EU jobs seem to have lost their lustre for Ireland’s young

Europe Letter: Ireland is severely under-represented among younger officials

The Berlaymont in Brussels. Photograph: iStock

The lure of a job in Brussels for Ireland’s younger graduate generation would seem to be waning. A generation gap has opened up in the ranks of Irish EU officials, which will see serious national under-representation in the top ranks of the Berlaymont apparatus within years and, officials fear, a consequent significant loss of influence.

Close to a third of Irish officials in the European Commission are aged 59 or over, and 306 of the 522 Irish staff in the commission are over 50 and so due to retire within 15 years.

Beneath them, however, in the main recruitment grades that might hope to fill their shoes, Ireland is severely under-represented, with only some 60 per cent of its population-based share of jobs.

Fine Gael MEP Brian Hayes has warned of a serious problem in the years ahead. "In the 1980s and 1990s there was a successful drive to get Irish staff into the EU institutions but that has not continued into recent decades," he argues. "This is partly due to an influx of new member states joining the EU but it is also due to inaction on the part of successive Irish governments."


Irish officials are acutely aware of the problem, though they would dispute the claim of inaction. In recent years, for a variety of reasons, students have been less inclined to apply for jobs in Brussels, perhaps lured by lucrative opportunities offered by professional firms in Dublin.

And they have been less successful than others in the infamous Concours, the difficult exam used to filter applications. Some member states train students specifically for the exam, an approach that may well be adopted by Ireland.

In recent years much more work has been done in the universities to encourage students to apply, and there is a designated one-stop shop website for EU jobs.

Hayes argues that “the Government should push the European Commission to initiate country-specific recruitment competitions for nationalities that are underrepresented”, a view that is shared in the Irish representation here, where work has been under way in consultation with other embassies to look at ways of redressing the imbalance. It is also investigating ways of networking more closely with Irish officials.

One success

The commission admits there is an imbalance problem that it would like to redress in some eight “focus” states, but country-specific recruitment would set precedents it could find difficult.

In one area, it is worth noting, Ireland has been doing well in recent times – the mid-career temporary placement of officials from the public service as “seconded national experts” (SNEs) throughout the Brussels bureaucracy. It’s an important way of gaining experience of the EU’s workings and establishing important contact networks in policy areas that are strategically important. Some 34 Irish SNEs are currently working in the EU institutions.

Currently some 522 Irish are working in the commission, 123 in the European Parliament, 60 in the Council of Ministers and about 45 in the EU's diplomatic service, the EEAS.

The commission's campaign to end the biannual changing of our clocks in order to keep summer time all year round has been preoccupying another of the Fine Gael MEPs, Seán Kelly.

He has written to Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan to urge him to embrace the idea, which has been put out to national consultation. Under the commission's proposals, as early as next March member states who sign up will do away with the clock changes seen widely as an unnecessary complication to life and an expense to business.

Out of step

In a letter to the Minister, Kelly says he has been campaigning for the past nine years to keep summer time all year round. “The issue has a major impact on our citizens as shown in the recent public consultation on daylight savings time, which received 4.6 million responses EU-wide ... 84 per cent of respondents favour scrapping the clock change.”

The only problem is that it is not clear if the UK will follow suit – if it decides to keep winter time, the clocks on the island of Ireland will be out of kilter for six months of the year.

Kelly is determined Ireland should press ahead, confident that the UK will follow the EU lead – the poll showed a similarly high support for the measure in the UK, although it is less popular in Scotland.

“The disruption caused by the clock change has a detrimental impact on human health, according to a number of studies. It can lead to weakened immunity and sleeping patterns and in cases, increased anxiety and depression. Reports have shown that it even has a negative impact on tiredness in drivers, increasing the risk of accidents,” the letter to Flanagan reads.