An update of European Democracy Consulting’s annual Geographical Representation in EU Leadership Observatory (EU-GRLO) shows limited progress in recent years and calls on Member States and EU institutions, in particular the European Council and Commission, to take strong action to ensure a fairer representation for all European citizens.
In January 2021, European Democracy Consulting published its first annual Geographical Representation in EU Leadership Observatory (EU-GRLO). For the first time, reliable data examined, in a systematic and detailed manner, the level of geographical representation of EU citizens in European institutions.
This wide-ranging study, spanning 69 years, 72 entities, 89 positions and close to 500 office-holders, identified three major conclusions:
- The overall combined dominance of Western and Southern Europe, together receiving over 80% of all appointments since the EU’s 2004 enlargement, and over 90% of appointments to EU institutions — the most prestigious and publicly visible positions;
- The unique situation of Northern Europe, with a limited representation in absolute numbers, but far outpacing all other regions when adjusting for population — with 38% of appointments, or almost twice its fair share; and
- The clear and continued under-representation of Central and Eastern Europe since their accession to the EU, most often in the single digits and, therefore, almost never reaching event half of the 20% “equality mark” which would give each of the five regions an equal share.
Today, our Geographical Representation in EU Leadership Observatory 2022 provides a useful update of last year’s observations and allows us to measure the progress — or lack thereof — accomplished in 2021. Once again, our research rests on a public dataset of executive office-holders. Following its analysis of recent appointments and medium-term trends, the EU-GRLO concludes with actionable recommendations aimed improving geographical representation in our European institutions.
We wish to warmly thank all the EU institutions, bodies and agencies that have cooperated with this survey by providing information on their leadership in a timely manner. Their support and commitment to transparency is much appreciated. Of course, we welcome corrections for any identified error in our dataset.
© 2022 European Democracy Consulting
Second edition of the Geographical Representation in EU Leadership Observatory, published in January 2022.
European Democracy Consulting publications are independent of specific national or political interests. They are based on objective facts and data and reflect our analysis. The Geographical Representation in EU Leadership Observatory and its 2022 edition constitute pro bono work and were not commissioned by any third-party.
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Data and design: European Democracy Consulting
The Geographical Representation in EU Leadership Observatory 2022 (EU-GRLO) updates our initial analysis of geographical representation among the European Union’s leadership positions. The regions are Western, Southern, Northern, Eastern and Central Europe, and the positions concerned are the executive leaders of the EU’s institutions, advisory bodies, agencies and other bodies. The 2022 Observatory covers 73 EU entities, 91 positions, and 500 office-holders from 1952 to 2021.
Given the EU’s dual emphasis on Member State equality and population-based proportionality, this Observatory questions regions’ equality from three different angles: as equal between one another, pro rata of their number of Member States, and pro rata of their population. Given Member States’ differentiated dates of accession, the Observatory also allows a focus on recent years and on Member States’ first years in the Union.
In particular, this update reviews appointments made in 2021 and in the 2019-2021 triennium, and assesses recent trends in geographical representation. The Observatory concludes with a series of actionable recommendations to improve geographical representation in the EU’s leadership.
KEY WORDS geographical representation; regional representation; leadership; East-West divide; European Union; European institutions.
Key figures and survey conclusions
Note: whether based on regional equality, on regions’ number of Member States, or on their population, for each of the five regions considered to achieve equal representation means for each to reach a 20% “equality mark”.
Table of Contents
Institutions, bodies and agencies and positions observed
The 2022 EU-GRLO retains our established grouping of EU entities as Institutions of the European Union, Advisory bodies to the European Union, Agencies of the European Union, and Other EU bodies.
- Institutions of the European Union: the seven entities listed in Article 13.1 of the Treaty on European Union and two legacy institutions, the Commission of the European Atomic Energy Community and the High Authority of the European Coal and Steel Community. For these entities, we focus on the President, who is often a public figure, in particular for the so-called “top jobs”.1
We also cover the positions of Secretary-General for the European Commission, European Parliament and for the Council of the European Union, members of the Executive Board of the European Central Bank, and the Vice President, Registrar, and Secretary-General of the Court of Justice and Court of Auditors.
- Advisory bodies to the European Union: three entities created by the European treaties but lying outside of the main institutional framework (Articles 13.4 TEU and 38 TEU). They have no legislative or decision-making power, and their main role is to advise EU institutions. One of them, the Political and Security Committee, is headed by the High Representative of the European External Action Service; given its composite structure, the EEAS and its HR/VP are placed in this category. For advisory bodies, we cover the positions of President (and HR/VP, as relevant) and Secretary-General.
