Brits working at EU institutions face uncertainty over their jobs and pensions.
Photo: Delano archive
Approximately 456 Brits work for an EU institution or the European Investment Bank in Luxembourg.
Brexit will certainly present some upheavals, but so far any questions concerning their future are met with more questions, as negotiations will only start officially after 29 March, when the official letter is submitted to Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council.
It is difficult to find out exactly how many British nationals work for an EU institution in Luxembourg; EU statistics only compile the total number of any nationality working for the EU institutions, and cover all the locations where EU institutions are based.
However, some estimates can be made. The total number of people working at the EU commission was 32,546 on 1 January 2017. More than 25,000 of those work either in Brussels or Luxembourg. Brits make up 3.2%, or 1,046, people under any type of work contract. As about 3,800 people work at the EU commission in the grand duchy, by simple extrapolation it can be estimated that around 100 Brits work in Luxembourg’s EU commission directorates and other institutions.
The situation is similar in the European Parliament: more than 7,600 people were employed there on 1 January 2017, of which 285 are British. In Luxembourg, around 2,300 people work for the EP--calculating with the same percentage (around 3.2%) as there are in the European Commission, this would amount to around 60 people. These statistics don’t include the British MPs and their staff.
However, the numbers are more precise for the European Court of Justice, based in Kirchberg. Apart from the two British judges and the advocate general, there were 45 civil servants and 22 agents registered on 1 January.
Serving the EU, not the union jack
Naturally, EU civil servants are not serving their national interests, but work for the common European good. This also applies to the Brits. Article 11 of staff regulations is very clear on this point:
“An official shall carry out his duties and conduct himself solely with the interests of the Communities in mind; he shall neither seek nor take instructions from any government, authority, organisation or person outside his institution. He shall carry out the duties assigned to him objectively, impartially and in keeping with his duty of loyalty to the Communities.”
This means that British civil servants cannot simply be dismissed on the grounds of their citizenship after Brexit, even if their situation may become more complicated in certain cases. This applies mostly to the civil servants (who have a contract “for life”), and less so to the agents who have a fixed term contract and who cannot work more than six years at the same institution.
Staff regulations foresee that only EU citizens can be hired or promoted, and naturally there is no indication as to what happens when a member state leaves the EU. This means that for now, British civil servants can stay at their posts even when their country is not part of the EU anymore. However, they may not change jobs or be promoted as long as they only have their British nationality.
The ball is in the UK’s court
The situation is more complicated for those whose employment is directly linked to the UK’s involvement in an institution, such as the parliament or the European Investment Bank. The same spokesperson said:
“It’s up to the UK to propose how this can be worked out. The question of pensions must also be addressed, as the contribution system is financed by the member states. Nothing has as yet been discussed.”
Within the EIB, discussions have already started within working groups, because their employees don’t have the statute of a civil servant, but of agents. 197 Brits work at the EIB, which comes up to 7%. Within the European Investment Fund, there are 29 Brits out of 418. All the member states are shareholders of the EIB: the UK is one of the biggest, along with Germany, France and Italy, with a contribution of over €39 billion. Between 2012 and 2016, the EIB injected €31.3 billion into the British economy. Here again, the statutes of the EIB don’t foresee the exit of one of its shareholders, and the question of whether it will still issue loans to the UK once it has left remains open.
The challenges are colossal and no one really knows where to start. On Wednesday 29 March, not only will the British permanent representative to the EU present the letter of the prime minister to leave the EU to Donald Tusk, but a few hours later, a meeting in the EP between the president of the EU and the leaders of the political groups will talk about setting up concrete red lines for the Brexit negotiations. The EP is said to oppose any intentions to change the status of European citizens residing and working in the UK. The final deal between the UK and the EU has to be agreed by a qualified majority of the European Council and approved by the European Parliament.