The majority of civil servants in Brussels are nationals of the “old” EU Member States, the system favoring in particular the countries of southern Europe. On the contrary, the Czechs or the Bulgarians do not have sufficient representation, which poses a problem when these countries try to promote their interests.
The Czech Republic does not have an entirely weak voice within the European Union, with European Commission Vice-President Věra Jourová managing to build an outsized reputation for herself. The Czechs can also be seen in the European Parliament, where until recently they had two vice-presidents, but currently only Dita Charanzová holds this post.
However, the political element of Brussels is only one side of the coin, and it is equally important to know what is happening “behind the curtain”, that is, among diplomats and civil servants. And it is in this area that geographical imbalances are most noticeable.
A new analysis by European Democracy Consulting shows that the countries of Central and Eastern Europe have not been fairly represented in European institutions for a long time. Czechs, Slovaks, Bulgarians and Romanians are at a disadvantage compared to civil servants and diplomats from Western and Southern Europe. Between 2019 and 2021 alone, the latter nations filled 70% of new leadership positions in various European institutions.
Linguistic requirements favor southern countries
The EU itself recognizes that this is a systemic problem. Therefore, the European Personnel Selection Office (EPSO) targets a group of 17 under-represented countries. In addition to the Czech Republic, these include Sweden and, surprisingly, also Germany. Current language requirements in selection procedures particularly favor Southern European countries.
The shortage of people at European level has been a problem for the Czech Republic for a long time. According to the coordinator of the Czech delegation to the European Committee of the Regions, Petr Osvald, the situation is perhaps even worse than after its accession to the EU, when Czechia had “free slots” in the EU institutions. . But this is no longer the case today.
Czechia knows it has a problem in this respect. This is why a strategy to support Czechs in EU institutions was created in 2015 with the aim of improving the situation and helping Czech candidates to access influential positions in Brussels.
The Office of the Government of the Czech Republic recognizes that although the number of Czech successes in selection procedures is increasing and more experts are being sent to EU institutions for longer ‘internships’, changes larger ones will take longer.
The European Commission is preparing a new strategy
However, improvements should also come from the other side. According to Tereza Kůnová from the Government Office, the European Commission is preparing a new strategy. It also includes bilateral negotiations with underrepresented countries, including the Czech Republic, which should lead to tailor-made action plans.
Although the civil servants of the European institutions must be impartial, they cannot deny their origins. For the laws to be balanced, the proportion of nationalities must therefore also be balanced.
“If officials from our homeland participate in the preparation of European proposals, they have the opportunity to enforce the representative geographical, technical and economic interests of the Czech Republic. The sooner these specificities are imprinted in the legislative process, the easier it will be for the Czech government and Czech MEPs to promote the interests of the country,” stressed Alena Mastantuono of the Czech Chamber of Commerce.
Is the attitude of the Czechs to blame?
According to expert on the functioning of the EU, Jan Kovář, of the Institute of International Relations in Prague, the more lukewarm attitude of the Czechs towards EU membership also plays a role, in particular with lukewarm support from ministries and government for Czechs wanting to enter EU institutions. This plays a particularly disproportionate role in the case of senior positions, where state support is an important factor as competition is intense, Kovář noted.
Petr Blížkovský, secretary general of the European Committee of the Regions, sees part of the problem in the nature of the Czechs.
“We have a certain cultural specificity, which can apply to all of Eastern or Central Europe. Our school system teaches us a certain modesty. On the contrary, in Belgium or elsewhere in Western Europe, children are taught to assert themselves,” noted Blížkovský.