You are hired/fired: Recruitment trends at the Commission!

As can be seen from recent statistics (see table), the only category of staff that is currently still growing is the Contract Agent (CA) category. Looking at the data and comparing this growth with the recent trend in the recruitment of permanent officials (‘fonctionnaires‘), we can conclude that the Commission has begun a process of replacing permanent officials with CAs [1].

  • You see in the graph below that the total number of permanent officials recruited in 2012 was in the order of 750 (478+271). Previous years are less representative because above normal recruitment rates were still taking place following the enlargement of the EU.
  • In 2015, this number had decreased to 500 (338+155), i.e. by 30%. Over the 2012-2015 period, about 2600 fonctionnaires have been recruited. If the recruitment levels achieved in 2012 had been maintained, about 3000 fonctionnaires would have been recruited, instead of the actual 2600. There is therefore a shortfall of about 400 permanent officials who, where not recruited during that period. This is attributable to the staff cuts discussed in the previous article.
  • The total increase in the number of CAs employed by the Commission over the same period is about 300 (see table in the previous article). Thus the reduction in recruitments of permanent officials goes hand in hand with the increased number of CAs over the period 2012-2015 (2016 is not representative in the graph above because we don’t yet have data for the whole year).
  • In other words, the Commission reduces its recruitment of permanent officials but compensates by hiring CAs.

An additional conclusion is that, taking into account that EPSO recruitments of officials are on a downward trend, those of us who accept to work as CAs while waiting to pass a competition for permanent officials may be betting against unfavourable odds.

This conclusion is confirmed by a more detailed analysis of the graph above. The figures provided in the orange part of the sticks are figures of former CAs recruited as permanent officials each year. The figures in green are figures for people recruited without having been CAs before. What this analysis shows is that having had an experience as CA in the Commission is not the door-opener that some may think (and that the unions advertise in order to sell to the CAs their lucrative trainings for the EPSO competitions). Roughly, only 1/3 of those who pass the concours have had a previous experience as a CA and this ratio seems to be decreasing over time.

What about the internal competitions? A maximum of 85 posts will be offered to CAs via the current competition. Moreover, the staff regulations (SR) are clear that such a competition can take place at best every other year. Actually, the SR provides that the internal competitions should be organised only exceptionally, so every 2 years is an optimistic assumption. Thus, in the most optimistic scenario, internal competitions will provide CAs with another 170 permanent positions over the next 4 years.

One should not forget that the number of CA is increasing rapidly in the research executive agencies. These CAs carry out basically the same tasks that Project Officers used to carry out in the research DGs until a few years ago, but at a fraction of the cost of fonctionnaires’ salaries. These agencies are managed by Directors and heads of unit (HoUs) who are all Commission officials. Their board members are directors at the Commission. Thus, the Agencies are essentially spin offs of the Commission and their staff figures should be accounted for with those of the Commission, no matter the legal subtleties that DG HR invokes to leave aside agency staff from the discussions.

Between 2013 and 2016, the number of CA in executive agencies went up from 1200 to 1700. Thus, if one takes the figures for the executive agencies into account, the increase in the number of CAs is massive compared to the number of permanent official positions opened by the Commission over the same period. In other words, the vast majority of current CAs will never have the chance of becoming permanent officials in the foreseeable future. Add Brexit and prospects are even bleaker. So this is the very inconvenient truth that neither the Commission nor the unions want to talk about, the latter being busy keeping alive hope among CAs in order to sell their concours coaching services.

Generation 2004 certainly won’t pretend to have ready-made solution to solve the problems of the CAs. But at least, we are ready to be transparent and put all the cards on the table for an informed discussion. Transparency and a clear evidence-based stance have always been what distinguished G2004 from the rest of the field! Everyone recruited after 2004, be it fonctionnaire or contract agent, has been a victim of the lack of transparency maintained by DG HR over the past decade. This lack of transparency has profited to a few thousand people who have used their in-depth knowledge of the system to their advantage. It is time to turn the tables and deliver change!


[1] As of October 2020, officials are only 63.84% of Commission staff

Officials: 20 933
Temporary staff: 1 745
Contract staff: 7 428
Others: 2 685
Total: 32 791

(DG HR, Statistical Bulletin – HR – 1/10/2020: Staff by Employment Type and Directorate-General)

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