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Inspired by a series of recent forum posts highlighting early career opportunities in US policy, this post summarises why and how to apply to the Blue Book Traineeship. This paid, five-month internship programme with the European Commission, the executive body of the EU, is one of the main pathways into an EU policy career. The last section of this post also outlines some other options to get started in EU policy.

There are two Blue Book sessions each year, with applications opening in January for the session starting in October and in August for a start in March of the following year. Application deadlines can be found here. Applications for the October 2023 session are open now and close on January 31.

As the programme is suitable for people in different stages of their career and from various backgrounds (see below) and EU policy is arguably still neglected within the EA community, an application could be a good option for many EAs. The initial application is fairly low-cost, as you only need to upload your CV and documents without writing a motivation letter.

The programme is not only relevant to students or recent graduates, as many trainees have some years of previous work experience (around 30% of all trainees are 30+ and only 5% younger than 25, see full statistics here). Work experience can even be a significant advantage for finding full-time positions after the traineeship, and it can be a strategic decision to only start the traineeship after gaining some work experience to increase the chances of being able to stay on.[1]

Epistemic status: This post is mostly based on my experience completing the traineeship last year and now working full time at the Commission, including conversations with around 20 people before and during the traineeship about both the application process and getting full-time employment afterwards. The post was greatly improved by the contributions of four other EAs with expertise on EU policy.

Eligibility

The programme is mostly directed towards EU citizens.[2] The minimum educational requirement is a completed undergraduate degree. However, a master’s degree is sometimes necessary to pass through the first stage of the selection process (especially for ‘competitive’ nationalities below) and increases employment opportunities after the traineeship.

The programme is open to graduates of all disciplines, not just people holding policy-related degrees—even rewarding applicants from ‘rare fields of study’ in the selection process. Most degrees outside of policy, law and economics should fall into this, as the majority of trainees (around 70%) hold degrees in one of these fields. It is therefore a good opportunity for EAs with no previous policy experience interested in testing their fit and learning more about impact in the sector.

All eligibility requirements are detailed here, including the requirement to prove very good knowledge (B2 level) of two official EU languages (English plus one other is sufficient).

Background on the European Commission

The Commission is the executive body of the EU. It draws up initial legislative proposals (which are then amended and adopted jointly by the European Parliament and the Council of the EU, the other two main EU institutions) and implements EU policies (e.g., deciding how to allocate funds, outlining the technical details of legislation, monitoring the implementation at member state level). It employs around 30,000 people mostly based in Brussels. The Commission’s main departments according to policy areas, the Directorate Generals (DGs), are comparable to government ministries at the national level. A Blue Book Trainee works for five months in one unit within one of these DGs or in one of the executive agencies.

The Commission is a rather technocratic institution, which is reflected in its working style. Though specific tasks depend on policy area and position, writing policy notes and briefings as well as attending meetings to exchange information and coordinate policy strategy can usually be expected. Overall, the EU policy process involves coordination with many actors (within the Commission across DGs and hierarchies but also across EU institutions and Member States) and this is reflected in the day-to-day work at all levels of the Commission. Communication abilities (both oral and written) and ‘people skills’ (especially willingness and ability to network) are therefore some of the key requirements in this field. Having impact - e.g., rising through the ranks to become a senior decision maker or getting your initiatives adopted as a junior civil servant - often requires mastering ‘office politics’.

A comprehensive discussion about the overall desirability or impact of an EU policy career is out of scope of the post. As stated above, the EU policy process is quite synergetic, so it can be somewhat difficult for an individual to make major changes - though there are examples of even junior civil servants in the right position influencing important legislations or large sums of spending programmes, and people in senior positions tend to have some discretion over policy decisions. Added to the question of the influence of a civil servant is the general debate about the global importance of the EU in relevant cause areas, which has been discussed on the Forum previously: See this collection of Forum posts for AI governance (specifically this post) or here for the relevance of EU animal welfare legislation.

One benefit of working at the European Commission are the generally great staff conditions. Commission employees earn a relatively high salary (especially at junior level: depending on your contract, entry-level positions pay around € 3,500 - € 5,500 monthly tax free; the traineeship salary is ca. € 1,300) and have a generous vacation allowance. The Commission offers many opportunities for continued learning (language and policy courses during working hours) and you tend to work with motivated colleagues from all over Europe. Working hours can be intense in certain positions and during peak times, though are generally comparable to private sector roles and (mostly) much lower than in other career options popular with EAs like strategy consulting or investment banking (see discussion on working time in the comments). However, somewhat unstable job conditions can be a downside for junior civil servants on temporary contracts (see details in the relevant section).

