Escaping the crisis with the European Commission

The EC traineeship offers positions in London, as well as in the EU capital, Brussels. Photo credit: rockcohen/Flickr

Despite claims that the economic situation is improving the number of people unemployed in London at the end of 2010 stood at 373,000 – a rise of 3,000 from the previous quarter. The uncertain economic climate has made it difficult for graduates to find employment and many have had to accept unpaid internships in the hope of securing a paid position.

There is however another option for graduates looking for paid work experience abroad.  The European Commission traineeship programme has been running for 50 years and provides trainees with 5 months’ experience within the Commission as well as a grant of 1,071 euros per month.

Getting a foot in the door

There are two five-month stages every year, one in summer and one in winter. In order to be eligible candidates must fill in several forms and submit them well before the actual start of the program. Potential trainees are required to have a degree and speak a second language. EU citizenship is not essential. 

Once the form is received candidates have to wait to see if they are accepted into the ‘Blue Book’. The Blue Book contains the names of all the candidates short listed for the stage and it is within this list that future ‘stagiaires’ are selected. With roughly 12, 000 applicants for approximately 600 positions there are no guarantees of selection.

The stage is set

The first week of the stage consists of a series of conferences, speeches and social events. During this time stagiaires from across the globe can meet and listen to previous trainees share their experiences of the Stage.

Work begins during week two of the traineeship which is when stagiaires meet their supervisors and settle down in their offices. The work load varies depending on the unit with some stagiaires complaining about having too little to do and others too much.

Emyr Williams, 29, described the experience as positive “in the sense that I got a real feel for what the European Commission does in practise, and how the institutions interact with each other and I got to make friends with people from all over Europe.”

“On the down side, a lot of the work was aimed at someone who was just entering the job market, not for someone a bit older like myself, who already had work experience.”

Erasmus Part 2

The EC stage has also acquired somewhat of a reputation for its frequent parties and social events. The Stagiaire Committee, which is made up of elected trainees, is charged with organising weekly clubbing events and frequent trips to nearby cities.

There are also weekly stagiaire meeting points such as Place du Luxembourg after work on Wednesdays or the numerous bars based near the Commission buildings in Schuman.

In addition various societies which meet up on a weekly basis to practice a sport or activity are also formed by the trainees. These are extremely varied and during the Winter 2010-11 Stage there were horse riding, drama, football, dancing and language societies.

A Brussels-free stage

The EC traineeship does not guarantee full-time employment but it is a great source of experience. Photo credit: BlatantWorld / Flickr

Not all stagiaires are based in Brussels and it is possible to carry out the traineeship in the various EC offices across the world. Alix Huchet, 25, who did her stage at the ECs London Representation, believes there are advantages and disadvantages to not being in Brussels.

“You miss the activities organised in Brussels and of course meeting all the other stagiaires but on the other hand because there was only one trainee I was given a fair amount of interesting things to do around the office.”

Leaving with experience

When the five months are up most stagieres seem happy with the experience but disappointed that it ends so abruptly. The European Commission very rarely keeps on stagieres and the Concours remains the best way to gain permanent employment within the institution.

Stefano Ramelli, 26, was also very happy with his stage; “I entered the Commission almost by chance, with little expectations, however, it turned out to be a more valuable experience than I expected.”

However he also would have appreciated the opportunity to stay on; “The worst thing about the stage was that it ended at the same time for everyone so hundreds of highly qualified young people flood Brussels looking for jobs.”

Five months well spent

The stage may not offer full time employment for graduates struggling to find a job but it does offer a unique chance to go abroad and gain five months experience in one the world’s largest organisations. Stagiaires are able to take what they learnt as well as the connections they have made and face the crisis better prepared and with more resources.

Additional information and how to apply for the EC traineeship can be found here.