Irish people and jobs in EU institutions

Sir – In his letter of February 5th, Prof Ciarán Burke raises some points worthy of discussion in relation to Irish representation in the EU institutions – something that we in European Movement Ireland have been working to promote for a number years.

Historically, Irish officials have done well in the EU institutions and agencies and have progressed to occupy positions of significant influence.

Remarkably, two of the eight secretary generals of the European Commission (its most senior position) have been Irish officials serving subsequent terms, namely David O’Sullivan and Catherine Day. Other Irish people currently in key positions include Emily O’Reilly as European ombudsman; Emer Cooke, executive director of the European Medicines Agency; and Philip Lane, chief economist at the European Central Bank.

According to a recent report from the European Commission, 1.7 per cent of its staff stated Irish as their nationality, again a healthy percentage relative to our population – approximately 1.1 per cent of the population of the EU.


Granted, many Irish officials are approaching retirement in the coming years, resulting in concerns about the numbers of Irish people working at lower grades who could potentially rise to more senior levels.

We are fully cognisant that work needs to be done to increase the representation of Irish people in the institutions and many initiatives exist in this regard.

The 2020 programme for government outlined a goal to “develop a new strategy to increase the presence of Irish people in the senior ranks of the EU institutions, targeting an increase in the number of young Irish people applying for internships and working with Irish officials and universities on outreach”.

Challenges do remain around languages but, equally, much work is being done to rise to these challenges – in the education sector and more broadly.

Those officials, referred to by Prof Burke, who have legitimately availed of Irish passports, should be given the benefit of the doubt. I would argue that they are committed Europeans, determined to continue their careers within the institutions post-Brexit. The fact that an Irish passport allows them to do that is likely to inspire an affinity to their Irish roots. Speculation regarding their education or direct exposure to Irish history and politics is no indicator of their effectiveness in advancing Irish interests, as evidenced not least by the power of our diaspora, millions of who grew up and were educated in other countries.

It should also be noted that the difficulty attracting a diverse range of graduates and young professions to EU careers is not solely an Irish problem. The European Court of Auditors recently highlighted the declining proportion of under-35s in recruitment competitions and a lack of diversity among the candidates.

There are other challenges in increasing the number of Irish candidates applying to EU job opportunities, including time and other commitments required to complete applications. Concerns around the chances of eventual success can be off-putting to graduates who also have private-sector opportunities with comparable terms and conditions.

It is key to remember that all European officials, regardless of their citizenship or place of birth, are hired to work for “Europe”, not for their home countries.

It is of course helpful to have Irish voices represented at the European table, but we should trust that officials at all levels are hired in the understanding that they will work to represent the interests of all EU citizens.

There are more and more opportunities available in the institutions of the EU. This month alone, there are over 60 competitions open on, including a range of opportunities for Irish speakers and nine openings for traineeships with the institutions and agencies.

Post-Brexit, new opportunities for Irish people have only increased.

There will always be a place for Irish voices at the European table. We must continue to work together to ensure they find their way there. – Yours, etc,



Chief Executive,

European Movement


Dublin 2.