- Agencies of the European Union: EU agencies form a diverse group of decentralised bodies established for specific tasks and endowed with their own legal personality. Their fields of work are extremely diverse, ranging from law enforcement, to health, transportation, etc. EURATOM agencies are included, but not Joint Undertakings (public-private partnerships set up under the Horizon 2020 programme). For agencies, we focus on the top executive position, almost always called Director or Executive Director.
- Other EU bodies: finally, the EU has set up a number other independent bodies for specific purposes, which are best placed together in a common category despite their unique characteristics. For these bodies, we focus on the single top executive position, with the exceptions of the European Investment Bank, European Investment Fund, and European University Institute. Names vary widely depending on the entity, ranging from the classic Director, to names reflecting the Office in question, such as European Ombudsman, European Data Protection Supervisor, or European Public Prosecutor.
Institutional changes in 2021
Since the 2021 edition of the Observatory, the EU’s institutional set-up saw a number of changes — albeit relatively minor.
First of all, the most recently created EU agency, the European Labour Authority, formally established in 2019, was provided its first Director. With the appointment of Mr Cosmin Boiangiu in December 2020 (but not recorded last year, since the 2021 EU-GRLO stopped in November 2020), the ELA entered our dataset.
Secondly, the European GNSS Agency (GSA) — in charge, among other things, of the EU’s satellite programmes, such as Galileo — was expanded with the adoption of the EU Space Regulation and became the European Union Agency for the Space Programme in May 2021.
Finally, the European Commission re-organised its executive agencies. As such, the Innovation and Networks Executive Agency (INEA) became the European Climate, Infrastructure and Environment Executive Agency (CINEA). The Executive Agency for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (EASME) merged with the European Innovation Council (EIC) to become the European Innovation Council and SME Executive Agency (EISMEA). Finally, the Consumers, Health, Agriculture and Food Executive Agency (CHAFEA) was disbanded: its consumer programme was entrusted to the newly-formed EISMEA, its agricultural programme now sits under the European Research Executive Agency (REA), while its safe food and health programmes became the basis for the new European Health and Digital Executive Agency (HaDEA).
In the same way as we had handled previous institutional changes (such as with the European Parliament, initially set up as the Common Assembly of the European Coal and Steel Community in 1952), and in an effort to be true to the organisational nature of EU entities, we assigned all previous office-holders to the new name when the new agency is a clear successor to a previous one, and created a new entry where the new agency is markedly different from its predecessor(s). For instance, all directors of the GSA and of the INEA are now recorded as having been directors, respectively, of the EUSPA and of the CINEA, even though these agencies bore a different name under their tenure. However, given the heavy restructuring involved, HaDEA is considered a separate entity from the now-defunct CHAFEA.
Considerations on representation and legitimacy
As stated in 2021, the first and foremost criteria for the appointment of leadership positions must be and remain individual competence (whether it is called merit, expertise, experience, etc.). Of course, ideology is another important element in the case of political appointments.
However, while differences in levels of representation may be understandable between demographic sub-groups, the clear and continued lack of representation of large segments of the population (in the case of the EU, national or regional sub-groups) is detrimental to citizens’ feeling of proper representation and, therefore, to their trust in public institutions. This impact may eventually affect voter behaviour and, parting, the “europeanness” of national leaders, which in turn would impact EU governance and cohesion.
Noting the continued rise of Eurosceptic feelings and illiberal policies in Central and Eastern Europe, it is most timely to review the sociology of European leaders, with a particular focus on their national citizenship, so as to address imbalances that may further alienate certain Member States’ citizens.
Observatory data and analysis
The first edition of the EU-GRLO progressively refined the analysis of long-term data, in order to account for each of the five regions’ number of Member States and own population, as well as for the progressive expansion of the Union membership.
We had found that focusing on recent years (whether from the 2004 expansion or even more recently) only provided, at best, a limited rebalancing that did not affect general patterns. Regions remained far from equal in the representation of their citizens, and only by looking at the most recent years and accounting for regions’ population did Central and Eastern Europe fare slighter better — with Eastern Europe almost reaching half of its fair share (the 20% “equality mark” that each of the five regions should receive for equal representation), while Central Europe reached just over 13%.
By contrast, Western and Southern Europe always far exceeded their fair share in absolute terms and pro rata of their number of Member State, and stabilised around the equality mark pro rata of their population. Despite low overall numbers, Northern Europe almost reached its fair share pro rata of its number of Member States, and obtained twice its fair share of representation when accounting for its limited population.
