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European Personnel Selection Office

European Personnel Selection Office

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The European Personnel Selection Office (EPSO) is responsible for selecting staff to work for the Institutions of the European Union
European Union
The European Union is an economic and political union of 27 independent member states which are located primarily in Europe. The EU traces its origins from the European Coal and Steel Community and the European Economic Community , formed by six countries in 1958...

 (European Parliament
European Parliament
The European Parliament is the directly elected parliamentary institution of the European Union . Together with the Council of the European Union and the Commission, it exercises the legislative function of the EU and it has been described as one of the most powerful legislatures in the world...

, the European Council
European Council
The European Council is an institution of the European Union. It comprises the heads of state or government of the EU member states, along with the President of the European Commission and the President of the European Council, currently Herman Van Rompuy...

, the European Commission
European Commission
The European Commission is the executive body of the European Union. The body is responsible for proposing legislation, implementing decisions, upholding the Union's treaties and the general day-to-day running of the Union....

, the European Court of Justice
European Court of Justice
The Court can sit in plenary session, as a Grand Chamber of 13 judges, or in chambers of three or five judges. Plenary sitting are now very rare, and the court mostly sits in chambers of three or five judges...

, the Court of Auditors, the Economic and Social Committee, the Committee of the Regions and the European Ombudsman
European Ombudsman
The European Ombudsman is an ombudsman for the European Union, based in the Salvador de Madariaga Building in Strasbourg.-History:...

). Each Institution is then able to recruit staff from among the pool of candidates selected by EPSO.


EPSO began work in January 2003. It has approximately 150 staff. Mr. David Bearfield is the current Director of EPSO as of 1 September 2007. During EPSO's first five years it has organised almost 300 open competitions and has processed over 290,000 on-line applications. EPSO has selected over 10,000 qualified successful candidates who have been placed on reserve lists, out of which more than 7,000 have been recruited by the European Institutions.

EPSO is located in Brussels
Brussels , officially the Brussels Region or Brussels-Capital Region , is the capital of Belgium and the de facto capital of the European Union...

, at 25, Avenue de Cortenbergh, B-1049 in Belgium.


The majority of EU staff is made up of permanent civil servants, who are selected by a series of competitive examinations, commonly known as an open competition, which are organised by EPSO. However, many senior staff are recruited from outside the EU civil service.

The EU Institutions also employ staff on a temporary basis and these are also selected by means of tests organised by EPSO.


EPSO is the single point of contact for all EU citizens who wish to work for the European Institutions. The concept of a common recruitment service for the EU Institutions has its origins in the White Paper “An Administrative Reform”, a process launched in 2000 that focused on modernising and improving administrative efficiency within the European Commission. Before, the Institutions managed their own selection and recruitment processes, involving different procedures. EPSO was established with the aim of harmonising and rationalising the selection procedure, introducing greater professionalism into the selection procedures applied, but also in order to make more efficient and economic use of resources by generating economies of scale.

EPSO was also created in the immediate context of the enlargement of the Union from 15 to 25 Member States that took effect on 1 May 2004. At its establishment, the main priority for the Office was to organise open competitions for citizens of the new Member States, in order to identify rapidly a large number of potential employees from these countries.

Selection Policy

The selection of staff is based on a system of open competitions. They are organised by EPSO for permanent positions as career civil servants, and for a limited number of fixed term contracts in accordance with the Staff Regulations of the EU Institutions, on the basis of harmonised criteria. EPSO cannot consider any application or CV submitted outside the framework of an official competition or selection procedure.

The details of an open competition are set out in a Notice of Competition, which is published in the Official Journal of the European Union and made available on the EPSO website. The Notice includes information on the selection criteria, the job profile and duties involved, the number of places on the reserve list, the qualifications and experience required, and the format of the tests at each stage of the selection process. To reach a wider range of candidates in the Member States, additional information about open competitions may be published in the national press, specialised press or electronic media. EPSO also participates in recruitment fairs for graduates in the Member States.

The schedule of current and planned competitions is available on the EPSO Website.

Permanent officials

Permanent staff is divided into two categories: administrators (AD) and assistants (AST).

