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As part of the debate about the European Union’s budget that comes up every so often, questions were asked about the salaries and conditions of EU officials, writes Stephen Gardner.

Various journalists got hot under the collar about it, and the European Commission, in general, took a rather defensive line. The Commission made various attempts to “prove” that its officials are less well paid than perceived, but at the same time, Commission spokesman Anthony Gravili said that he couldn’t go into specific cases. See this New York Times article, for example. And this one, which was written for Private Eye.

A lot of the arguments going back and forth seemed to involve the selective quoting of numbers, but one point made by the Commission did seem highly relevant: if Commission officials are paid so well, why are there not more applications for plum EU jobs from countries such as Germany and the United Kingdom, where civil servants are also relatively well-paid?

The chart below helps to put this into context. The left column for each country (blue) shows that country’s share of the EU’s overall population. The middle column (red) shows that country’s nationals as a percentage of the applicants invited for assessment for a Commission job. The red column shows this percentage for 2010-12. The right column (yellow) shows the same thing but for 2012 only.

 Administrator applications

The chart shows some interesting differences between countries. It is a limited snapshot and there could be many explanations, of course. For example, eurosceptic countries, such as the Czech Republic and the UK, seem to supply relatively few applicants for EU jobs compared to their share of EU population. Belgium is over-represented in terms of applicants, but that is no surprise considering the EU presence in Belgium.

Particularly striking is that Italy and Spain are massively over-represented in terms of EU job applicants. So is Portugal. The obvious conclusion is that talented young people from the crisis-hit countries are getting out if they can, and the exodus seems to be speeding up, with a higher proportion of applications in 2012 then in 2010-12 overall. But Greece has 2.25% of the EU population, yet only supplied 2.22% of applicants invited for assessment in 2012. Ireland is also under-represented: 0.89% of the population, 0.74% of invited applicants in 2012.

Eastern European countries tend to be over-represented: Bulgaria, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, Romania and Slovakia.  But Poland, strikingly, is not. It has 7.6% of the EU population but provided only 3.2% of applicants invited for assessment in 2012.

Western and northern European countries, meanwhile, tend to be under-represented: Germany, Denmark, France and the United Kingdom. But Finland, the Netherlands and Sweden are somewhat over-represented.

The most under-represented country (excluding Cyprus, Malta and Luxembourg, from where no applicants were invited for assessment in 2012) is the United Kingdom. As David Cameron and George Osborne have been working their magic and putting a cloud over future UK EU membership, there is no reason to think the number of UK applicants will rise in the next few years. After the UK, the most under-represented countries are Denmark and, perhaps surprisingly, France. The most over-represented are Belgium, Bulgaria and Portugal.

Of course, today’s applicants for Commission administrator posts are tomorrow’s top officials and heads of unit, so give it ten to 15 years and the EU, if still around, will be largely run by southern and eastern Europeans, with Italians and Spaniards especially prevalent. Extrapolating massively from the 2012 number for applicants called for assessment, the day could arrive when 45 percent of EU officials come from just three countries: Belgium, Italy and Spain.

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