Additionally, our per-Member State overview of appointments within a fixed duration following each Member State’s accession to the Union confirmed that, with the exception of a few outliers, citizens from Central and Eastern European Member States have received fewer appointments than citizens of other Member States. This conclusion remains true when factoring in these Member States’ populations, and is even more explicit when accounting for the total number of appointments made — whereby the progressive increase in EU entities and, therefore, in the number of leadership positions makes it relatively easier to appoint citizens from all regions than it was, for instance, in the 1990s.
Finally, a more qualitative analysis of appointments by type of entity had shown that the mandates received by citizens of Central and Eastern Europe were overwhelmingly for less public or prestigious positions — with agency positions accounting for, respectively, two-thirds and over 80% of appointments for citizens of Eastern and Central Europe. Conversely, EU agencies only accounted for around a third of appointments received by citizens of Western and Southern Europe. To this date, no Central European citizen has ever been appointed to any of the positions recorded for EU institutions, nor for our category of “Other EU bodies”.
Overall, we saw that the analysis of appointments to leadership positions is affected by a number of factors: a region’s number of Member States, its population, the amount of time since the accession of its Member States, the number of years taken into account, and the categories of entities considered. However, despite changes in figures, one constant trend remained, that is the clear and continued under-representation of citizens of Central and Eastern Europe within the EU’s leadership, in particular in the most public and visible positions.
Let us now see whether recent appointments, in particular in 2021, have contributed to remedying this situation.
2021 figures and recent trends
Published in January 2021, the original EU-GRLO concluded with specific and actionable recommendations for the improvement of geographical representation in EU leadership positions, ranging from a clear acknowledge of the issue at hand and of its negative consequences, to publishing period data on the matters and committing to remedial action.
While limited time has passed since this initial assessment, this 2022 update to our Observatory aims at taking stock of recent appointments. In particular, we will review mandates starting in the calendar year 20212 and analyse the 2019-2021 triennium, as part of our previous three-year trend analysis.
Mandates starting in 2021
For the year 2021, European Democracy Consulting identified thirteen new mandates.3
- Two for EU institutions: the Vice-President of the European Court of Justice and the Secretary-General of the Court of Auditors;
- Four for EU agencies: the Director of the Authority for European Political Parties and European Political Foundations (APPF), the President of the European Research Council (ERC), the Secretary-General of the European University Institute (EUI), and the Director-General of the Publications Office of the European Union (PO); and
- Seven for other EU bodies: the directors of the Community Plant Variety Office (CPVO), the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA), the European Fisheries Control Agency (EFCA), the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (Eurofound), the European Health and Digital Executive Agency (HaDEA), the European Innovation Council and SMEs Executive Agency (EISMEA), and the European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA).
Out of these thirteen new mandates, 8 (or 62%) went to Western Europe, 3 to Southern Europe (23%), one to Northern Europe and to Eastern Europe (8% each), and none to Central Europe. When calculating pro rata of each region’s number of Member States, the distribution remains more or less unchanged. When calculating pro rata of each region’s population, Western and Northern Europe remain far above the 20% equality mark (at 33% and 37%, respectively), Southern Europe stands around the equality mark, and Eastern and Central Europe remain squarely under (at 11% and 0%, respectively).
Beyond the appointments themselves, a complementary information is that of the number of mandates ending in 2021. European Democracy Consulting recorded twelve mandates ending in 2021: seven for Western Europe, three for Southern Europe, and two for Northern Europe. Overall, the number of EU leadership officer-holders increased by one for Western Europe (increasing its over-representation), decreased by one for Northern Europe (decreasing its over-representation), and increased by one for Eastern Europe (limiting its under-representation).
Mandates starting in 2019-2021
Of course, while individual appointments matter, it is statistically difficult to extract tendencies from such a small sample. This is why the 2021 EU-GRLO also analysed appointments in running three-year brackets between 2010 and 2020 (2010-2012, 2011-2013, 2012-2014, etc.), in an attempt to smooth drastic year-on-year variations caused by limited numbers of appointments per year.
Over the 2019-2021 triennium, European Democracy Consulting recorded 60 new mandates, making the data more statistically significant and highlighting the comparatively low number of appointments in 2021 alone (13, compared to an average value of 20 over the triennium).
Analysis of the data for the 2019-2021 triennium is slightly more encouraging. Overall, citizens from Western Europe still received over twice their fair share of appointments (with 25 appointments, or 42%) and those of Southern Europe remain solidly above the equality mark (with 17, or over 28%). Eastern Europe receives 8 mandates (over 13%), while Northern and Central Europe receive 5 each (or over 8%).
Pro rata of each region’s number of Member States, the distribution is slightly fairer, but Western and Southern Europe remain anchored above the equality mark (at 34% and 27%), and Northern, Eastern and Central Europe trail behind in that order (with 16%, 13% and 10%).
