Crumbs of Comfort

Hello again from Brussels. A small crumb of comfort tumbled down from the Brexit smorgasbord this week. At a meeting on Wednesday, the Commission agreed that British employees would not be summarily fired on 29 March 2019 (i.e. Brexit D-Day) which, incidentally, is in exactly one year from today.

Up to now the position of British staff had been looking precarious. One condition for employment at the Commission is to be an EU national, as laid out in Article 28 (a) SR of the Treaty on the European Union:

« an official may be appointed only on condition that he is a national of one of the Member States of the Union (…) »

In turn, Article 49 of the EU Staff Regulation allows for the dismissal of employees who no longer fulfil the Commission’s employment criteria. Article 50 of the same document also provides for forced retirement ‘in the interests of the service’, which is a much more vague and flexible means of getting rid of staff.

As the UK is the only country that has ever left the EU, there is no precedent for handling members of staff who are nationals of a seceding state. Interestingly though, the Commission apparently employs four Norwegians and one Icelander – citizens of states which were planning to join the EU, but never got around to it. This means that employing nationals of a non-EU state is apparently possible.

Luckily (for people like me) the Commission has now ended speculation. It decided on Wednesday that permanent officials would not be forced into retirement under Article 49 except where there was a conflict of interest with regard to international obligations (i.e. if they were working on trade deals with the UK, for example). This echoes what the Commissioner for Budget and Human Resources, Günther Oettinger, suggested in July 2017.

Commissioner Oettinger – the future of UK staff is in his hands.

Not being a permanent official myself, though, I was more interested in the second part of the agreement pertaining to ‘contractual agents’ (i.e. me). Contract Agents are employed on shorter-term contracts, usually for only 12 months (though if renewed enough times the contract will become permanent). In this case the Commission decided as follows:

« la Commission est légalement tenue d’effectuer une analyse au cas par cas afin d’autoriser des exceptions dûment justifiées à l’exigence de nationalité prévue par le régime applicable aux autres agents ; la Commission s’engage toutefois à ce que l’autorité habilitée à conclure des contrats fasse un usage généreux et transparent de cette possibilité de dérogation ; son appréciation sera fondée sur l’intérêt du service. »

Or, in English, the Commission will decide on a case by case basis which British Contract Agents it will continue to employ ‘in the interests of the service’. As such this is not a guarantee that my time at the Commission will last long after Brexit, but it does mean that I probably won’t be fired on the spot on Brexit Day (or ‘Independence Day’ depending which camp you fall into).

If all goes well my current contract will be renewed in February 2019. However, while I will probably not be fired for being British, there is still no guarantee that the contract will be renewed again in February 2020. The Commission’s decision talks only about keeping staff who currently have a contract, and not about offering staff further contracts in the future.

All of which means I have 12 months to somehow become a permanent official… Or get another passport. Both of which are unlikely!

R.

Advertisements

Thank Goodness for Distractions

Last week, the UK and EU agreed a Brexit deal so embarrassing for the UK, that Theresa May must have been glad of the distraction of impending nuclear war.

It seems that the UK has agreed to leave Northern Ireland in the single market if no other solution can be found. The UK will also have a transition phase of 21 months (lasting from the end of March 2019 to the end of December 2020). During that period, the UK will have to abide by EU laws on fishing, and any EU citizens who arrive in the UK will have the same rights as EU citizens who were there before. Apparently this arrangement will be reciprocal. By which I mean GET OUT NOW WHILE YOU STILL CAN, Brits! Nobody wants to be on that last boat from Dover on 31 December 2020, escaping from Brexit Britain like the last chopper out of Saigon.

To cap it all, we also learned that the new blue British passport will be made by a Franco-Dutch firm. The rival plucky British firm was outbid. Embarrassing! Where is a proud Brexiteer to hide?

A sexy burgundy passport on the left, and an uncool, unfashionable blue passport on the right.

Luckily There Was Russia

Luckily we didn’t have to focus too hard on Brexit, thanks to all the sabre-rattling between London and Moscow. Are we getting a taste for how cold the world might be outside the EU? Is this perhaps the wrong time to be isolating ourselves from our democratic friends in Europe?

Surely not. As we all know, the real enemy is not Putin and his nukes, but rather the cheese-munching bureaucrats of Brussels. Get your priorities right, Remoaners!

Cambridge Analytica

Even Putin could only do so much to help Theresa May’s government save face. Now we are learning that Facebook data may have been unlawfully used in election campaigns, possibly even in the Brexit referendum. Hence why you may have seen the annoying advert below in your Facebook feed.

Very sneaky. Making it look like Brexit is pro-immigration and anti-racist. I wonder how many people fell for it.

And what about funding? Apparently funds were misused by Vote Leave. And according to an insider who worked in the pro-Brexit youth organisation BeLeave, the people at the top of the Leave campaign all knew about it. Did this make a difference in the referendum outcome? Sadly, I fear not. But it’s still pretty naughty.

The Remoaners of UKREP

Last weekend I spoke to someone with direct personal knowledge of the mood at UKREP. UKREP, of course, is the UK’s embassy in Brussels and its point of contact with the European Institutions. You may remember I visited their offices as a trainee, where I was spun the party line about how hard all the Brexiteers had been thinking about Brexit, and how it wasn’t just a mad exercise in self-delusion.

According to my contact, the mood these days at UKREP is grim. The people working there are mostly Remain voters. Now they are having to break apart all the progress and agreements made during the UK’s 40-odd years of EU membership. Morale is low. There is a high turnover of staff. Politicians are flown in from London to tell them what a great job they’re doing and how this will be a Good Thing for Britain. Even Boris Johnson was here this week to give them a pep talk. On top of this, Theresa May micro-manages every file, every document, but is unable to make up her mind about anything. She dithers.

The only good news from UKREP is that they will probably be hiring soon. With all the extra work they have to do thanks to Brexit, there are rumours that UKREP will have to double in size. Maybe they’ll keep a chair warm for me when I lose my Commission job in 2 years’ time?

R.

A Proper Contract

The wait is over. A dream has come true! On a bitterly cold day in March 2018, I signed a proper contract with the European Commission. No longer am I an interimaire, employed by a Belgium temp agency and signing week-long contracts every Friday. I am now a fully paid-up member of staff for the next 12 months. Hooray!

As the contract will end at the end of February 2019, there is the possibility to renew it for another 12 months. Because at that point, Brexit will not yet have happened. Whether the contract can be renewed a second time in February 2020 is anyone’s guess. Maybe Theresa May will put in a good word for me?

Theresa and Jean-Claude hashing out the fine print of my contract

A job like this was of course what I was hoping for when I first arrived in Brussels, a bright-eyed trainee still reeling from the Brexit vote, back in October 2016. I applied for this contract in April 2017 when the vacancy notice was posted. After exams in September and an interview in October, I was finally offered the position last month. So all in all, it has taken 17 months of slogging away in Brussels, and about 10 months of going through the application process. It is unlikely that many of the new British trainees who arrived at the Commission yesterday will have time to get the kind of contract I have now received. After all, there are only 12 months until Brexit D-Day on 29th March 2019.

And so, while it is great to have this new 1-year (perhaps 2-year) job, it is tinged with sadness that I might be one of the last Brits to be recruited by the European Institutions. These contracts are only offered to EU citizens, and when we stop being EU citizens they will no longer be offered to us. But even if it’s only for a year or two, getting this contract is a way of hanging my colours to the mast. Come what may, I will have worked for the European Commission as an EU citizen. This is my two fingers up to Brexit.

R.