The work at the EU Institutions covers a huge range of areas and types of work. Graduate level administrators' work include formulating and negotiating draft EU laws, managing EU-wide programmes, or administering aid projects in the developing world. Equally, employees might also be participating in a specific scientific research programme, or for example, drafting the decision of the European Court of Justice or the European Ombudsman.

Assistants contribute to implementing policies in various areas of EU activities or are responsible for secretarial and clerical work and ensuring the efficient operation of an administrative unit. They also play an important role in the internal management of the Institutions, notably in budgetary and financial affairs, HR, IT or librarianship.

Contract Agents

EPSO also organises the selection of Contract Agents who are employed for a temporary period with an initial contract running for a maximum of three to five years depending on the type of the contract. Contract agents are recruited, for example, to do manual or administrative support–service tasks or provide additional capacity in specialised fields where officials with the required skills are not available.

Temporary Agents

EPSO does not organise the selection of temporary agents. The Institutions' vacancy notices and employee profiles are published on the EPSO Website and sent to the Permanent Representations of the Member States. Temporary agents may be employed to perform a range of highly specialised or temporary tasks for a maximum period of six years.

Eligibility criteria

The eligibility requirements for any EPSO competition are:
  • EU citizenship;
  • satisfactory knowledge of a second EU language;
  • for an administrators' career, a university degree and, depending on the grade, relevant work experience or
  • for an assistants’ career, a level of post-secondary education in the field of the competition or secondary education with the relevant work experience;
  • for contract agents, depending on the function group (I to IV), minimal educational requirements range from compulsory education to university studies and working experience from none to three years.

Additional language proficiency requirements apply for linguists' competitions. The requirements for recruitment are listed in Article 5 of the Staff Regulations

Career opportunities

The European Civil Service offers a range of career opportunities. The majority of graduate opportunities are in administration and management, giving staff the opportunity to work in a variety of policy areas throughout their career. Each Notice of Competition provides a detailed description of the expected job content and qualifications or experience sought.

A job may involve participating in the EU legislative processes such as drafting a new legislation to tackle climate change, shaping EU's Energy policy, interpreting and applying EU law, analysing European markets to ensure free and fair competition, participating in operations providing humanitarian aid or monitoring the application of the Lisbon strategy to achieve the growth of the European knowledge based economy. Scientists and researchers form an important base for developing the EU's research and technological development policy. As in any international and multicultural organisation, the support tasks of Human Resources
Human resources
Human resources is a term used to describe the individuals who make up the workforce of an organization, although it is also applied in labor economics to, for example, business sectors or even whole nations...

, Financial Management, IT
Information technology
Information technology is the acquisition, processing, storage and dissemination of vocal, pictorial, textual and numerical information by a microelectronics-based combination of computing and telecommunications...

and linguists are very challenging and important for the working of the Institutions.

There are 23 official languages in the European Union; and so a variety of career opportunities are available to linguists (translators, interpreters, as well as lawyer linguists), for example, interpreting the President of the European Parliament, the Commission and allowing the citizens to read EU's legislation, Court decisions and the European Parliament or the European Council debates in their mother tongue around the Europe.

Assistants though an internal certification process may become administrators and take on more responsibilities.

Selection Process

Currently selection is a three-stage process: admission tests, written exam and oral examination. The structure of each competition and the types of tests are described in detail in the Notice of competition. After each stage in the competition, only the highest scoring candidates (usually a pre-determined number in the Notice) who have achieved a pass mark are admitted to the next stage.

When a competition is published, European citizens are invited to apply electronically by creating their own EPSO profile directly on the EPSO website. All communication with candidates is done electronically through their EPSO profile. EPSO organises tests in specialised test centres in all Member States; therefore, candidates may select their preferred testing location at the time of online registration. The oral examination is usually held in Brussels.

A Selection Board, made up of representatives of the Institutions and staff representatives, is responsible for drafting the questions and evaluating candidates at written and oral stages of the competition.

EPSO ensures that its selection procedures are fair and effective. In particular EPSO applies a policy of equal opportunities throughout the selection process. EPSO also ensures that applicants' personal data are processed in compliance with the rules on the protection of individuals with regard to the processing of personal data (Regulation (EC) No 45/2001 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 18 December 2000).