The calculation pro rata of each region’s number of citizens is the most encouraging so far, with Central Europe finally reaching the equality mark (20.5%), Western and Southern Europe slightly below (17% each), and Eastern Europe not so far behind (15%). Northern Europe maintains its usual per capita over representation, with over 30% of new mandates.
In the same duration, European Democracy Consulting recorded 55 mandates ending, mostly for citizens of Western and Southern Europe (23 each). As a result, we notice non-negligible changes: over this triennium, Western Europe still increases its number of office-holders by 2, but Southern Europe decreases by 6; Northern Europe remains at the same level, but Eastern Europe increases by 7 and Central Europe by 2.
On the one hand, we therefore witness positive trends for fairer levels of representation in the 2019-2021 triennium. On the other hand, these trends over a three-year period are noticeably better than the figures for the year 2021, meaning that 2019 and 2020 were the years that contributed to this progress and that these trends are not yet stable.
Mandate evolution by entity
Beyond the sheer number of mandates starting and ending in a given year or triennium, it is interesting to continue last year’s analysis of appointments by entity.
As recalled above, the 2021 EU-GRLO had shown the prevalence of less prestigious, and therefore less visible, appointments for Eastern and Central Europe — with Central Europe receiving close to 82% of its appointments from EU agencies and the remaining 18% from advisory bodies. By contrast, Western and Southern Europe received around a third of their appointments from EU institutions — arguably the most prestigious and publicly visible positions — and only around a third from EU agencies. Given the limited number of appointments per year, the 2022 figures are largely similar, but it is enlightening to look at this breakdown for recent appointments.
At this point, it is important to reiterate that we do not consider agency leadership positions less important than other leadership appointments. However, the more prestigious and visible a position, the more citizens are likely to be aware of the office-holder’s appointment, and the more it contributes to the feeling of representation of the citizens of the same Member State or region as the office-holder.
Once again, given the small number of appointments, figures for a given must be handled with care. Nevertheless, we note that Western Europe receives over a third of its appointments from the “other EU bodies” category, and just under two thirds from EU agencies; likewise, Southern Europe receives a third from EU institutions, a third from “other EU bodies”, and the last third from EU agencies. By contrast, and on opposite extremes of the spectrum, Northern Europe receives 100% of its appointments from EU institutions, while Eastern Europe receives 100% from EU agencies. Central Europe had no new mandates in 2021.
Whilst more nuanced, the breakdown for the triennium retains the same imbalances. Between 2019 and 2021, Western and Southern Europe received, respectively, 28% and 18% of their appointments from EU institutions, and 48% and 35% from EU agencies. In the same period, Eastern and Central Europe received 13% (Ilze Juhansone, as Secretary-General of the European Commission) and 0% of their appointments from EU institutions, and 63% and 80% from EU agencies.
Therefore, despite the amount of time that elapsed since the accession to the Union of even its most recent members, we note that the breakdown of appointments by entity for the latest triennium is extremely similar to overall values. This indicates that, beyond slight improvements in the fairness of overall representation over the past three years, very little has actually been accomplished in terms of appointing citizens of Eastern and Central Europe to more visible positions.
Who is responsible?
The first three recommendations formulated by the EU-GRLO in 2021 were to acknowledge the lack of proper geographical representation in the EU’s leadership, to acknowledge the likely negative impact of this lack of geographical representation, and to acknowledge the Council and Commission’s central role in appointments and, therefore, in the improvement of geographical representation.
Given their stated central role, the Council and the Commission are the ones who ought to acknowledge the above, before deciding on corrective and remedial action. But just how central is this role? How can we attest of these two bodies’ predominant role in the appointment of EU leaders?
Appointments by nominating body
In order to answer this question fully, we must look at the nomination processes for the entities observed. As observed last year, the choice of EU leaders is, broadly speaking, made either by nomination or by election. Given the functioning of the European Union, the lines between nomination and election are often blurred: in many instances, an individual is, in name, elected but, in practice, the decision is the result of discussions and compromises, and competing candidates drop out before the vote. Likewise, official announcements often indicate that an individual was nominated or appointed, even when the official mechanism included an election.
Institutions of the European Union
- European Commission. The President of the European Commission is nominated by the European Council as part of the EU’s “top jobs” following European elections. Despite being subject to approval by the European Parliament, the decision-making process of 2019 clearly showed the European Council’s upper hand. The Secretary-General of the European Commission is nominated by the President of the Commission.