Blue Book Traineeship application process and advice

How competitive is admission to the programme?

Each traineeship cohort consists of 700 to 1,000 trainees. Quotas (weighted by the population and number of applicants per country) determine the number of preselected applicants per nationality, making the first stage of the application process much more competitive for applicants of certain nationalities—for example, over the last 4 years, 31.6% of Estonian applicants but only 5.9% of Italian applicants were selected for the traineeship. The table below summarises the official statistics.

Application success rate by nationality (Average 2019 - 2022)

Applicants Trainees selected Success rate
Austrian 125 17 14.0%
Belgian 418 45 10.8%
Bulgarian 118 18 15.8%
Croatian 96 17 17.6%
Cypriot 55 11 20.4%
Czech 103 16 15.8%
Danish 108 14 15.7%
Dutch 326 32 10.0%
Estonian 19 6 31.6%
Finnish 126 18 14.5%
French 915 89 10.3%
German 642 77 12.3%
Greek 532 49 9.3%
Hungarian 104 19 18.5%
Irish 155 18 12.0%
Italian 2,146 121 5.9%
Latvian 26 8 30.4%
Lithuanian 56 8 16.9%
Luxembourger 26 5 21.2%
Maltese 22 5 21.1%
Polish 223 40 18.3%
Portuguese 364 30 8.4%
Romanian 310 33 11.1%
Slovak 80 14 16.8%
Slovenian 43 8 20.6%
Spanish 897 69 7.9%
Swedish 165 19 11.4%
Non-EU member states 3,015 33 1.4%
Total 11,215 839 7.5%

Overview of the application process

The application process (nice outline here) is divided into two stages[3]:

  1. Preselection: General online application filling in your CV and attaching relevant documents (no motivation letter)
  2. Selection:
    1. Apply to up to three eligible units with motivation letters within a week after the selection opens. Units then interview suitable candidates.
    2. If unsuccessful, you have a chance of being selected from a pool of “remaining applicants” by “remaining units”.

(1) Preselection: Automatic scoring of your CV to get into the virtual Blue Book

Applicants complete an online application form with their CV details—university degrees and results, language skills, work experience etc.—and attach diplomas and certificates for them. It is essential that all your experiences and (language) skills are correctly specified in your initial application and you upload the required proof for all of them. See the FAQs on requirements for supporting documents and what is accepted as proof for language skills. Anecdotally, missing or insufficient documents to prove language abilities and work experiences are a hurdle for surprisingly many applicants. Small deviations, e.g., in the completion date of a degree, can lead to exclusion from the process.

Each application is scored by an automatic system, with a certain number of candidates from each nationality progressing through the next stage if they reach the required score. The scoring criteria are not public, but I’ve been told that in the previous application process, the importance of the different categories roughly follows this order:

  1. Education is by far the most important category, with reportedly half of all points awarded here. The main factor here is the highest degree completed—i.e., applicants holding a master’s degree (or PhD) have an advantage over applicants with a bachelor’s degree. Especially for nationals from the more ‘competitive’ countries above, it can be difficult to get preselected without a completed master’s degree. The scoring should not take into account the reputation of the university you attended, but the relative performance within the degree (grades, scholarships, prizes etc.).
  2. Languages. Claiming a higher proficiency at a language will yield points, but if you cannot prove it with official documents (specified in the FAQs), your application might be rejected after the pre-selection stage.
  3. Work experience
  4. International/European profile through education or work abroad. Having completed a semester abroad with Erasmus supposedly awards additional points here.
  5. Rare fields of study (e.g., STEM, as most applicants have backgrounds in politics/law/economics)

There are no restrictions on reapplying if you don't make it through preselection, so investing some time on the initial application can be a good decision.

(2) Selection

If an applicant reaches the required score for their nationality and their documents are deemed sufficient proof of claimed skills and experiences, they are selected for the ‘Virtual Blue Book’ (=the catalogue of preselected applicants). You will get notified of this around 4 months before the start date of the traineeship in an email containing a link to all available traineeship positions. Not every unit has a Blue Book position in each cycle, so make sure you are flexible to choose other units than the ones you were initially interested in or try to enquire early on with the unit you are interested in.

