The creation of the European External Action Service set in train a series of changes during 2010 to senior management across the institutions of the European Union.
Those filling the top positions in the EEAS have been recruited both from the diplomatic services of the member states and from the EU institutions. In addition, José Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president, made a series of reshuffles in the second half of 2010 in the line-up of the Commission’s top officials. Some of those changes were made necessary by the EEAS, but others were unrelated. As the dust settles, it becomes possible to discern the strengths of different nationalities in the top ranks of the institutions.
Perhaps the most striking result is that German nationals are in many of the most strategically important positions. At the insistence of Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, the European Council has agreed that Uwe Corsepius, Merkel’s EU affairs adviser, will take over as secretary-general of the Council of Ministers in June.
That insistence made clear that, whatever the rhetoric about EU officials all serving a common purpose, there is a view held, at least in the national capitals, that the nationality of the most senior officials does make a difference.
There was a similar degree of political involvement in the appointment of Corsepius’s predecessor, Pierre de Boissieu, who was previously France’s ambassador to the EU. He has headed the administration of the Council since 1999 (first as deputy secretary-general, when Javier Solana was nominally secretary-general as well as the EU’s foreign policy chief, later as secretary-general), when Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schröder agreed on his nomination.
Klaus Welle, another German Christian Democrat, is already secretary-general of the European Parliament, a post he has held since 2009. In the Commission, the head of Barroso’s private office is a German, Johannes Laitenberger. Another German, Helga Schmid, has been appointed as one of the deputy secretaries-general of the EEAS. In addition, the secretary-general of the Committee of the Regions is German, Gerhard Stahl.
The French do not have as firm a grip on some of the key posts as they used to have. De Boissieu’s departure is a significant shift. They have also lost their ownership of the legal service of the Commission, where Jean-Louis Dewost (1987-2001) and Michel Petite (2001-08) were followed by Claire-Françoise Durand, but now a Spaniard, Luis Romero Requena, has taken over.
However, the French have retained control of the head of the legal service of the Council. Jean-Claude Piris has retired, but the member states’ ambassadors agreed this week that his replacement would be another Frenchman: Hubert Legal. Given how great is the influence of the legal service, this appointment is very important, even if much less high- profile than the appointment of another Frenchman, Pierre Vimont, as secretary-general of the EEAS.
In the Commission, the biggest of the EU institutions in terms of staff numbers, rival measures have emerged as to what share of the top jobs go to what nationalities. The Commission, which is acutely sensitive to charges that it might be controlled by the bigger member states, set itself a deadline of the end of 2010 to get at least one national from each of the ten countries that joined the EU in 2004 into senior management posts, meaning director-general, deputy director-general or an adviser at the equivalent level.
On 21 December, just ahead of the deadline, the Commission achieved its goal by appointing a Latvian and a Lithuanian to posts as deputy directors-general.
But so far only Poland of the newer member states has a director-general, Jan Truszczyn?ski, who is in charge of education and culture, though Rytis Martikonis, a Lithuanian, is being lined up to become director-general of translation later this year.
At this elite level of heads of departments, directors-general, of the 36 posts in the Commission, the UK and Germany have six each, France and Italy have five each, and Spain three – so the biggest five countries have more than two-thirds of the posts, leaving only 11 posts to be shared among another 22 countries.
The big member states have secured most of the economically important portfolios: Germany has regional policy (which accounts for the largest chunk of Commission spending), the environment, transport and taxation. The UK has the internal market, energy, and information society. France has the budget and trade. Spain has the legal service and agriculture. The Netherlands is the interloper, with posts in numbers and importance arguably in excess of its size: it has three directors-general, for competition, research, and employment, social affairs and equal opportunities.
Ireland is another country that has long punched above its weight: Catherine Day, the secretary-general of the Commission, is Irish, as is David O’Sullivan, who preceded Day as secretary-general, then became director-general for trade and is now chief operating officer of the EEAS.
Day is also one of only a handful of women in senior management positions in the Commission. Of the 36 posts at director-general or equivalent level, only six are held by women.
Poland, the biggest and most assertive of the newer member states, has yet to make its presence felt in the senior ranks of the Commission, but has arguably made more impact elsewhere. Maciej Popowski, who was in the Commission and then head of the private office of Jerzy Buzek, president of the European Parliament, has now become deputy secretary-general of the EEAS.
Jaroslaw Pietras, a Pole, is in charge of climate change, environment and other issues, as a director-general in the secretariat of the Council. Out of a total of seven posts of director-general in the Council’s secretariat, two have gone to nationals from the countries admitted to the EU in 2004. Ivan Bizjak from Slovenia is responsible for justice and home affairs.
The Parliament’s eight directorates-general, on the other hand, are dominated by countries that joined the EU before 1995. Three come from Belgium, two from Italy and Greece and there is one director-general from Spain, France and the UK.
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The Commission prefers to use a less restricted measurement of how senior management positions are distributed by nationality, with senior managers defined as director-general, deputy director-general, principal adviser or director.
A table recently updated by the Commission’s human resources department shows that, in senior management, there are 36 Germans, 35 French, 33 Britons, 30 Spaniards, 26 Italians and 22 Belgians.
At the other end of the scale, there is only one official from Malta and two from Slovakia and Lithuania in senior management. There are three at that level from Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Finland, Latvia and Luxembourg.
Using these criteria, the Commission is to publish a report later this month on the recruitment of nationals from newer member states to senior management posts. The findings will emphasise what progress it can find, but the reality is that the uppermost level of management in the EU institutions and the most important policy areas are still dominated by the biggest member states.
With the exception of the Netherlands and Belgium, officials from the smaller countries and those countries that joined the EU in 2004 have had only limited success in penetrating the highest echelons of the institutions.