EEAS: discriminatory treatment of AST/SC staff

Unfortunately, we have yet another example of circumstances where our secretary and clerk (AST/SC) colleagues are again treated unfairly, this time not within the Commission itself, but in the European External Action Service (EEAS) with its 144 EU Delegations around the world, specifically when it comes to applying for jobs there (‘postings’). We remind you that AST/SC is the smallest, most restricted and newest of all three function groups for officials, it’s been around only 8 years: it was created by the 2014 staff regulation reform.

Some history

The first AST/SC staff ever to be recruited by the EU civil service took up duties in the spring of 2015 and the first vacancy in a Delegation open to applications by AST/SC officials was published by DG Trade in 2016. Back then it was an opening for the position of assistant to the head of section (HoS) (namely, the Trade Section) at the EU Delegation in Beijing, China. Only in 2018 did the EEAS publish for the first time a Delegation-based vacancy open to the AST/SC staff category, this one for the post of assistant to the deputy head of delegation (dHoD) in Ankara, Türkiye.

In every year since then the EEAS has published only one or two AST/SC vacancies for positions in the following Delegations (in addition to the post in Türkiye): Brasilia, Moscow, Washington, Geneva and (most recently) Beijing. As you can see, not only is the list really short, but most of the postings are in expensive cities, and this is even more of an issue for AST/SC staff who are the lowest paid of all EU officials and often make less than many Contract Agent (CA) colleagues in function group (FG) III and FG IV. By contrast, assistant (AST) officials and CA FG II [*] can apply for a wide range of Delegations in the context of the process of reshuffling posts and staff (‘rotation’ and ‘mobility’ exercises), respectively, both of which take place every year, not to mention the occasional AST and CA vacancies that become available outside the processes mentioned above. Given that the tasks performed by such AST and CA in Delegations are the same as or equivalent to those pertaining to a typical AST/SC profile, why are AST/SC staff not offered the same opportunities? On what grounds does the Administration discriminate so blatantly against AST/SC vis-à-vis CA despite the fact that AST/SC – having all passed a European Personnel Selection Office (EPSO) open competition – are fully-fledged officials?

Unexplained limitations

Moreover, it should be noted that AST/SC officials are only so far offered work in a Delegation as dHoD assistants (e.g. in Ankara and Moscow) or HoS assistants (as is the case in Beijing and possibly Geneva), whereas the role of HoD assistant appears to be, for some unknown reason, the preserve of AST officials and CA FG II to the exclusion of AST/SC officials. To this should be added that the existing AST/SC position at the Brasilia Delegation was originally published as an AST-only vacancy. Since no suitable AST candidate could be found back then, the position was eventually published again later that year as an AST/SC vacancy.

Unexplained opportunities

Last but not least, in the context of the yearly mobility exercise CA are allowed to express an interest in AST/SC and AST vacancies in Delegations that are published in the context of the rotation exercise, despite the fact that the rotation is, in principle, meant for officials only. To illustrate this point, see below a few excerpts from this year’s application form that CA are required to fill in to apply for the ongoing mobility exercise:

‘Contract agents are not eligible for the posts published for officials in Rotation Exercise. Nevertheless, in order to maximise the mobility options, they are invited to express their interest also on those postings. Contract Agents FG-IV are invited to express interest in the postings offered in the AD INTERNAL call for expression of interest. Contract Agents FG-II and FG-III are invited to express interest in the postings included in the AST and AST-SC rotation exercise. Should a contract agent be selected for a post offered in the officials’ rotation exercise, the EEAS Administration would exchange the posts and the candidate would not have his or her contract modified by such an exchange. (…) For each vacant position, the panel shall draw up a list of suitable candidates in order of preference. The panel may recommend a contract agent who expressed interest in one of the AST posts as the most suitable candidate for the area of work corresponding to that post. This would lead to a reorganization of tasks and responsibilities in the respective Delegation between other AST/AD staff members. The HR Directorate may then proceed to allocate a contract agent post to the respective Delegation in order to assign a contract agent to the Delegation. (…) The application of contract agents shall contain a choice of 3 possible postings (if available) from the contract agent mobility list, corresponding to their function group. One posting at EEAS HQ (if available) may be included as one of the 3 options. Contract agents are invited to express interest in posts included in the 2023 rotation exercise for officials/TA2e corresponding to their function group:

  • Contract agents FG II or FG III in AST or AST-SC posts;
  • Contract agents FG IV in AD posts.’

In short, CA FG II can express an interest in an AST post published in the context of the rotation exercise and stand a chance of being selected, with the AST vacancy concerned being changed to a CA post if the application of the CA colleague is accepted and ends up being successful. If this is so, then why cannot AST/SC staff – who happen to be officials – be allowed to do the same and to likewise express an interest in the advertised AST rotation exercise vacancies as well as in any CA FG II vacancies published at the time of the mobility exercise?

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[*] European Court of Auditors, 2019, Special report no 15/2019: Implementation of the 2014 staff reform package at the Commission – Big savings but not without consequences for staff, Annex III lists CA FG II and AST/SC as having the same qualifications and indicative tasks, with the caveat that CA colleagues perform those tasks under supervision.

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