The portal is open for one week, allowing the candidate to apply with a cover letter for a traineeship in up to three units. For advice on which units to apply to, see the full section on unit choice below. At this stage—besides the three cover letters—candidates are also asked to fill in a motivation section (500 - 1,500 words) about their general interest in a traineeship with the Commission (rather than outlining the motivation for joining a specific unit). It can be a good idea to prepare this in advance of receiving the preselection results, giving you more time to tailor the unit-specific letters to the text in the job opening in the week the portal is open. The units then start a selection process among candidates that applied for their job description, potentially conducting interviews or assigning writing tasks.

Applicants should also consider reaching out directly to units[4]—drawing more attention to your profile in addition to the initial application, or to reach out to more than the three units you can apply to via the portal. This used to be a very common and successful practice in the old application system, when units did not yet publish their vacancies. I’m unsure how relevant it is in the new system, but it can still be part of the strategy—some of the less popular units will be unable to fill their position from the initial applications. If you haven’t received an offer after this ‘first’ selection round based on portal applications, it can make sense to follow up with some other units with a short email, as they may also still be looking to fill their position. They may otherwise fail to notice your application in the large pool of “remaining applicants”, or assume you may already be taken if your application is outstanding.

Interviews

Units interested in your profile will often give you a short phone call—either without prior notice or after coordinating by email. These generally last around 15-30 minutes. They seem to mainly serve two purposes, with the first one more important:

  1. Finding out the candidate’s willingness to join the unit.
  • Units want to assure themselves that the candidates they end up selecting will commit to their unit and did not already, or will in the future, confirm with another unit. It therefore seems important in these interviews to signal that you are very interested in the unit and would be excited to join them. If you want to maximise your chances of getting a placement, it can be good to do this with every unit you talk to—even just as a backup option, though this can be risky, as you might have to break this commitment. If you end up getting an offer from a unit you prefer at a later date, inform the unit you have signalled interest to previously as soon as possible that you are no longer available, so they can choose another candidate instead of you.
  1. Testing the candidate’s knowledge/fit for the unit.
  • While most of these calls are more informal interviews without many policy/knowledge questions, some units ask questions on the Commission which require a bit of preparation—e.g., current developments in the policy area, which DGs and agencies are relevant for it, and the overall structure of the DG and the Commission.
  • It is useful to prepare a short statement about yourself, keep up to date with the relevant policy area and have a look at the organisation charts and lists of Commission DGs.

While units can give you indications that they would like to hire you, the formal offer will come from the Traineeship Office, around one month before the start of the traineeship. If a unit was unable to find a trainee until then (or their candidate changed their mind) offers are sent out even later.

How to choose which units/DGs to apply for

The unit you’re placed in is perhaps the single most important factor determining the success of your traineeship (e.g., how much you enjoy it, how much you learn, whether you get further employment in the Commission). First, as seems to be the case for most public sector institutions, the ability to have impact within the Commission is highly unevenly distributed between different units—with some doing vastly more impactful and interesting work than others. Second, some units integrate their trainees well and assign interesting tasks, while trainees in other units receive little attention or work assignments. And third, it will be much easier to stay with the Commission after the traineeship in some units: DGs differ in their ability to hire past trainees full-time (though this can be difficult to predict), in their policy on inviting trainees to the CAST (Contract Agent Selection Test), and in their competitiveness for the JPP (Junior Professional Programme, more on both below).

It is therefore extremely useful to talk to someone within the Commission, asking them if they have any suggestions about which units to join (or not to join). It would be best to speak directly to someone who interned in a unit of interest—e.g., write up a list of some units that sound interesting to you and reach out on LinkedIn to past trainees in those units or contact people working at the Commission you might have some relation to (e.g., alumni from your university course). Applicants should ideally start doing this soon after their initial application, well ahead of the release of the preselection results, as you only have one week to send your three applications once the portal is open.