The seletion procedures have been reformed in 2009/2010. EPSO has introduced a new procedure for selecting permanent staff for EU institutions. There will be two stages in the new selection procedure - computer-based pre-selection testing in individual EU countries and an assessment stage in Brussels.
In the new system, the preselection stage will feature competency-based testing (rather than knowledge-based testing). The test on EU knowledge has been removed from this stage. EU knowledge will be assessed at a later stage, in close relation with job-related exercises during the assessment phase. An overview http://www.euphorum.org/projects/index.php?lang=en you find at the European Career Portal.

Stages of the competition for permanent staff

  1. The selection procedure begins with admission tests using Computer Based Testing (CBT) that comprise multiple-choice tests assessing candidates' knowledge of the European Union, and Numerical and Verbal reasoning skills.
  2. In the written examination, candidates’ specialised knowledge in the field of the competition is tested through a multiple-choice test and an essay or other written test.
  3. The final stage of the competition is an oral examination by a Selection Board.

Depending on the total number of candidates, the selection process takes roughly fifteen months from the time of publication until the drawing up of the reserve list.

These are the stages and testing methods for entry-level competitions. For selection of some middle management positions EPSO uses Assessment Centres that have a broader range of tests. Competitions of a specialist nature, i.e. linguist competitions, may include other tests, for example, tests attesting translation skills of the candidates.

Stages of the selection process for contract agents

  1. The admission stage is similar to that of the open competitions for permanent staff and comprise of Verbal and Numerical reasoning test and EU knowledge test. In addition to that, candidates may be asked to sit a third test to ascertain their specific competences relevant to the profile of the competition.
  2. In this stage candidates are invited to sit a specific competence test in a form of a multiple-choice test or an essay question. In some cases the competence test can be in the format of an oral examination.


At the end of the selection process the highest-scoring candidates are placed on a reserve list for consideration by the Institutions for specific vacancies. The reserve lists are published in the Official Journal. They normally remain valid for at least three years, and may be prolonged.

Recruitment is the sole responsibility of each individual Institution. EPSO's task is to deliver and manage the reserve lists of qualified successful candidates. Institutions have agreed to detailed arrangements to ensure that lists are exploited efficiently, with each Institution having appropriate access to successful candidates. Whenever an institution has a vacancy, it may use the list to select a shortlist of candidates to interview for that particular job. Depending on the outcome of the interview, a successful candidate may receive a formal offer of employment. Even after an open competition that can last up to two years, candidates on the reserve list are not guaranteed recruitment to the Institutions, since this depends on the number of available posts.


Most of staff of EU Institutions works in Brussels (European Commission, European Parliament, European Council, Committee of Regions, European Economic and Social Committee), although a considerable amount of them are based in Luxembourg (European Parliament, European Court of justice, Court of Auditors, Ombudsman) and other locations in Europe. The European Parliament and the Ombudsman have offices in Brussels, Luxembourg and Strasbourg.

The Commission's buildings are mainly located in what has become known as the EU quarter situated around the Schuman roundabout in Brussels. The Commission and European Parliament have representative offices in all 27 Member States. There are also over 120 Commission's delegations all over the world and to international organisations (OECD, OSCE, UN, WTO). There are also a number of specialised and decentralised EU agencies located in different Member States.

Language regime

In 2003 the EPSO Management Board adopted a three language testing regime (English, French and German) that is used for the competitions. The main objective of this decision is to ensure that candidates have sufficient linguistic skills to meet the needs of the Institutions in terms of the main working languages within the Institutions.

As a rule, candidates sit admission and written tests in their second language, which is further tested as part of the oral test. Their first language skills are tested by a short written test and in the oral examination.

For some positions specific language qualifications may be required within the framework of the competition or recruitment stage as each institution recruits on the basis of its own requirements regarding language.

Publication of the open competitions in the Official Journal of the European Union – C Series – Letter A (Information and Notices) is in three main working languages – English, French and German, and the languages concerned. At the same time a notification of reference to the full Notice of competition is published in other language versions of the Official Journal. The Official Journal is available on-line, free of charge. Potential applicants may also subscribe directly to the Official Journal to receive the issues which contain notices of competitions for selection procedures of the EU institutions. Special subscriptions known as Official Journal "series C" (A) can be ordered from any sales agent by annual subscription (http://publications.europa.eu/).

