The European Commission
Friends in the right places
The British are down, the Germans and east Europeans are up
“I AM French, I am deeply French, but here I will stand as a European commissioner.” Thus Pierre Moscovici, a French former finance minister, when seeking the European Parliament's approval as economics and finance commissioner this autumn. Commission officials similarly plead European ambitions over national interests. But home ties are hard to break, so governments are keen to place their own in key posts.
New members have made their mark in recent years (see left-hand chart). Italy's representation has plummeted from almost 25% of the total in the 1980s. As host country, Belgium still does well. But the most striking recent trend has been the rise of Poland and Romania. In 2011 Poland slipped ahead of Britain, which now accounts for just 4.5% of the commission's total staff.
The old guard clings on at the top, however. At the end of 2013, of the 128 most senior positions, Germany held 20, Britain 13 and France 11. German influence in commissioners' private offices (cabinets) has risen in the new commission led by Luxembourg's Jean-Claude Juncker (whose chef de cabinet is German). Germany is also seen as dominant in the European Parliament.
What about the future? Intriguingly, for junior administrative grades, the top two countries are now Poland and Romania. France is struggling to keep up—its influence in Brussels is declining. Britain does even worse at junior than at senior level, with a share of below 3% (see right-hand chart). As one senior official says, the commission can attract the brightest and best from newer members, but struggles to do so from Britain.
One problem is Britons' poor foreign-language skills (job applicants must speak at least two). This is aggravated, ironically, by today's preponderance of English in the work of EU institutions. The risk of a British exit after a referendum also makes the commission a shaky career choice. Young Britons are drawn to China or America instead. The British government's attempt to do better is not working, either: since it relaunched its “EU fast stream” process with much fanfare in 2010, not a single candidate has gone on to join the commission.