Since most trainees who find a full-time job in policy afterwards do so in the immediate environment of their traineeship, the choice of unit should be taken very seriously, as it can have a large influence on the rest of someone’s career path. While the Commission encourages changing your policy area and DG multiple times throughout your career (HR even inquires personally if someone stays in the same position for 4 to 5 years) and is therefore much more flexible than some administrations at member state level (e.g., Germany), there remains a certain path dependency and you will often spend some years of your career in the policy area first chosen. You can, of course, make an effort to connect with people from other fields early on, e.g., through seminars, by recommendation of other Blue Book trainees and staff, or via mentoring requests, or apply to vacancies posted publicly or on the intranet (more below).

Here is a full list of DGs and other Commission services. The organisation charts on the webpage of each DG (e.g., this one from DG CNECT) give a good overview of the DG’s internal structure and priority areas and allow applicants to identify relevant units before they publish their positions on the web portal.

Influential and particularly EA-relevant units

One strategy can be to not just consider DGs directly working on the policy area you’re interested in, but instead try to aim for a placement in the cabinet of a Commissioner[5] or the Secretariat General (SG). These play an important coordinating role in the policy process and are often regarded as more influential and prestigious. A placement there could give you better insights into how the Commission works and be a potential advantage in applications for further positions in the Commission. The same is true for traineeships in the office of a Director-General (the head of a DG) or Director.

While these places offer good career capital within the Commission, the downside is that you might work on a very broad set of issues and can only impact each one in a limited way—if you consider one narrow policy area more important (like AI or animal welfare), you might be able to have more influence on policy outcomes in a unit working directly on it instead of just coordinating. While it is very hard to make general statements here, if you find a position working exactly on your preferred policy area within a DG, it might be better to take that one instead of a higher-level coordinating role.

The Commission does not publish how many candidates apply for traineeships in each DG and unit, so there is no hard data on how competitive each is. Anecdotally, positions related to international relations (especially placements in the External Action Service) tend to have a large number of applicants. The SG and Commissioners’ cabinets also seem more competitive, while less well known DGs or units often struggle to recruit suitable trainees, particularly given the new targeted application process. You can alter your chances of being selected by strategically choosing units that may be among the less preferred overall or in which you are more qualified than most trainees (e.g., a unit concentrating on your own Member State or a highly specialised area).

Below is a very broad list of DGs that could be relevant for some example EA cause areas. Though as outlined above, it is very useful to directly speak to people with experience in these units.

  • AI: unit A2 within DG CNECT is working on AI policy development and coordination and was the lead on the initial proposal of the EU AI Act and unit A3 ('Microelectronics and Photonics industry') is working on semiconductors and could be relevant for compute governance; Cabinets of Commissioners Vestager and Breton
  • Biorisk: unit B2 within DG Sante is responsible for health security; the recently founded DG HERA works on pandemic preparedness (stockpiling and R&D funding of medical countermeasures); Cabinet of Health Commissioner Kyriakides
  • Animal welfare: DG Sante (unit G3 is responsible for Animal Welfare; unit E2 is responsible for regulatory approval policies of novel foods, including many alternative proteins) DG Agriculture (unit E3 is responsible for animal products), and DG RTD (unit B2 on bioeconomy and food systems coordinates research and innovation funding for alternative proteins), and the cabinets of associated Commissioners.
  • Global development: DG INTPA (International Partnerships) is responsible for EU development aid. It’s the DG with the most employees and usually the highest number of trainees.
  • Climate change and biodiversity: DG Climate Action (CLIMA) and DG Environment (ENV) and cabinets of the associated Commissioners (especially Executive Vice President Timmermans, who is in charge of the EU’s Green New Deal)

Moreover, the impact you have in different units and DGs can vary over time. For example, you could join a unit working on a crucial piece of legislation (such as units in DG Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (MARE) currently working on biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction) or a large spending programme (e.g., DG ECFIN and SG RECOVER coordinated the Covid recovery funds under NextGenerationEU in autumn 2020, the Commission’s current biggest spending programme).

Full-time employment within the Commission after the traineeship

Anecdotally, most trainees would like to stay on full-time in the Commission (> 80% in an informal poll in my cohort) after their traineeship but many do not manage to do so (estimates of trainees staying on range from 5% - 20%). Trainees can only stay on within the Commission on temporary contracts, as the majority of Commission staff are lifetime civil servants (‘fonctionnaires’). This status is only awarded after passing a highly competitive exam (‘concours’). A few exam sessions, adapted to different profiles, take place each year (find a list of upcoming selection procedures here).

