply for jobs in Brussels. She heads up a committee in the Department of the Taoiseach working out strategy on the issue with representatives of EU bodies, the public appointments commission and the European Movement, which provides information on EU issues.
The department and the European Personnel Selection Office have recruited students in each Irish university to organise events and spread information on job opportunities in Brussels.
"It's not something that's going to go up dramatically overnight. What we've got to try and build is awareness that we have some fantastic career opportunities for people," said David Bearfield, director of the office, who visited Ireland last week.
There are a number of reasons why applicants from Ireland have dropped off. Between 2004 and 2010 the focus for recruitment was on the 12 new member states from eastern and central Europe.
This combined with a booming labour market in Ireland meant awareness about EU jobs faded for many undergraduates.
But language is also a problem: applicants must have a second language that is either English, French or German. Irish applicants whose Irish is good can chose English as their second language but, if not, they must have good French or German.
“It’s that language knowledge that has been a real barrier,” said Mr Bearfield.
Ms Creighton said she would like to see universities giving students credits who take on languages in addition to their degree subject. “I think part of the problem is people don’t have confidence in their language skills,” she said.
Other countries being targeted to boost applicant numbers are Britain, Denmark, Sweden, Germany and the Netherlands. The system of recruitment to EU jobs has changed in recent years with competency tests replacing some of the need for rote learning about EU technicalities.
But the tests remain tough and require significant preparation. Successful candidates often have attempted the test a number of times.
There are four stages to the application process which EU candidate must pass.
The first is an online application; the second is a computer-based test in Dublin; the third is an assessment in Brussels involving a group exercise, an oral presentation and a structured interview; finally successful candidates are placed on a reserve lists from which they may be offered jobs in EU institutions as vacancies arise.
For more information see www.eujobs.ie