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As the EU Observer reports, the Commission has poured cold water on an “English-only” entrance exam for the EU institutions for the benefit of our cross-channel chums in Britannia, saying it is “illegal”.
After all, up to now all candidates have had to demonstrate an ability of at least one other language – fair enough really, at least when you’re working in an organisation which has no less than 23 official languages.
Yet, in an attempt to get more Brits to apply to work in the EU institutions, the UK government has called for more flexibility in the “concours” in order to allow more monoglot UK candidates to feel up to the challenge of applying for a well-heeled position in the institutions.
This is all very embarrassing – at least for The Lobby’s anglo-saxon arm. It is true that working life in the EU institutions has now been anglicised to such an extent that one could easily get away with only speaking English – but that is hardly the point.
If Brits are unwilling to learn another language, then what does it say about them? Can’t be bothered to learn a language, don’t care much for other countries, no interest for other cultures. Frankly, why would we want them in Brussels? And why would they want to come?
Rather than try to force a lowering in standards for entrance – a race to the bottom – the UK administration would be better off trying to tackle the problem at source, namely increase – not reduce, as is currently happening – language learning in UK schools.
If failure to do this means the number of British nationals in the EU institutions declines, resulting in a perceived lack of UK influence in the EU corridors of power – then so be it. Sorry. Tough luck. Put your own house in order first.
There is, though, an additional reason for the underrepresentation of the UK, particularly in the lower levels, which actually has little to do with languages and more to do with the education system.
When UK students leave universities they do so aged 21 and are expected to virtually walk straight into a career, buy a house, you name it. When you have a student debt in excess of €20,000, you have little choice in the matter.
The giant debt acquired by the average British student automatically rules out earning an internship wage with no guarantee of a job at the end of it. Why come to Brussels on a shoestring budget when you can rake it in in the City?
In contrast most upcoming Eurocrats from other countries have little debt to speak of, are delighted to get Brussels-based internships after their university education, and would not consider buying a property until around the age of 30. The rush to enter a career and get on the property ladder, so prevalent in the UK, appears to be absent from their mindset.
So is there any hope for our poor, poverty-stricken monoglot British graduate?
Look no further than The Lobby’s alma mater, Maastricht University, which has unleashed a PR blitz on UK students, encouraging them to leave behind the sky-high university fees in the UK and experience a continental education in a city synonymous with EU integration.
Will this help boost UK representation in the institutions? Maybe. Or maybe not. After all, the courses on offer in Maastricht are…in English.
While the thermometer reads 37 degrees in Brussels, the political temperature in the European Parliament is set to rise with MEPs heading towards the end of the summer recess. While the rate of activity of the Parliament is still slow, The Lobby looks back to the allocation of top positions in the European Parliament and the subsequent changes within the largest national delegations.
At first glance, it may seem that France has lost influence, the Brits have managed to secure control of some important committees, and that Italy is the big winner. What strikes us most however is the dominance of the Germans.
To summarise: France has four chairs, but of these only the Budgets Committee could be said to be influential. Italians and Germans have five Chairs and the Brits three. Germans obtained the most influential posts, such as the Environment and the Industry Committees. The Brits will control heavyweight committees such as Economy and Monetary Affairs and the Internal Market. Italy obtained the prestigious post of Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Agriculture Committee, which will be responsible for the reform of the Common Agriculture Policy when/if the Lisbon Treaty will be adopted.
For the first time there will be no French MEPs among the fourteen Vice-Presidents of the European Parliament, who are responsible for laying down the institution’s rules – will this have an impact on the disputed future of the Strasbourg Parliament? Among the 14 Vice-Presidents, there will be three Germans, two Brits, and two Italians.
This picture would not be complete without looking at the coordinators of the main political groups, who play a key role in shaping opinions as they coordinate the work of their political groups within the different Committees. Among the coordinators appointed so far by the EPP and ALDE (we await the other groups), German MEPs are dominant, while the French are still lagging behind. Since they divorced from the EPP, British MEPs are expected to have a high number of coordinators in the new Conservative group (ECR), but their actual influence will depend on whether the new group will be able to become a forceful player in the new Parliament.