The most prestigious option to stay is the Junior Professional Programme (JPP), a two-year programme with three rotations within the Commission. 25 candidates from around 1,000 applicants (Blue Book trainees and contract agents are eligible) are selected. You can start applying around one month into the traineeship by completing an online application form, where it is advisable to frame yourself as a generalist in line with the nature of the programme. You then have to sit a computer-based multiple-choice exam, which around half of the applicants pass (useful resources to prepare are the mock exams on EU training, Orseu books and relevant Facebook groups). Each DG then chooses some of the remaining candidates to pass onto the final interview—the process is different in each DG, and it therefore helps to speak to people who are familiar with the one in your DG. In the final panel interview you need to give a presentation on a randomly selected EU policy area. This relevant guide written by two EAs presents more specific advice on the JPP selection process.

Apart from the JPP, there are three types of temporary contracts in EU institutions with differing job stability, salary and responsibility. In descending order of both attractiveness and infrequency, these are:

  • Temporary agents (TA): relatively rare, can in theory only be offered if no suitable fonctionnaire can be found. The usual contract duration is 2-3 years initially (extended up to a maximum of 6 years) and they receive the same salary and benefits as permanent civil servants. Responsibilities, job title, salary and benefits vary with levels (Administrator, Assistant, Secretary).

  • Contract agents (‘CAST’): common form of temporary employment, contracts last 1-3 years initially (the median contract duration seems to be 1 year) and can be renewed for up to a total of 6 years. Responsibilities, job title, salary and benefits vary with function groups (I - IV). To be eligible, you have to pass the computer-based multiple-choice CAST (Contract Agent Selection Test; similar to the JPP exam above, with an additional knowledge part). Getting invited to this test is not straightforward: Officially, only units having open positions for contract agents are allowed to invite candidates to sit the test. Some DGs interpret this policy relatively flexibly and invite all their trainees to the test (this should be one factor in deciding which DG/unit to go for). Generally, it can be good to try to get invited to the CAST early on in your traineeship (see dates for upcoming examination periods here). This can give you a significant advantage when applying for positions or sending your CV around. Some DGs advertise their CAST vacancies publicly or on the local intranet.[6] I was successful applying to those and would recommend applying to as many as your profile could be a good fit for from the start of your traineeship, as this will increase the chance of getting invited to the test. The test itself can be a hurdle, but studying with the right resources (see links for the JPP exam above) drastically increases your chances. Once you pass the test, you’re in the pool of eligible candidates for contract agent positions within your function group and all lower function groups. If a unit considers you as a potential candidate, you will be invited for a short interview, for which it is relatively easy to prepare for as they are pretty standardised.

  • Interims: Additional positions that can be created ad-hoc from a unit’s budget to bridge staff shortages, e.g., if someone is on parental or sick leave. There is no maximum duration, though interns have to take a 1-month employment break every 5 months. They are employed via an employment agency, and thus can not benefit from many of the staff advantages, e.g., tax exemptions and training programmes such as language courses.

While a lot of luck is involved in the ability to stay on after the traineeship (most notably, your unit having the budget to retain you after your traineeship), two key factors will increase your chances of receiving a full time offer after your traineeship:

  • Good reputation and relations within your unit. If the people in your unit (especially the Head of Unit and your traineeship advisor) think highly of you and your work, they will likely consider you first if they have an open position you are eligible for. And even if not, their support is often key in the JPP selection stage at DG level. Moreover, they can recommend you for and let you know about positions in other units or invite you to a CAST exam (if the HR department of your DG is not too strict on this).
  • Building a network and awareness outside your unit. You should both aim for ‘quality’ connections (reach out and go for coffee chats/lunches with people from interesting units) as well as ‘quantity’ (cold-emailing your CV to heads of relevant units, in case they hire for temporary roles with your background). While connections to more senior officials are important (they are well connected and therefore know about job openings, and also make hiring decisions themselves), you should (especially initially) also aim to connect with more junior employees. This can be less intimidating at the start and they will be much more aware of how hiring for temporary positions work (e.g., how to get invited to sit the CAST) than their senior counterparts.

The great majority of temporary positions are never advertised publicly (the main exceptions are the CAST positions listed in footnote 6 and the JPP). This is the main reason why building a network is so crucial—and also overall why the Blue Book traineeship is a standard route into employment in an EU policy institution.