- European Council/Council of the European Union. The President of the European Council is nominated by the European Council as part of the EU’s “top jobs”. The Secretary-General of the Council of the European Union — the General Secretariat of the Council assists both the European Council and the Council of the EU — is nominated by the Council.
- European Parliament. The President of the European Parliament is elected by Members of the European Parliament. The Secretary-General of the European Parliament is nominated by the President of the European Parliament.
- European Central Bank. The President of the European Central Bank is nominated by the European Council as part of the EU’s “top jobs”. The Vice-President and other members of the Executive Board of the European Central Bank are also all appointed by the European Council.
- Court of Justice of the European Union/European Court of Justice. The President, Vice-President and Registrar are elected by the members of the Court.
- European Court of Auditors. The President and the Secretary-General of the European Court of Auditors are elected by the members of the Court.
Advisory bodies to the European Union
- European External Action Service. The High Representative/Vice President (HR/VP) is nominated by the European Council as part of the EU’s “top jobs”. The Secretary-General of the European External Action Service is nominated by the HR/VP.
- Committee of the Regions. The President of the Committee of the Regions is elected by the CoR Assembly. The Secretary-General of the Committee of the Regions is nominated by the CoR Bureau.
- European Economic and Social Committee. The President of the European Economic and Social Committee is elected by the EESC Plenary. The Secretary-General of the European Economic and Social Committee is nominated by the EESC Bureau.
Other EU bodies
Given the wide differences in statutes between the entities of this category, the modalities for elections and nominations are very variable. Several entities are directly under the remit of an EU institution; for instance, the European Commission, which appoints the Director of the European Personnel Selection Office, the President and Secretary-General of the European Research Council, the Head of the European School of Administration, and the Director-General of the Publications Office of the European Union. Likewise, the European Parliament elects the European Ombudsman.
On the other end of the spectrum are entities endowed with boards (whether a Governing Board, Board of Directors, High Council, etc.) tasked with the nomination of the entity’s top leadership, such as the Director of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology, the President of the European Investment Bank, the Chief Executive of the European Investment Fund, or the President of the European University Institute. Oftentimes, the Secretary-General of these entities will in turn be nominated by the top leadership, as for the Secretaries-General of the European Investment Bank, European Investment Fund, or European University Institute.
Finally, a number of entities share their accountability to two or more EU institutions. For instance, the European Chief Prosecutor and the European Data Protection Supervisor are appointed jointly by the European Council and the European Parliament. Likewise, the Director-General of the European Anti-Fraud Office and the Director of the Authority for European Political Parties and European Political Foundations are appointed jointly by the European Council, the European Parliament and the European Commission. In these cases, it is not easy to know whether the decision-making process truly gives an equal say to all institutions involved and, if not, where the real decision is made.
Agencies of the European Union
There are too many agencies to cover them all in detail. Broadly speaking, and from the point of view of the appointment of their top leadership, there are three main categories for EU agencies.
The first one is made up of the European Commission’s executive agencies. As the name suggests, these agencies are squarely under the authority of the European Commission which is responsible for the appointment of their (Executive) Directors.
The second group is the most common and sees the Board (or one or more of the Boards) of the agency appoint the Head of the agency. A short review of agencies’ legal bases shows a trend towards the harmonisation of agencies’ internal structure as well as of the nomination process of their top leadership. Most recently created or recently amended Regulations describing agencies now confer upon the European Commission the duty to provide a shortlist of candidates, and on voting members of a Board (often called the “Management Board”) the right to select their preferred candidate.
A last category is made up of special cases or agencies that have not yet been reformed to fit under the above second category — although it remains unclear whether such plans for reform exist. Examples include the Chief Executive of the European Defence Agency, nominated by the European External Action Service, or the President of the Community Plant Variety Office, nominated by the Council of the European Union.
Appointment by category
The above information provides an overview of which body or group appoints the office-holders recorded by the EU-GRLO. However, in many instances, the ultimate decision-makers may not appear clearly, especially to citizens unfamiliar with European institutions. It is therefore useful, for transparency purposes, to re-arrange the nominating bodies identified according to their own members.
An easy example is that of the European Council and Council of the European Union. When we say that the “top jobs”, among many others, are appointed by the European Council, we are actually saying that the Heads of State or government of Member States are responsible. Let us then briefly review the various nominating entities.
- European Council and Council of the European Union. The European Council is made up of Heads of State of government of the Member States. The Council of the European Union is made of the ministers of Member States.
- European Commission. Assuming that the appointment of the EU’s top leadership is under the ultimate responsibility of the President of the European Commission, these appointments are made by an EU civil servant politically appointed by the Member States.
- European Parliament. The European Parliament of composed of EU representatives directly elected by citizens.
