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Working at the European Commission

Helena holds a presentation. Photo.

How do you apply for a job at the European Commission and what skills are in demand? And what is it like to work for the Commission? In March 2022, Helena Larsson Haug, Senior Expert at the European Commission’s Directorate-General Competition (DG COMP), visited Lund and shared her experiences and thoughts on these questions with students envisaging the option of an EU-career.

With more than 20 years of working experience at DG COMP, Helena has substantial knowledge of the commission’s many activities and responsibilities. At her talk, Helena first summarized the role of the Commission within the EU and then gave a brief overview of the work of DG COMP. Lastly, she discussed the different ways of finding work within the EU institutions and what experiences and skills are required.

The work of the Commission and DG COMP

The European Commission has about 32,000 employees that are distributed across its many Directorates-Generals, service departments and executive agencies with responsibility for and expertise in a vast range of policy areas.

One of the Commission’s roles is that of ‘the guardian of treaties’, i.e. the responsibility for overseeing member states’ and private companies’ compliance with existing treaties and legislation. For DG COMP, this means “assuring the correct application of EU competition law and monitoring, investigating, and sometimes blocking unlawful transactions”, Helena explained. Additionally, current priorities include reviewing the current competition guidelines in the field of state aid, antitrust and company merger, promoting EU’s post-pandemic recovery, fostering the implementation of the European Green Deal and accelerating the digital transition.

Helena dispelled the myth that the Commission is a costly institution draining member states’ budgets: “We have a budget that is similar to that of Denmark and, people-wise, our administration is about the size of Gothenburg. We help the whole of the EU, so in proportion to our contribution, we are fairly small. The majority of the Commission’s money goes back to the member states by means of different types of regional support”, she said.

Working at the Commission

The commission comprises of a big variety of fields of expertise and generalist and specialist profiles: public administrators, economists, finance officers, auditors, external relations officers, communication specialists, scientists, lawyers, translators, and so on. Helena said that “finding work as an assistant is often seen by many as a steppingstone to get into the system. Once you are in, you can get promoted or apply for a new position”. 

Another way of getting a foothold within the commission is through the so-called Blue Book traineeship programme. This is a paid traineeship for a five-month period. The next application period is in August 2022 for the traineeship starting in March 2023. There are a few eligibility criteria to consider. Applicants need to have a bachelor’s degree, speak a minimum of two EU languages (at least one of them being either English, French, or German) and cannot have had any prior EU employment extending over more than six weeks. On average, there are 12 000 applicants per application period, of which approximately 900 receive an offer. Helena explained that “as a trainee at DG COMP, you work as if you would have been a case handler. You draft papers, investigate cases, participate in meetings, and so on”.

In addition to the bluebook traineeship, Helena mentioned other springboard alternatives for an EU career, such as the Erasmus+ programme or the European Solidarity Corps. Lastly, Helena assured students that a career at the Commission is incredibly rewarding and interesting: “it is an international, multilingual environment with amazing colleagues and overall good working conditions”, she said and concluded that “this is the most fun job I have had in all my life”.