Looking at the largest political group (EPP), France has one MEP coordinating the group in the Economic & Monetary Affairs Committee and one as Vice-Coordinator in the Industry Committee. Italians will coordinate minor committees such as Fisheries and Culture and will have a Vice-Coordinator in the Environment Committee. What is striking again is that German EPP MEPs grabbed the positions of coordinator in three key committees: Environment, Internal Market and Agriculture. The situation is more balanced in the ALDE group, in which Sweden has a coordinating role in the Industry committee, France the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee, and the UK the Environment Committee.
During the past legislature Germany and the UK had 27 and 23 MEPs respectively acting as coordinators in the Parliament, whereas France had just eight. The puzzle is not sufficiently complete for the moment to make comparisons as we wait for the S&D to appoint its coordinators in September. In addition, the appointment of future Rapporteurs will tell us how much influence the national delegations really have.
For the moment though, it seems the Germans are the clear winners of the horse-trading for key posts and have already secured a 2.5 year Presidency of the Parliament in the form of S&D President Martin Schulz as of mid-2011. But where are the French? Assessing French influence by looking only at these figures would be simplistic, but the facts show that the French are currently under-represented in the Parliament. The same is actually true in the Commission, where they have fewer Director Generals than the Germans or British. Is it just a lack of interest in the institutions, or is it part of a long-term strategy that seems content to leave the parliamentary positions to the other countries and claim in return more influential positions in the Commission? Are the French holding out for the President of the EU or the High Representative for Foreign Affairs, should Lisbon fully be ratified? All open questions…
A chat over coffee (with Tanya Joseph, Managing Director of Public Affairs, Grayling London)
What a week in the UK! Following a wave of high profile ministerial departures last week and a very poor performance in the local and EU elections, the smart bets were on Prime Minister Gordon Brown having to step down.
Europe Minister Caroline Flint was one of those who departed, launching a scathing attack on Brown following her resignation – saying the Prime Minister treated her “as female window dressing” and that he operated a “two-tier Government”.
But he remains there, albeit with his authority seriously undermined, and it is uncertain how much longer he will survive.
Last week’s Ministerial reshuffle vividly demonstrates the weakness of his position. Alan Johnson’s acceptance of the Home Secretary job was crucial in keeping the Prime Minister afloat, and he had been widely tipped to succeed Brown, but by taking on the Home Office portfolio he has signalled his support for the Prime Minister.
A real winner is former EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson who has an enhanced role with his Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform.
As an interesting footnote, it has almost gone unnoticed that Glenys Kinnock has been given a Government job as Europe Minister. She and her husband Neil – also a former EU Commissioner – remain significant figures in the Labour Party, and her arrival could signal a determination to bring unity to the beleaguered Party.
But Brown, ever steadfast, told assembled journalists late last week, “I will not waiver. I will not walk away. I will get on with the job and I will finish the work”.
For more thoughts on developments, please visit my blog.
Voting in the EU elections began yesterday, with the UK and the Netherlands first out of the blocks. Voting takes place on the traditional day of voting in the country, hence different countries vote on different days. This of course means that the UK and Netherlands will have to wait for three full days before the results are announced (will the UK still have a government by then?)
Voting in the UK – at least for the EU elections – has always been a ridiculously low-key affair, and this year was no exception. You had to dig a little to get the latest news in the national newspapers, though one story courtesy of the BBC told how some ballot papers had apparently been difficult to unfold, thereby obscuring the parties at the bottom of the list – including everyone’s favourite eurosceptics, UKIP. Never one to shy away from publicity, the party are said to be considering a legal challenge.
Apart from that, the headlines in the UK are currently revolving around Cabinet Ministers resigning amid rumours that Gordon Brown’s position as leader is about to be made untenable. The election results may provide his detractors with another excuse to lambast the man who had to wait 10 years to become Prime Minister, only to fail miserably once given the chance.