- Court of Justice of the European Union. The Court of Justice is made up of legal experts appointed by their respective Member State governments.
- European Court of Auditors. The Court of Auditors is made up of legal experts appointed by their respective Member State governments.
- European External Action Service. Assuming that the appointment of the EU’s top leadership is under the ultimate responsibility of the High Representative, these appointments are made by an EU civil servant politically appointed by the Member States.
- European Economic and Social Committee Plenary. Members of the EESC Plenary are EU representatives nominated by their respective Member State governments and appointed by the Council of the European Union, itself composed of government ministers. Members of the EESC Plenary elect the EESC Bureau.
- Committee of the Regions Assembly. Members of the CoR Assembly are EU representatives nominated by their respective Member State governments and appointed by the Council of the European Union, itself composed of government ministers.
- Entity Board. As we have indicated, there is a wide array of configurations for entity boards, making a strict categorisation impossible. However, the large majority of entity boards tasked with leadership appointments (whether EU agencies, the European Institute of Innovation and Technology, the European Investment Bank, the European Investment Fund, or the European University Institute) comprise, among their voting members, representatives of Member States government or of national institutions, which form the majority of the board’s votes. Additionally, boards often include one or more representatives of the European Commission, as well as, for instance, representatives of the European Parliament (ACER, EMA), Council (ACER), workers’ and employers’ organisations (CEDEFOP, EU-OSHA, Eurofound), or UNHCR (EASO).
In line with the EU’s nation-centric structure, most of the nominating bodies can therefore be traced back to national governments, either through Heads of State or government, ministers, government representatives, national heads of specialised institutions, or EU representatives, civil servants or experts appointed by Member States. In fact, the only nominating body arguably not linking back to national governments is the European Parliament — made up of EU representatives directly elected by European citizens.
Of course, we are not arguing that all those with ties to a national government are considered mouthpieces of their Member State. For instance, experts appointed by Member States, such as judges on the Court of Justice or auditors on the European Court of Auditors, are likely to be less sensitive to national desiderata. The same, however, cannot be said of Member State representatives on agency boards or of more political appointments, such as the “top jobs” or for local elected officials appointed to the Committee of the Regions.
This re-arrangement better displays those responsible for the appointment of the EU’s top leadership and, therefore, where the impetus must come from for the improvement of geographical representation in the EU’s leadership.
Remedial measures must be considered by a range of actors, but first and foremost — as we have seen above — by Member State governments and their representatives and appointees in EU entities.
Following an in-depth discussion across the EU, the Council and the Commission should adopt a joint commitment declaration with clear action points. Understandably, given the sensitivity and political nature of this issue, it may be easier to agree on broad objectives rather than on concrete figures.
Here are necessary acknowledgements and actionable recommendations for action that should feature in this declaration. Given the Council and Commission’s lack of response and action following our 2021 Observatory, our recommendations remain largely the same.
1. Acknowledge the lack of proper geographical representation in the EU’s leadership
The first step in addressing under-representation is to acknowledge its existence. This Observatory lists ample and verifiable data highlighting the almost complete lack of representation of Central and Eastern European citizens in EU leadership positions, especially at the highest levels. The Council and Commission may decide that appointments ought to be made solely based on competence, and that the observed lack of geographical representation is a consequence of this policy. However, with Central and Eastern Europe representing 40% of Member States and 20% of the EU’s population, their almost complete absence from EU leadership positions becomes indefensible. The Council and Commission should use these results and acknowledge the imbalances identified.
2. Acknowledge the likely negative impact of this lack of proper geographical representation
Several countries in Central and Eastern Europe — first and foremost, Hungary and Poland — have given rise to illiberal-minded governments which have repeatedly acted to undermine the rule of law, a treaty-enshrined value of the European Union.4 The limited participation of these regions in European elections should also be a concern: in 2019, nine out of eleven countries from Central and Eastern Europe were under the EU’s average turnout — part of the thirteen least-voting countries —, and four out of five Central European countries were the four least-voting countries in the EU, with rates ranging from 30 down to 23%. These two regions have a noticeably lower turnout than the other three. While there are a number of other factors at play, it is clear that the absence of these countries from leadership positions is sure to further alienate their citizens from the Union.
In this light, it is disappointing that the first edition of the EU-GRLO mostly found an echo in Hungarian and Polish pro-government publications or supporters social media, while pro-European officials remained quiet.
3. Acknowledge the Council and Commission’s central role in appointments and, therefore, in the improvement of geographical representation
Last but not least, Member States, by virtue of the European treaties and of EU entities’ statutes, must acknowledge their direct and primary position in the filling of leadership positions and, therefore, their inescapable role in addressing and remedying the lack of proper geographical representation in the EU’s leadership.
