If Šefčovič is elected the president of the European Commission, will there be any new doors opening for the Slovak talents? – Lucia Kleštincová

If Šefčovič is elected the president of the European Commission, will there be any new doors opening for the Slovak talents?

31.10.2018 • 5 min read

After years of serving as the Slovak Commissioner, Maroš Šefčovič has entered the race to become the president of the European Commission. Is it going to bring more opportunities for the Slovaks in the institutions, and for Slovakia’s position in the Union?

After years of serving as the Slovak Commissioner, Maroš Šefčovič has entered the race to become the president of the European Commission. Is it going to bring more opportunities for the Slovaks in the institutions, and for Slovakia’s position in the Union?

In principle it could. But there is 30% less Slovaks in the European Commission than what it should proportionally have as a small member state. So he will have a rather small pool to choose from. Does anyone care?

(If you know all about the marriage triangle of the Commission, the Council and the Parliament, skip this paragraph :)) The European Commission is the institution that can propose legislation to other bodies, which then adopt it (the Council and the European Parliament). The bread and butter of the European officials is obviously representation of the pan-European interests. Promotion of national interests also has its place in the institutional design – mainly in the Council and the Parliament, but also in the Committee of the Regions and the Economic and Social Committee.

The Member States with meaningful strategies for supporting their compatriots in the European institutions admit that the distribution of strategic posts affects the success of their diplomatic efforts. Although the European officials work for all 28 Member States, their national identity obviously impacts their approach to the policy design. Therefore, it is legitimate that the Commission aims to achieve an equal representation of nationalities in its ranks. “United in diversity” we bring along our values and historical experience. And then start preparing proposals which move Europe forward, taking into account national specifics.

So the number of Slovaks that have an opportunity to contribute directly to this process is not irrelevant. And compared to the representation of other nationalities, there is relatively few of us. (If you are not into numbers, skip the paragraph :)) Over the past few years, we managed to reach a 1.2% representation in the Commission ranks (396 Slovaks in January 2018. See the picture at the end.). This corresponds more or less to the Slovakia’s share of the EU population. However, as the Commission wishes to compensate for this by higher representation of smaller Member States, the desired target for Slovakia is 30% more, i.e. 1.8% of all staff.

Those 400 Slovaks are like a drop in the sea of over 32-thousand EU officials. If it seems like a big crowd to you, note that this figure includes officials serving half a billion people in 28 Member States. They are experts in public policy making, lawyers, researchers and interpreters, ensuring the availability of all documents for all Europeans. For comparison, the City Hall of Paris has 49,000 employees …

Nonetheless, the problem does not only rest in absolute figures, but also in the minimum representation of Slovaks in politically strategic posts. This is also due to the fact that since our accession to the EU, short time has passed to allow officials from new Member States to move up the hierarchical ranks. Under the existing rules it takes about 15 years to work your way up from the lowest level to lead a 20-member team.

Therefore, after 14 years of the Slovak membership in the Union, there is a very small community of high-ranking officials (all of which by the way had to pass an extremely selective recruitment process). These are the top ranked Slovaks in the Commission:

  1. Vladimír Šucha is the Director General of the Commission’s Joint Research Centre (imagine your science academy, except this one has six locations in five countries and over 3000 employees). Scientist and geology professor by profession, Vladimir is our highest ranked EU official. There is no higher non-political position in the Commission, only a political post of a commissioner.
  2. Katarína Mathernová is our female number 1 – deputy director general for neighbourhood policy and enlargement.
  3. At the level of directors (there are typically 3-10 of those under the director general), Slovakia is only represented by Eva Beňová of Publications Office and Miroslav Adamiš of the translators’ service.
  4. At the lower level of heads of units, Slovakia doesn’t even have a dozen of those. By far are we sufficiently represented to call this a proportionate share at the strategic posts in the Commission.

Image result for katarina mathernova

Our story is equally sober also from other viewpoints, for example in terms of sectoral priorities. Or according to the share of representation in the Commissioner’s Cabinets, which predetermine the political direction of new Commission initiatives. Or in the numbers of national experts who are temporarily posted from our ministries to the European Commission.

This is due to several reasons. My champions are the following:

  1. Many Slovaks would like to but few manage to pass an extremely selective selection process (so-called “EPSO competitions” – follow me to read about those at another occasion). For those of you who have tried, I am wondering: what would have helped you on your way to the institutions? Who has ever managed to get any kind of support from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or Ministry of Education when preparing for the selection process?
  2. Those who are already “in” – those are able to go up the ranks also thanks to the political support. This applies not only to Slovaks but to any nationality. How are the Slovak talents supported by our Permanent Representation to the EU in Brussels, or by the Cabinet of our Commissioner?
  3. Another stumbling block are the secondments of Slovak officials to Brussels under the framework of all kinds of internships. This is not a priority for anyone whatsoever. So, as a Slovak official trying to better link the Slovak and Brussels administration, you constantly hit a series of financial or administrative barriers. And even if you are the lucky exception to the rule, integration upon your return is close to a nightmare.

I am in a daily contact with many of my former classmates, trainees, graduates or officials who are excellent experts, highly motivated and desiring to represent Slovakia in shaping Europe. Their support is not so much a question money. To begin with, it would suffice to identify a reinforced representation of Slovaks in the institutions as a priority and a bit of creativity in the accompanying support measures. For example, to create a networking channel in order to connect potential candidates with those of us who are already in the institutions. We can advise on how to go about it. It is clear that it is in the interest of all of us to see as much Slovak talent across the European institutions as possible. So that the leaders like our Commissioner Šefčovič have a sufficiently good pool to choose from.

COM personnel

The content of this website does not reflect the official opinion of the European Union. Responsibility for the information and views expressed in the therein lies entirely with Lucia Klestincova.

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