Just in case any of you haven’t yet heard, or maybe you’ve heard something but weren’t sure whether it was true or not, I can confirm that I’m leaving the Commission, and Brussels, in September. I will be moving to London to start a new job back in the Local Government sector (which is what I was doing before I moved here) as Senior Policy Officer with Hertfordshire County Council.
I guess the first thing I want to say is how touched I am by the fact that, as soon as I began to tell my colleagues the news, they came running into my office almost immediately to talk to me. It shows just how caring everyone is here, it really does feel like a family, it’s already clear to me that I will be missed as much as I will miss the good friends I have made since I came here in July 2012.
I have had some of the same questions now from a few different people; it seems that leaving is a fairly unconventional thing to do. After all, we all tried so hard to get IN, why would someone then voluntarily leave? It seems counter- intuitive and looks to some like a rash decision. So – I thought I would compile a list of popular questions, some of which have simple and straightforward answers, others not so much and require deeper explanations. The one thing I would like to emphasise is that my decision is in no way a reflection on how I feel about working with anyone here in DIGIT; I’ve made many good friends and of course will be staying in touch with them and no doubt will be coming back to visit, since I’ll only be 2 hours away in London.
Why are you leaving?
The short answer is – because I’m unhappy, and have been for some time. I have thought long and hard about this, and I’m sure it’s the right thing to do. Things have not been great for me since I split up with my husband last year, I was hoping it might get better but I’ve given it a year and I still feel the same. I really miss my friends and family, I spend a lot of time going over to the UK at weekends.
It’s also the right thing for me in terms of my career; I have spent 2 years trying to figure out how to make it work and I just can’t see how I could get to a position where my skills are being used properly, not unless I did another concours which I could do anytime if I want to become an AD, I don’t have to be here to do that
Don’t you like living in Brussels? Isn’t it a better quality of life than you could have in London?
Sure, in Brussels you can live in a two bedroom, one hundred and thirty square meter apartment in a great location for the same price as squat, miles from anywhere nice, in London. And yes, it’s true that if I want to see my friends who live in a different part of the city, it’s not going to take me two hours and three different modes of transport to get there. There are definite advantages to living in Brussels, and I’m certainly glad I’ve had the experience of living and working here for the last two years. But…there’s no place like home.
Why aren’t you taking CCP? What will you do if there is another crisis or you get made redundant?
This is a question I’ve been asked A LOT; why have I resigned rather than just taking a ‘career break’, so that I have a fall-back option in case things don’t work out in the future for whatever reason. Well, put simply, anyone who knows me well knows that I’m kind of like that general at the siege of Troy who ordered all the boats to be burned so there was no option of retreat. I’ve never needed a fall-back position before and I’m not going to start now.
I don’t see it as ‘ free insurance’. I am moving on and making progress in my career to a higher level, and I hope to take things much further over the coming years. However, even if I don’t end up as Chief Executive of a Local Government Organisation in ten years’ time, if I were ever to come back to this post and be a secretary again, it would mean I’d given up. In five years’ time I’m pretty sure it will be unthinkable, and I’m sure there are dozens of other options I would have. I know myself quite well and I just can’t see myself not having enough energy and determination to be able to build a rewarding career in the UK or even elsewhere, who knows.
Why did you take ‘the wrong’ concours in the first place?
I wanted to work for the EU, in the Commission, in Brussels. It was my dream. The strategy that EVERYONE uses to get through the recruitment process is just to try as many concours as possible, enter anything you are eligible for. The aim is just to get in, to get that magic golden ticket which means you are an EU Official and you have a job for life. What you do once you get there is another story. I was under the impression that, once I got in, by whatever means, I would be able to forge my own path. So it didn’t seem to matter that I got in as an AST1, the lowest grade in the Commission, and that the majority of jobs available would be secretarial. I didn’t mind starting at that level, given that I had tried and failed at least three AD concours and an AST 3 concours. I thought I would be able to shape the job around my skills and experience and after a while I would either be promoted or I would be able to apply for more interesting roles, and indeed I had heard many stories about people who had done exactly that.
There are lots of reasons why this hasn’t really worked out, perhaps because I was about ten years too late in doing it. I made a lot of mistakes; firstly in even going through the application process for a role I knew I would never be a good fit for, secondly for just jumping at the first job I was offered which is in a service that was completely alien to me.
However, there were a number of things I was not aware of, that made it all the more difficult for me. First, I will never be eligible for promotion until I am fluent in a third EU language. Second, the process by which an AST can become an AD is actually getting harder and the quotas smaller every year. Even with a fair wind, I’m staring down the barrel of a 10 year slog at best just to reach a level of seniority I was already at in my previous career.
If promotion or certification is out of the question or would take too long, why don’t you look for a different job within the Commission? You worked for the Director General of DIGIT; couldn’t he help you get another job that would be more interesting to you?
I’m sure there are jobs, in fact I know that there are jobs that I would find more interesting in the Commission, but not at the level I’m at currently. My background is in policy and strategy, and these roles are only for Administrators. A Director General is not a genie in a lamp who can grant wishes. There is no special magic wand that anyone can wave and turn me into an AD; the only way is to pass a concours and that’s that.
Having said that, I’m not entirely convinced that I would necessarily be happy in the long term, even if I were an AD doing policy work. The whole organisation is too hierarchical and bureaucratic for me personally to deal with. I’m constantly overstepping boundaries and getting tired of being told that I can’t do x or y or we can’t do things differently because this is the way they have to be done.
Also, I need to be in a position where I can improve things on an organisational level if needs be. I’m a square peg in a round hole here and unfortunately I’m not going to change and neither is the Commission in the foreseeable future. I have given this some very careful thought, and concluded that this organisation is always going to have more of an impact on me than I will have on it. If I can’t live with that, I will struggle to be happy working here. Well, as it turns out, I can’t live with that.
Also, I realised, looking back, how much I enjoyed working in Local Government, because it felt like I was doing something to directly benefit the local community. I’m a public servant, this is my purpose, and something I’m very proud and humbled to be able to do for a living. But sitting here at my desk in Brussels, I feel so removed from the people I’m supposed to be working for. In previous public service roles, I could see clearly how the things we did had a direct impact on the way we provided essential services to communities, and that felt like a real responsibility, it gave me a lot of job satisfaction which I just don’t know how I would get by staying here.
Can’t you find a rich Eurocrat to marry?
Er, no. They are all already married or gay. One of the great, unsolvable mysteries of the universe is why there are no single, heterosexual, eligible men in their 30s in Brussels. But anyway there just aren’t any.
I was married when I came out here; I wanted to concentrate on my career. Things sadly subsequently fell apart, and all I want now is to be closer to all my friends and family. I have some great friends here in Brussels and they have been a wonderful support to me through some very tough times, but I do now want to be living within an hour or so of my family and those closest to me.
What will you miss?
I will miss the friends I have made here, and I will miss working with such great and inspirational people that’s for sure.
I will miss the crazy nights out on Place Lux – there really isn’t anything else like it anywhere in the world, I’m quite sure of that.
I will miss being surrounded by so many colleagues from different countries, cultures and backgrounds, it certainly makes life interesting.
I will miss being part of an EU institution. I was always very proud to be an EU Official. I welcomed the opportunity to talk to people back in the UK about the role and purpose of the EU and the Commission, which carried more authority due to the fact that I worked there; it seemed that my opinion had more legitimacy. I will of course continue to be a strong advocate of the benefits of being part of the EU and use my experience here to do that in any way I can.
Surely you don’t have any regrets about having done this?
Non, je ne regrette rien.