4. Establish dimensions of analysis and baseline measures
In order to start addressing the identified lack of representation, the Council and Commission need to know from where they start. They must first identify the dimensions along which the level of proper representation will be assessed. The Observatory highlights a number of measures that can be used: overall representation since the EU’s founding (objectively the least useful dimension), representation since a specific date, representation proportionally to regions’ number of Member States or population, and representation following a number of years of membership. All these dimensions were considered from the perspective of appointments and mandate durations, and broken down by groups of institutions. They can be re-used for the Council and Commission’s analysis.
However, the survey focuses only on successful elections and appointments, and baseline measures must go beyond publicly available data. In addition, the Council and Commission must look at steps ahead of elections and appointments. In the case of elections, the number of candidates from each region and their rate of success. In the case of appointments, and depending on the precise mechanism, the number of candidates from each region considered for a short list, the number of candidates from each region making it to the short list, and their eventual rate of success.
Going one step further, the Council and Commission must consider the current representation of each region among EU civil servants — disaggregated not only by institution, but also by position level — which forms a large pool for non-political appointments. This should cover both career civil servants and contractual staff members.
5. Establish goals and targets
Once these various dimensions and measures have been established, the Council and Commission must agree on their objectives, including a clear long-term goal and one or more time-bound intermediary goals.
As indicated earlier, European Democracy Consulting does not promote the strict equality of representation for Member States or regions, as this would put an unwelcome constraint on hires, which ought to remain guided first and foremost by individual competence. Instead, the Council and Commission should commit to a set of flexible targets. For instance, “by 2030, over a running three-year period, each region’s share of appointments pro rata of its population should range between 15 and 25%” (all regions receiving 20% would mean strict equality).
Similar goals must be divised for dimensions not surveyed by the Observatory and presented in the points above. All of these should be further refined by institution type, and be given intermediary goals over the next decade.
6. Define actions
Once goals have been set, the Council and Commission must delineate clear actions they will take to achieve them.
Ensuring transparency is a precondition for action. While most EU entities already disclose information on their current executive leadership, information on previous leaders is limited, and often times scarce or entirely missing on the details of the selection process. This should be remedied to as part of good governance measures on transparency. While information on short-listed or competing candidates needs not be publicly available, related statistics should be collected in a relevant yearly publication.
Beyond transparency, affirmative action policies are the most obvious proposal and are already used to address other instances of under-representation. In 1997, the Inter-Parliamentary Union (of which all European national parliaments are members, in addition to the European Parliament as an associate member) indicated in its “Plan of Action” on gender representation that “on a strictly interim basis, affirmative action measures may be taken. Wherever the measure chosen is a quota system, it is proposed that the quota should not target women, but that, in the spirit of equity, it may be established that neither sex may occupy a proportion of seats inferior to a given percentage.”
While affirmative action may be politically divisive, the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union already states that “the principle of equality shall not prevent the maintenance or adoption of measures providing for specific advantages in favour of the under-represented sex” (Article 23). EU institutions have also repeatedly supported measures of this nature. In 2012, the European Parliament welcomed parity systems and gender quotas introduced in some Member States and urged others to consider legislating to facilitate gender balance in political decision-making.5 The Commission’s Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025 includes equality between women and men in decision-making as a priority objective, setting out soft law measures, including data-collection. Finally, the Council has called upon the Commission, governments, political parties and the European and national parliaments to promote a gender-balanced representation, for example by introducing gender-alternate lists.
Similar temporary measures may be taken to ensure proper geographical representation in the EU’s leadership. For instance, “by 2030, over a running three-year period, each region should not receive a number of appointments less than two-thirds of or more than one-third above their population share, with a maximum spread of 10 points”, as shown in our three-year analysis.
Of course, numbers alone do not fully do justice to proper representation, as different entities have different levels of prestige and public visibility. As such, increasing the number of Central and Eastern Europeans in leadership positions is important, but it is likely to fall short of true proper representation if appointments only concern EU agencies while all top job positions are attributed to Western and Southern Europeans.
In addition to quotas, which focus exclusively on the outcome of the selection process, other measures must be adopted upstream. This includes the overall promotion of diversity among the EU’s public administration. This representation cannot simply be measured as an aggregate, but be ensured across all hierarchical levels, including the ones leading to consideration for leadership positions.