Equality of treatment

EPSO applies an equal opportunities policy and accepts applications without distinction on grounds of sex, race, colour, ethnic or social origin, genetic features, language, religion or belief, political or any other opinion, membership of a national minority, property, birth, disability, age or sexual orientation.

EPSO applies a policy of anonymity as a guarantee of equal treatment for candidates and its selection procedures are organised, to the greatest extent possible, to ensure equal treatment. The testing methods and test items are regularly assessed in terms of gender equality.

The Institutions do not organise personnel selection competitions specifically for persons with a disability. However, EPSO takes all reasonable measures that facilitate participation by persons with a disability in competitions on an equal basis with the other candidates. In practical terms, EPSO proactively seeks information from candidates on the nature of their disability and proactively adopts the administration of the tests to their needs. Facilities and variety of test administration options provided to disabled candidates include the tests in Braille, on paper, with extra time, and/or are being assessed in special facilities, and where appropriate, an individual invigilator is assigned to the candidate.


The human resources policy of the EU institutions has been subject to much criticism. While there is a popular image of EU staff as over-paid, new employees may find this image hard to square with their own experience. Firstly, salaries and other benefits have been much reduced following a 2004 package of staff reforms; while salaries are relatively attractive to staff coming from new member states, the same cannot be said for many EU10 member state employees. This situation is aggravated by the EU refusal to recognize more than a minimal level of work experience earned outside the institutions, a particularly malign policy given that the average age of entry for AD5 ('graduate-level') staff in the Commission is 34 years old (2009 Commission Human Resources Report).

Secondly, promotion prospects for administrators are extremely poor; the Commission's own statistics reveal that an average career progression from AD5 to AD14 (Director level) takes 35–40 years, obviously unattainable for the average entrant who joins at 34 years old. It is not unusual to find staff in their 40s and 50s performing tasks that new graduates would carry out in more dynamic organizations. Management experience in the institutions is hard to gain, and further frustrates the possibilities for EU officials to attain senior management positions.

As EPSO only manages recruitment for the institutions (even if its director was the former Chef de Cabinet for the Commissioner who negotiated the 2004 reforms) it cannot be held responsible for staff career prospects, although it is doubtless guilty of false advertising. Instead, the challenge for EPSO is to improve the administration of open competitions - at present, a bafflingly random way of sifting through thousands of applications to place on a list of 'qualified candidates' (rather than, say, for specific vacancies). Successful laureates have no legal guarantee of recruitment, indeed many wait years on the reserve lists without ever being offered a position. EPSO has recently announced that it plans to shorten the average length of the concours from around 15 months to between 5–9 months. The new system will remove the EU knowledge test from the preselection phase, and replace it with situational judgment test.

On 15 June, the Civil Service Tribunal of the European Union issued its ruling in case F-35/08, Pachtitis/Commission, which principally concerned the authority of the European Personnel Selection Office to set admission tests. In effect, this ruling prohibits EPSO from selecting canditates in the way they are currently doing in the competitions, resulting in EPSO possibly having to arrange a new competition for the approximately 36000 canditates who will be excluded from open competition EPSO/AD/177/10. Despite this, as of March 16 2011, a new competition following the same format has been launched, while open competition AD/177/10 remains pending.

Legal texts

  • Decision of the European Parliament, the Council, The Commission, the Court of Justice, the Court of Auditors, the Economic and Social Committee, the Committee of the Regions and the European Ombudsman of 25 July 2002 establishing a European Communities Personnel Selection Office (2002/620/EC), OJ L 197, 26.7.2002, p.53.
  • Decision of the Secretaries-General of the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission, the Registrar of the Court of Justice, the Secretaries-General of the Court of Auditors, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions, and the representative of the European Ombudsman of 25 July 2002 on the organisation and operation of the European Communities Personnel Selection Office (2002/621/EC), OJ L 197, 26.7.2002, p.56.
  • Council Regulation 259/68 of 29 February 1968 on Staff Regulations of officials of the European Communities and the Conditions of employment of other servants of the European Communities, OJ L 56 4.3.1968, p. 1, as last amended on 17.12.2007 (consolidated version).

External links