The job market and the “Community of EU Actors”
I. Working in Brussels – beyond the EU institutions
Brussels hosts more than 100.000 persons working in EU affairs. Only 50% of the jobs are to be found in the EU institutions. The other 50.000 EU actors work at industry federations, consultancies, media, corporate organisations, non-profit organizations, think tanks, region and city representations, etc. The objective of these entities is to advocate and communicate their views or the views of their members as stakeholders in EU affairs – and they need employees to accomplish this, providing a world of opportunities.
As Europe's capital, Brussels has an a-typical and specific job-market. It hosts sectorial, national, regional, and international stakeholders that, together with the EU Institutions, make up the so called “Community of EU actors”. Statistics show that 5.000 jobs from all levels (start- mid- and high level), are available every year, due to the dynamics of the Brussels EU job market.
This is therefore only a superficial glance on job opportunities in Brussels. There are more sectors/fields to look at, depending on your interest and background: law firms, political parties, platform organisations, international organisations in Brussels (UN, etc.).
1. 'Perm Rep's'
Every EU member state has a Permanent Representation to the EU, based in Brussels. These offices represent the country's interest in the EU, as well as giving policy advice to their national politicians like the Prime Minister and Europe Minister. In addition there are about 300 European Regions and Cities, who also have their “Permanent Representations” to the EU based in Brussels, like the Representation of Veneto Region, West Finland European office or the City of Prague. These regional and city offices represent and promote their regions and cities, providing services to their people, but on a more narrow scale.
2. Industry and Unions
About 400 corporations, like Microsoft, Shell, and Visa; 3.000 industry associations, like the European Banking Federation, the European Wind and Energy Association, and Eurometaux; numerous unions and chambers of commerce, like the British Chamber of Commerce, the Serbian Chamber of Commerce, and Eurochambers have offices in Brussels in order to be present in the community of EU-Actors. Even though most of these offices are quite small, employing 1-5 people, almost 50% of these employees are doing work related to Public Affairs.
There are about 400 consultancy companies based in Brussels. They differ from mainstream consultancies in the sense that they mainly focus on EU-Affairs. Consultancies focus on Public Affairs (Edelman, Pleon, Fleishman Hillard, Cabinet DN, etc.); Public Relations (Ogilvy, Hill & Knowlton, Burson-Marsteller, Grayling, etc.); EU Project Management (Mostra, Gopa-Cartemill, Tipik, Quentes, etc.); and Association Management (Kellen Europe, AGEP, etc.). The teams working at these consultancies are international, multilingual, diverse and dynamic, consistently delivering services with real, commercial return.
There are approximately 1.000 journalists reporting from Brussels. 95% of the journalists in Brussels are correspondents of national media. However, this amount is declining due to financial crises, but also because technological developments make it easier to report on the EU from the national offices. The remaining 5% is covered by specialized EU media (3%) like EurActiv, European Voice, EU Observer and by international media (2%) like FT, Wall Street Journal, International Herald Tribune.
5. NGOs and Think-tanks
NGOs like WWF, Greenpeace, Oxfam, Red Cross, Youth Forum, and Caritas Europe have offices in Brussels. Brussels also houses a lot of think-tanks, like Friends of Europe, Centre for European Policy Studies, European Policy Centre, etc. They provide a forum for debate on EU Affairs, and have an in-house research departments as well as extensive networks of partner institutes across the world.
II. Brussels – the place where “HR signals” make a difference
Brussels: the a-typical and specific job market requires a a-typical and specific approach to applying for a job. There is a fantastic pool of expertise in Brussels, with a pile of 'diploma’s and skills', but practically few people understand the scope of the market surrounding them. The private sector of EU Affairs is furthermore very superficially presented in higher education (as opposed to the institutions and their possibilities). This creates the situation that young graduates in Europe do not 'see' for example the 20.000 jobs to be found in the EU federation sector.
To work in Brussels requires an understanding of the 'market of the employers', their needs and their requests. It’s a paradox, but 95% of private sector recruitment is done by people who have no training or professional experience in terms of HR. There are Secretary Generals, Directors, and Consultants who lead small companies (most of them with a team of less than 10), also taking care of the recruitment process. And whether it is good or bad: it's the reality.
Given the particularities of the employers and the intercultural environment, the issue that often is very confusing is which 'signals' can you give that makes the difference in your application in the majority of cases. ‘He studied law’: means that he understands legal mechanisms; ‘she did an MA in London’: means she is proficient in English; ‘he was an MEP assistant’: means that he has good political connections; ‘she was active in NGO's as a student’: means she knows how to work without too many comments and questions. These are thoughts that can occur in a 30 second time-frame when a CV is read, or rather: is scanned. A person will not spend more than 2 minutes looking at a CV, and a 5 minute delay to a meeting can even shorten this time and can be fatal to your application. There are mental filters making selections and eliminating CVs, in order to have the best in the micro-system that is Brussels.
III. Life outside Brussels: Local Actors in EU Affairs
The EU is a complex system in which Brussels has a key role. However, it is imperative to realise that Brussels works in close connection with the 27 capitals of the EU Member States. What about the “local EU actors”, working in the Member States?
A unit in each ministry is involved in the country's position towards the relevant EU policies. The people in charge of national views in EU legislation are thus scattered across the national ministries. The units exist of about 10-20 people. Logically, some ministries have more people working on EU legislation issues than others namely the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and EU Affairs. In addition, there are also a number of national institutions or agencies who employ people who spend at least 50% of their time working on EU Affairs.
Hundreds of people contribute to connect their country's interests to the European Agenda. Especially now with the Treaty of Lisbon, the National Parliaments have the prerogative to spend more resources on the EU legislative process, and consequently each Member of National Parliament, each political group, and each political committee have their experts in EU Policies.
To all of this, we can add other sectors that are connected to the Capital of Europe: many companies, via their department of regulatory affairs, are active in legislative lobbying (direct or indirect) and know the EU arena in detail. National industry federations, Chambers of Commerce, NGOs, employer associations, unions, consultancy firms, and law firms are also active in EU Affairs.
There are hundreds of journalists in the Member States writing about dynamics of the EU system, even though they may not be aware of it 100% of the time. They write about finance, transport, agriculture, education, and all kinds of other topics that have an EU dimension. There are also hundreds of teachers, university lecturers and professors who teach their students about the world of co-decision and the construction of the EU Institutions.
Looking at the public and private sector in each country there is a total of 20.000-30.000 people working in connection with the EU Affairs mosaic – the local EU actors. It is normal that in each country the number of people involved in EU Affairs will vary depending on population, how long the country already is an EU Member State, government structures, the culture of the country and the level of leadership in the EU. However, if we take an average of 25.000 people working in EU Affairs in each country, this means that 700.000 people in the Member States work in EU Affairs.
Dr. Dan Luca is working in Brussels since 1997 and currently is the European Network Director at EurActiv. Dan Luca holds a PhD in International Relations and European Studies with specific focus on Communication. He teaches a course on EU communication techniques at the International University Institute for European Studies (Gorizia – Italy) and also at universities from Brussels and Bucharest. He is the founder of two associations – "House of Europe" in Cluj-Napoca (Romania) and the "Romania – EU” Club in Brussels – and the author of numerous books, articles and studies on European Union. He is blogging about EU affairs since 2007 at www.casaeuropei.blogspot.com.
Nienke van Leeuwaarden is working in Brussels since 2009 and currently is the European Network Executive at EurActiv. She holds an MA in International Relations, in addition to a BA in Chinese Studies.