In its 2009 report on Fostering Diversity in the Public Service, the OECD describes diversity “not only as the mixture of backgrounds and competences but also as valuing and using people’s competences, experience, and perspectives to improve government efficiency and effectiveness, and to meet public servants professional expectations.” It highlights a “growing consensus […] that pursuing diversity may also help to preserve core public service values such as fairness, transparency, impartiality and representativeness.” The report notes “a growing tendency to see diversity as an asset rather than as a problem” and encourages governments to include diversity principles “part of any public management reform, as diversity initiatives cannot succeed as an isolated strategy.”
In particular, measures should be considered to “make the recruitment process fairer, more transparent and more flexible to attract talented people with a mix of backgrounds, experience and perspectives. Improvements to the recruitment process refer to the instruments or mechanisms that aim to: i) diversify the communication channels to reach a wider audience; ii) motivate people to apply for vacancies in the public service; iii) relax the selection process and criteria to make them more inclusive but still focused on analysing skills, qualities and competencies required for the job; and iv) facilitate the integration and retention of new recruits to the workplace.”
In a 2019 survey on Managing a diverse public administration or effectively responding to the needs of a more diverse workforce, the OECD further encourages governments to go “beyond technical efficiency to the creation of public value where the civil service aims to deliver better services to all and strengthen the legitimacy of, and confidence in, public sector institutions in the eyes of the public. It suggests the need to design more diverse and inclusive policies and services, supported by more diverse and inclusive public sector institutions. A representative public sector workforce also sends a strong message of inclusion, that public sector institutions are serious about taking all of their citizens’ concerns to heart and designing policies and programs that meet their needs.”
Beyond the Council and Commission, these measures highlight the special role to be played by the European Personnel Selection Office (EPSO), as the office responsible for selecting staff for all institutions, bodies and agencies of the European Union, and the European School of Administration (EUSA), which organises training programmes for staff of EU institutions, bodies and agencies.
7. Track progress publicly
Finally, once actions have been decided, progress along the dimensions identified earlier must be periodically assessed and made public, at least on a yearly basis. If need be, the dimensions themselves may be reviewed and improved in order to better track the impact of the actions taken, and actions should be amended as necessary to ensure long-term objectives are met.
Public scrutiny and clear lines of responsibility, in particular of the Council and Commission, must be guaranteed to ensure that the relevant actors are held accountable. We aim for this Geographical Representation in EU Leadership Observatory to be a significant and useful first step in this direction.
About European Democracy Consulting
European Democracy Consulting is a consulting firm specialising on the provision of legal and political expertise on institutional and constitutional matters. Our goal is the strengthening of European democracy through reform and the application of best-practice measures.
European Democracy Consulting was created in 2019, out of the desire to improve our European democracy. The 2019 European elections have shown a renewed interest for our Union, but also the limits of citizens’ engagement. Following these elections, European Democracy Consulting was set up to help decision-makers, public institutions, and NGOs in their promotion of a more democratic, transparent and efficient European Union.
Democracy does not always come easy; there may be vested interests opposing its development. As a result, sixty years after its creation, the European Union still falls far short of the democratic standards of developed countries.
We wish to bring our solid expertise to support a value-based discussion and propose concrete political and legal solutions, based on best-practices, that will strengthen our common democracy for the general interest of all Europeans.
About the author
Louis has spent over eight years working mostly for international organisations, including the United Nations, the European Union, and the Council of Europe. Through these positions, he has acquired a solid expertise in and knowledge of institutions and public policy.
In recent years, he has devoted an increasing part of his time to the reform of European institutions and governance. This included the drafting of a European constitution and the creation of a related non-profit, EuropeanConstitution.eu, as well as a number of policy papers on the reform of European elections and parties.
If you are interested in our data analysis and visualisation work, reach out to us and check our reviews of elections cycles in Europe and the results of the 2019 European elections from the perspective of European parties.
- The European Central Bank is a particular case, in that its composition is the Eurozone and not the full European Union — leaving aside Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Sweden. Using our classification, Central and Eastern European countries belonging to the Eurozone are: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, and Slovenia.
- The slight discrepancy of one position between the total number of office-holders recorded in the 2021 EU-GRLO (481), the number of new mandates in 2021 (13) and the total number of office-holders recorded in the 2022 EU-GRLO (495) is explained by the mandate of Mr Cosmin Boiangiu starting in December 2020 that was not recorded in the 2021 EU-GRLO since work on our dataset was undertaken in November and December 2020.
- As for all other data, the point of reference is the office-holder’s first day in office, and not the day the appointment was decided.
- Treaty on European Union, Article 2: “The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. These values are common to the Member States in a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail.”
- European Parliamentary Research Service, Women in politics in the EU State of play, 2019, https://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/BRIE/2019/635548/EPRS_BRI(2019)635548_EN.pdf