Monday 4 August 2008

Eurocrats less eurocratic?

In a Telegraph article (that I found through European Avenue) I have learnt that the European Union is abandoning its traditional "Who wants to be a Millionaire Eurocrat?" entrance game. And, they are going to shorten the application procedure.

The reason?

Well, less and less people seem to apply. The Telegraph even calls it an "alarming decrease in applicants". So instead of looking for people who have accumulated show-off knowledge that you can find within 10 seconds on Wikipedia and who can afford to wait two years until they know if taken or not, the European Union will now start to look for... qualified people.

This final remark might be a bit too extreme, because I think the EU gets a lot of qualified people. But I think that many of those who have gone through the "Concours" (the application procedure) will have been a bit disappointed because the selection process does not match the work they are doing. And others felt that the effort for such a test would not be rewarded by working in an administration that is not always "modern" as it calls itself.

But will it be enough to change the application procedure? Maybe. Maybe, the European Personnel Selection Office (EPSO) can find some better candidates who would at least try to apply for the Brusseleaucracy after the process has been adapted.

But the bigger problem is the image of the administration in Brussels (and wherever they have put the different institutions and agencies of the European Union), true or not true:

It all appears like a huge moloch of non-mobile, central-power oriented, and hierarchically organised administrators who mutate into supranationalists as soon as they enter the service. Working in there is like coming into a micro-cosmos that will never let you out anymore.

Applying for EU institutions has lost some of its appeal because other employers seem more dynamic, more demanding, and more relevant. Changing the application process is a sign to the outside world that the institutions start to realise this. But I doubt that this will raise the general attractiveness of the European bureaucracy.

The European Union will have to do much more to excite Europe's best!


Jon Worth said...

Hmmm. Without looking into the details of this I am a little sceptical about what is written in that Telegraph article.

Firstly as most of the recruitment has been from the new Member States in recent years the numbers are lower. None of those countries applies with the fervour France and Italy do.

Secondly the pay and conditions at the entrance administrator grade is lower than previously (the Kinnock reforms).

Thirdly it's not made clear whether this applies to contract agents (CAST 27 or equivalents) or for the proper concours.

As far as I can tell the determination to pass the concours is higher than ever - 1895 comments and counting on my blog...

Regarding the political point - I don't think the Commission makes people necessarily supranationalist. You have top believe in the EU to want to work in one of its institutions. Does anyone criticise British civil servants because they believe in the British state? No, of course not.

Then once people are in, just like any other officials anywhere, they do what they can to amass power and responsibility. It's natural.

Not sure all that adds up to a positive picture of the Commission however!

Julien Frisch said...

Hi John,

since the Telegraph article was citing people from EPSO, I took this seriously enough, although I do not have independent figures, either. And how far comments on a blog article (impressive, though! :-) ) are a viable indicator for rising interest, remains to be proven.

When it comes to supranationalism, I have cited an article by Trondal who shows that even seconded national experts tend incorporate supranationalist views once working in the Commission.

But in fact, this is not all negative, and I agree that someone working for the EU needs to believe in it, if not, this would be quite counterproductive.

The question is whether the EU institutions actually provide an environment in which the idea of the EU (although I think there are at least 27 ideas of the EU) can live up to its true goals - that is, if the momentum that drives people towards the EU is not slowed down considerably once they are in, not least because of the micro-cosmology inherent in the concentration especially in Brussels.

And the follow-up question is, whether this news (maybe combined with the Treaty setbacks in recent years) has not spread, especially in times where the European job market has improved considerably in the last years.

I might well be wrong, but I have just taken together the Telegraph article, my own feelings, the perception of how "Europeanised" people around me are planning their lives, and combined this with the image that the EU institutions have developed in recent years.

Jon Worth said...

I think the same would apply for seconded national experts - I know a number of people who have become SNEs from the UK civil service and they are always the ones that appreciate a multi-cultural working environment, and while perhaps sceptical of the working environment in the Commission, are not opposed to European integration.

I actually think that the working atmosphere in the Commission is dire, and indeed failing the Concours was one of the best things that ever happened to me. It's slow, stodgy, bureaucratic, old fashioned, and lacking in effective leadership. It's like a multi-cultural version of the French civil service from 20 years ago.

In short I think that via the Concours the Commission has managed to get the people it's working environment deserves - arcane, anally retentive folks who lack a grasp of the real world.

Oh, and don't even get me started on the trade unions in the institutions, the strongest gate keepers to defend the old system.

Anonymous said...

I am pretty sure that the Telegraph article is not the best source for this issue. (well, actually I would never trust the Telegraph when it comes to the EU...but that is a different story)

EPSO released the press release already a couple of weeks ago. Although it is true that they will drop the EU questions (which were considered to be the easy bit of the exam!!) it is planned to introduce assessment center style interviews and an annual cycle of application. Especially the annual cycle is to be welcomed because the process really takes too long at the moment. If the idea with the assessment centers really decreases the time of the whole process remains to be seen.

I have been living in Brussels for 2 years and I can confirm what Jon is saying. All concours seem to be hugely popular. Literally everyone I know has been to one or two...

The challenge has always been about "filtering out" the best people from thousands of applicants and I think that an "alarming decrease of applicants" would actually be welcomed by EPSO!

I have never heard the argument about the dangers to be sucked into the supranational bureaucracy. On the contrary, people that apply are generally very enthusiastic about the whole thing! There is certainly no problem about the image of "Brussels Bureaucracy" among applicants.

EPSO does attract a lot of very qualified people especially in the general administrative and linguist profiles that come with a nice pay and quite some benefits.

But I think it is more difficult for the EU to attract highly specialized people that could earn more in the 'normal' job market.

In the last couple of years the problem was a kind of "half secret" quota system which favored applicants from the new member states. That caused some problems regarding the quality of applicants.

Another comment about the Telegraph article: It is highly exaggerated that special post-graduate courses are necessary to pass the exam. The College of Europe is far from being the only one postgraduate institution that offers courses on European Studies. The Telegraph is probably also not aware that "European Studies" has developed into a quite successful academic specialization.

And I think everything Jon wrote about the working style of the Commission is unfortunately quite true...