More than 12,000 people from the 10 mainly Eastern European candidate countries this week begin a series of examinations for lucrative jobs with the European Union in Brussels. The labyrinth that is the EU's bureaucracy is about to become even more complicated as the linguistically diverse candidates join the EU next May. Secretaries, translators, and managers all are required to allow the newcomers to communicate within the EU circle.
Prague, 25 November 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The European Union is about to recruit several thousand people from the 10 accession countries to fill new administrative jobs in the EU institutions.
This Thursday and Friday (27-28 November), some 12,300 applicants will be sitting for the first rounds of a multistage examination process which could lead to a permanent post within the EU bureaucracy.
In all, nearly 6,000 administrative jobs will be offered over the next few years in such areas as secretarial, language translation, and administrative assistance. Pay rates, particularly by Eastern European standards, are excellent.
The European Personnel Selection Office in Brussels says the basic starting salary of a secretary is 2,300 euros per month, before tax, and that of an assistant translator and administrative officer is about 4,000 euros a month. In addition, there are allowances, as an official with the selection office, Wendy Barnes, explained.
"There is an expatriation allowance for those who are eligible, which is very often the case, because people are mostly relocating from their home countries, and there are other allowances which are dependent upon the status of the individual, in terms of their family situation and so on," Barnes said.
Barnes says that most of the positions are located in the Belgian capital Brussels, which is also the headquarters of the European Union. "The jobs are mainly based in Brussels, but as you will appreciate, the EU also has institutions for example in Luxembourg, and Strasbourg, and so some jobs could be elsewhere, but mainly it's fair to say they will be in Brussels," she said.
The European Commission says that there are some 1,500 candidates for this week's competition from the Czech Republic, some 1,300 from Slovakia, more than 3,000 from Poland, over 500 from Estonia, 250 from Latvia, and 420 from Lithuania.
The tests are competitive, with each stage acting as an eliminator. Firstly there are preselection tests, then a written exam, followed by an oral exam. Languages of the tests are English, French, and German, the three working languages of the European institutions. Testing will take place in the capital cities of the accession countries, plus Brussels. For the final, oral test, all remaining candidates will travel to the EU headquarters.
To do well in the tests, candidates must have a full knowledge of the EU's complicated workings. In view of this, academic institutions have been offering intensive preparation courses. One such is the Europa Institute of the University of Zurich in Switzerland.
Course director Nicolas Lillienthal gave some idea of the complexity involved: "We started with the history of European institutions, and the European communities, and then we went to the institutions and the legislative process, and then we went to the 'four freedoms' and the internal market, and from there on we went to the two other pillars, which means the common foreign and security policy and justice and home affairs, and then we went back to the first pillar again, and we looked at practically all the European economic areas."
Lillienthal continues with his enormous list: the common commercial policy, the agricultural policy, the community budget, as well as environmental policy, competitions policy, public procurement, development policy, the founding treaties, and more.
He says that, typically, the sort of person attending the three-day course will be someone in his or her late 20s, who is already a civil servant in his own country, or is a PhD student. Most had some previous knowledge of European law. "We had somebody from a defense ministry, who was working for the European department in that defense ministry. He of course knew everything on the common foreign and security policy, whereas he did not know so very much about the European economic policies," Lillienthal said.
Lillienthal says it is impossible to know all the details of the union's activities, the important thing is to understand the bases of all the policy areas, and from that much more can be deduced.
The successful candidates will go on to join the Brussels bureaucracy, spending a lifetime within its ranks if they wish. As Barnes of the Personnel Selection Office put it: "It is an extremely pleasant prospect. It's a nice city, the work is challenging and good, and the working conditions are very good, so yes it is a very attractive prospect."
However, like other bureaucracies, the EU civil service is sometimes derided as ponderous and labyrinthine. Analyst Ben Crum of the Brussels-based Centre for European Policy Studies describes it instead as "unique." "The whole idea behind Europe is very much that we try to come to common principles here [in Brussels] at the European level, but then the main tasks of administering and implementing the principles are left to lower down [to the national bureaucracies], so in a way it is the embodiment of the idea of [using subsidiaries]," Crum said.
Crum says one disadvantage is that the EU bureaucracy is sometimes blamed for shortcomings in policy implementation. "The problem they have is that they do little more than paperwork, and that sometimes makes it very hard to measure and establish what they deliver, because in the end, the principle is that the real delivery on the ground is made at those other levels," he said.
Crum says the bureaucracy is small in number when one considers that it serves 15 countries, and will be serving 25 by next year. At any rate, the Easterners will add a new dash of color to an already multicultural city at the heart of Europe.