Alternative routes into an EU policy career

As described above, you may work for the Commission directly via a temporary position without going through the Blue Book traineeship. But this can be difficult without a network on the inside to make you aware of such opportunities. Another option for lateral entry is to pass the above mentioned highly competitive exam to become a permanent civil servant. While some exams are only accessible to Commission staff on temporary contracts (‘internal concours’), external concours are generally open to everyone with no previous EU experience necessary.

The Council of the EU and the European Parliament are the other two main institutions influencing EU policy. While both institutions also offer traineeships (Schuman traineeship in the Parliament, Council traineeship), work in the _administration _of these institutions tends to be less interesting or influential. In contrast to the Commission, EU civil servants working in the Parliament and Council administration are generally more removed from policy decisions, performing more administrative tasks instead. Other actors are responsible for the policy decisions in these institutions: member state representatives in the Council and members of the European Parliament (MEPs) or political groups in the Parliament. Importantly, one can only complete one traineeship exceeding 6 weeks with either the Council, the Parliament (including traineeships with MEPs and political groups) or the Commission.

In the European Parliament, both individual MEPs (members of the European Parliament) and political groups hire trainees and full-time assistants. For a good summary of the experience and work environment, see this Forum post. MEPs usually have 2-3 assistants (Accredited Parliamentary Assistants, ‘APA’s), who support their policy work, with one also in charge of communications. The impact of these roles strongly depends on the MEP and which files they work on. Advisors to the political group can also be very impactful, as they can significantly influence the party line on issues that are not yet politicised. Being a member of a political party and the associated network can often be crucial to get or hear about these roles, though many MEPs and parties are also open to hiring people not affiliated with their party. Sometimes APA positions are even posted on EU career portals, so it can be a good idea to set up a Google Alert for this; political groups may also have an online form to express interest in working for them, see e.g., here for the S&D group. A good strategy for both traineeships and assistant positions can be to send your CV to MEPs working on the files you’re interested in or trying to schedule coffee chats with their assistants.

Working on EU policy through the Council of the EU largely requires working in the civil service or politics at member state level. This feels like an underrated route to influence EU policy—a civil servant working on amendments to EU legislation in a national ministry might under certain circumstances have more influence on the final legislation than a civil servant working on the first draft within the Commission. There are also some options of switching between the national and EU level, as the experience and network gained on either level will be relevant for work at the other level.

One interesting option is also to work for a Council presidency. Each of the 27 member states holds it for half a year in a rotating schedule (see the upcoming schedule here). Roughly a year before the start of its presidency, the administration of a country starts hiring extra people to support it during the surge in work a presidency is associated with. As the Council presidency has considerable influence over files discussed during its term, these positions can be very impactful - and often less competitive than other positions of similar impact, as you are mostly competing only with nationals of your country (or people who speak your country's language). The hiring process varies between countries, but it can generally be useful to send your CV to people working on European files in national ministries or to the Permanent Representation of your country to the EU.

There are arguments both in favour of working for the administrations of smaller or larger member states—while large member states like Germany or France will generally have the most influence on final proposals, their ministries are often large bureaucracies with many people working on one file and one civil servant therefore having smaller influence on the country line. Though the voice of smaller countries will have less weight in Council discussions, often there is a single person in charge of multiple files. Policymakers or politicians from smaller member states will also face less competition to be nominated to important EU positions—e.g., Commissioner or Permanent representative to the EU. While the chance of securing one of these influential positions will always be slim, this could lead to outsized impact if successful.

Another option to work on EU policy is to work for an NGO or influential think-tank (e.g., Bruegel, CEPS), though work outside the institutions is mostly outside the scope of this post, as I have only very limited insights into this sector. There are also some organisations in the EA space working on EU policy in Brussels.

One more programme to highlight is the EU Tech Policy Fellowship by Training for Good, which supports and connects talented, morally ambitious people to enter EU AI Policy in an 8-month programme.

For people still willing to do a masters, the College of Europe can be a good option, especially to get a head start in building a network in EU policy. It offers prestigious one-year master’s programmes, many graduates of which end up working on EU policy.

Finally, I would also like to highlight other Forum posts on policy career opportunities in Europe, these two on EU AI policy and this one on careers in politics and policy in Germany.


