Exclusive: Fall in number of Britons working in EU posts worries Foreign Office

Since 2010 not a single British civil servant has successfully applied for a full-time job in Brussels

Whithall Editor

Britain’s influence in Europe is suffering because of falling numbers of British diplomats being hired to work in Brussels – a trend which could prove impossible to fully reverse, the Government has conceded.

In a stark admission the Foreign Office said the problem had now become “acute” and was “set to get worse”. Since 2010 not a single British civil servant has successfully applied for a full-time job in Brussels.

As a result, the number of UK nationals on the staff of the European Commission has fallen by almost a quarter in the last seven years.

The UK now supplies just 4.6 per cent of Commission staff, compared to its 12.5 per cent share of the EU’s population. In comparison, France has 13 per cent of the EU population and holds 9.7 per cent of Commission posts.

The picture is similar in the European Parliament, which has become increasingly powerful. The UK’s share of administrator-grade staff has fallen from 6.2 per cent to 5.8 per cent since 2010, while France’s has risen from 7.5 per cent to 8.6 per cent.

In its formal response to the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, which first raised the problem, the Foreign Office admitted that it needed to do much more to address the issue. It said it was unable to “parachute new staff into senior positions within the EU institutions” – i.e. the Commission, the Parliament and the General Secretariat of the EU Council – and success had to come through open recruitment.

However, British candidates have proved remarkably unsuccessful at getting through the rigorous testing process. Of all the British civil servants in the European Fast Stream, not a single candidate has completed the process and got a full-time job working for a European institution since 2010.

The Foreign Office said the “computer-based testing” required for success at what is known as the “concours” had been particularly challenging.  “Member states cannot parachute new staff into senior positions within the EU institutions – the only way to increase the number of permanent UK staff is through success at the concours. There have been 30 European Fast Stream opportunities to take the concours since the programme restarted in 2010. From these opportunities, no candidate has completed the process and taken up a post.”

The Foreign Office said that under-representation was not a new phenomenon. “The UK (has) never met its ‘share’ of EU staff,” it wrote. “However the problem has become more acute, and is set to get worse before it gets better. It is difficult to envisage, given current trends and the lack of regular generalist concours, a situation in which the UK’s share of EU staff matches its proportion of the population.”

In its report, published in the summer, the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee said there was a “generation gap” with senior UK officials in Europe retiring and not being replaced in the same numbers. They said the language requirements – applicants need to demonstrate a “good level” of French and German to be considered – were one of a number of obstacles to increasing British presence in the EU’s apparatus.

While the competition was understandably tough, the MPs said potential applicants often had a “lack of awareness” about what a career in the EU entailed and what was required.

A Foreign Office spokesman said it had already established a “Success in the EU” project to help UK civil servants apply more successfully for EU positions.

“We are proud that, as a result of these efforts, more Brits applied for the EU entrance exam in 2012 than ever before. More work needs to be done, however, to translate this increase in applications into more permanent posts and reverse the UK’s EU staffing deficit,” the spokesman said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

Ashdown Group: Junior Application Support Analyst - Fluent German Speaker

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Ashdown Group: Training Coordinator - Financial Services

£32000 - £38000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A highly successful, inte...

Recruitment Genius: Supply Chain Administrator

£8000 - £10800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Supply Chain Administrator is ...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor