A study by European Democracy Consulting (EDC) has raised the well-known problem of the underrepresentation of Central and Eastern European Member States in the highest levels of the European Union’s institutions. The study calculated that senior officials or politicians from the region are in only 7 to 8 percent of the top posts, even though they represent over 40 percent of the Member States and 20 percent of the EU population. The vast majority of high positions are filled by candidates from Western, Southern and Northern Europe. EDC concludes that such a small number is “indefensible” and politically very harmful in an organization that has to pay attention to a “balanced” geographical representation.
For the purpose of their document, EDC included the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Poland, Slovenia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia in the category of “Central and Eastern Europe.” These are the 11 post-communist countries that joined the EU between 2004 and 2007, plus Croatia in 2013.
“The feeling of lasting underrepresentation should not be taken lightly, as it necessarily leads to frustration and could seriously undermine the support of European institutions, values and policies,” the document says, adding that “this impact on the population may potentially affect the behavior and ‘Europeanism’ of national leaders, which in turn will have a retroactive effect on EU cohesion.”
EDC examined dozens of EU institutions, from the most important ones, such as the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of the EU, to dozens of agencies operated by the EU.
In all cases, it was only interested in the highest positions, for example, the presidents and secretaries-general of the key institutions, the chairs of the advisory bodies, and directors of the agencies, as well as independent senior positions such as the European Ombudsman or European Public Prosecutor. In total, its examination included 89 of these higher authorities.
Not only are there only a few actors from the “new” Member States, but in the vast majority of cases, they do not chair powerful and influential offices but rather run agencies or advisory bodies.
The only exceptions are Latvian Ilze Juhansone, Secretary-General of the European Commission, and Laura Kövesi from Romania, recently appointed the first European Public Prosecutor.
The analysis is lacking in that it formally equates truly powerful authorities, such as those mentioned above, with agencies spread across the EU, the influence of which is usually incomparably weaker. However, it also does not pay attention to directors-general and directors in the European Commission, the Council of the EU, or the European Parliament, whose influence is often disproportionately higher than that of the heads of some agencies.
In this category, the countries of Central and Eastern Europe are doing a little better, as 14 percent of senior managers in the European Commission come from this region. If we take into account only the directors-general and their deputies in the same commission, i.e., the people running some European “ministries,” then in the overall list of about 80 names, we can count 15 senior officials from the new Member States.
It might be expected that more populous states, such as Poland or Romania, or those that joined the EU first would have a higher representation. But this is not the case; it is, in fact, quite the opposite.
Among the 15 high-ranking managers from the new countries, there are three Bulgarians, two Latvians, Estonians and Cypriots, and one from each of the other countries except for the Czech Republic and Hungary. These two last Member States have no one in this category and are represented in the management of the commission only at the level of one “ordinary” director and several officials in middle management.
There is speculation that the “pushing away” of Hungarians, Czechs and Poles represents a kind of distrust or even resentment towards countries that not only reject the euro and have many reservations about this or that but are also suspected of violating the basic rules of the Union.
Formal proceedings are being conducted against Poland and Hungary for this reason, while the Czech Republic could be harmed by its tolerance of the alleged conflict of interests of Prime Minister Andrej Babiš.
The Czech Government’s strategy for supporting Czechs in EU institutions, launched last year, has not yet been successful. However, it must be admitted that preparing people for high-level offices in the EU and enforcing such a stance is a long way off.
Of course, all “Eurocrats,” from the highest positions to ordinary officials, are supposed to work for the benefit of Europe and defend its interests. Thus, their nationality should not matter.
But it is also important that the EU understands every single Member State and that each country has people in its institutions able to explain the meaning of the “European interest” and how it should be implemented. Here, the national presence is important, necessary and beneficial for both parties, the Union and Member. Let us not forget that most legislation is born in the Brussels offices of these institutions — legislation that then applies to the citizens of all 27 Member States.
Title image: European Commissioner for Values and Transparency Vera Jourova talks during a video news conference on the European Democracy Action Plan and a new Strategy on the Charter of Fundamental Rights at the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. (Kenzo Tribouillard, Pool via AP)