  1. However, to be eligible for the Junior Professional Programme (details below), you can only have a maximum of three years of paid work experience (including internships) at the time of application. So perhaps around one to two years of work experience are ideal, to give you multiple chances to apply to the JPP. ↩︎

  2. In theory, it is also open to non-EU citizens. However, nationality quotas (see table below) make the selection procedure for them much more competitive and they have only very limited and often country-specific opportunities for full-time employment within the EU institutions after the traineeship. ↩︎

  3. The application process changes from time to time, so if you read this some time after publication, the post and advice might not be tailored to the current system anymore. ↩︎

  4. You should email the Head of Unit (HoU) and their deputy (dHoU) in this case. As their email addresses are not public, you have to ‘construct’ it yourself, using the general email format of the Commission (_Firstname.lastname@ec.europa.eu). _Find the last name of the (d)HoU on the DG organisation chart and use the official directory of EU employees (EU Whoiswho) to find out the first and last name of the deputy HoU if not available on the organisation chart. There are websites which allow you to check whether your constructed email address exists (e.g., here). ↩︎

  5. Many cabinets select only trainees of the Commissioner’s nationality. Before using one of your three applications for a Commissioner's cabinet, it can be good to check the current trainees on the team website of the Commissioner or past trainees on LinkedIn to get a feel for whether nationals from different member states are sometimes selected. ↩︎

  6. All the DGs working on international relations (DG NEAR, DG INTPA, EEAS, etc.) and the Joint Research Centre (JRC) publish their CAST vacancies online - see here and here respectively. Some DGs publish their CAST vacancies on the local DG intranet (e.g., DG RTD, DG EMPL, sometimes DG GROW). Everyone in the Commission has access to those, so you could ask Commission contacts to keep you updated about relevant roles there. ↩︎

Comments5
Sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 12:45 AM

Thanks very much for writing this post. As someone who has gone through the process myself I find it very useful and will share it with others who are considering an application. I find the job landscape to be quite complex and the post does a great job of being both clear and comprehensive.

Two points:

You say:

Though some positions are intense, people usually work well below 50 hours per week (with overtime counting towards your vacation allowance).

I would tend to disagree with this statement. In my experience there are many, many people working well above 50 hours, not just members of cabinet, assistants to Directors and (Deputy)DGs, etc. but also Heads of Units and many Policy Officers. In my experience this is largely driven by peer pressure and ad-hoc demands. Of course one does not necessarily need to pursue the intense positions you mention, but at lower level it can be very difficult to avoid excessive workloads, at least in specific time periods (e.g. acute crisis, political deadlines). In addition, as far as I know overtime does not count toward your vacation allowance per se, but can be "recuperated" depending on the policy of the unit; this is probably too much detail for this post though.

You say:

entry-level positions pay around € 3,500 - € 5,500 monthly tax free

This may again be overly precise for the purposes of this guide, but while EU officials do no pay national taxes, they do in fact pay social security contributions and various taxes, including an income tax, to their employer. These taxes are considerable lower than for those in regular employment in the country (around half) and are largely compensated for through generous allowances (family, household, expatiation). Nevertheless, I believe it is important to be precise here as there is a persistent misperception about this topic both in the Brussels bubble and among citizens more broadly.

Thank you very much for your comment! I will adjust the section on working hours in the post

Thank you so much for this, it's so helpful! It looks like an extensive library of useful links too.

I have  a few questions:

  1. Have you heard about the Impactful Policy Careers Workshop (and here too)? If yes, what's your take on it? (it seems to stem from Training for Good but with different objectives and framework)
  2. You talk about orgs in the EA space working on EU policies in Brussels, could you be more specific?
  3. [edit] Do you recommend other 'academic' options besides the College of Europe?
    Heard about this one at Harvard, saw some on Coursera and other websites... Hard to see whether some are more valuable than others.

Thanks again!

Thank you, glad it's helpful!

I think the Impactful Policy Careers workshop is a great way to dive deeper into the topic and connect with other EAs interested and working in the field.

Degrees from other prestigious schools in policy-related subjects (LSE, Sciences Po, Harvard Kennedy school, Oxford Blavatnik, etc.) can also give you an advantage and you meet many people having graduated from those in Brussels. I mentioned the College of Europe specifically as it is explicitly training graduates for EU policy and the network you can build there will be very relevant. I don't know about online degrees - I'm not very confident they would distinguish your CV much, but the right ones might be a good learning opportunity.

[anonymous]1y5
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Thanks for this helpful post!

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