Why are there so few Brits in the European Commission?

Short answer: because they are too happy living in Britain. Data from EU’s EuroStat suggests that unhappy countries are more likely to be over-represented among European Commission staff members.

If we ignore happiness, we find that language skills also matter. In general, poorer Member States are more likely to be represented among EU staff (even if they’re not so good with languages) but for rich Member States a lack of language skills seems to be an important reason for under-representation.

The numbers are shown below; Britain is indeed (by far) the bottom of the list of per capita representatives in the European Commission. (The figures are from Eurostat, EU scepticism figures are from EU Barometer). Foreign languages are measured by the % of pupils doing at least two foreign languages at school (also from EuroStat).

Country

Number of staff

Staff/Population

2011 average earnings

Euro scepticism (% who says EU is good)

Foreign languages (% of pupils learning foreign lang at school)

Happiness (hpi)

Belgium

4278

0.389

26,541

0.66

0.89

22.7

Malta

141

0.340

10,572

0.5

1

25.7

Luxembourg

156

0.305

28,016

0.78

0.47

16.9

Estonia

199

0.148

6,664

0.53

0.23

20.1

Cyprus

100

0.119

11,872

0.35

1

28.8

Slovenia

230

0.112

9,908

0.43

0.98

24.2

Latvia

218

0.105

5,316

0.31

0.08

19.6

Lithuania

316

0.104

4,555

0.5

0.26

19.6

Ireland

449

0.098

17,817

0.56

0.89

26.8

Finland

517

0.096

25,385

0.53

0.98

27.6

Greece

915

0.081

10,111

0.45

0.05

23.4

Bulgaria

541

0.073

2,558

0.56

0.74

18.1

Denmark

388

0.070

25,693

0.66

0.6

22.9

Portugal

656

0.062

10,883

0.34

0.69

21.6

Slovakia

333

0.062

6,094

0.44

0.04

25

Hungary

605

0.061

6,035

0.3

0.08

21.6

Sweden

526

0.056

27,320

0.61

0.98

30.8

Austria

415

0.049

25,350

0.31

0.75

31.3

Czech Republic

464

0.044

7,915

0.24

0.7

24.3

Italy

2454

0.040

19,172

0.38

0.44

29.5

Romania

855

0.040

3,836

0.59

0.72

24.2

Netherland

621

0.037

24,970

0.7

0.79

28.1

Spain

1676

0.036

16,382

0.51

0.99

27.4

France

2270

0.035

21,926

0.56

1

30.5

Poland

1169

0.030

5,370

0.52

0.14

26.7

Germany

1986

0.024

26,253

0.7

0.91

31.2

Croatia

76

0.018

0.84

24.9

United Kingdom

1057

0.017

21,354

0.33

0.93

31.7

Euroscepticism is rather high in Britain; only a third of the population would say that the EU is a good idea. The work of the European Commission is frequently attacked by British media – probably more often than in any other EU member state. Nevertheless, despite the general dissatisfaction, it does not seem as though Britain would like to have an impact on the daily works of the European Commission. Britain is by far the most under-represented country when it comes to Commission staff members. So I set out on a short journey to find at least one plausible explanation for this.

There is of course the small country bias, i.e. that small countries are more likely to be overrepresented than large countries. However, even if we only look at countries with comparatively large population (Germany, France, UK, Italy, Spain), the UK is still doing remarkably badly.

Then there is the possibility that EC wages may attract people from poorer countries more so I tried to control for average wage and GDP but found no significant correlation that would explain the above.

OK, then it might have something to do with the proportion of euro sceptics in the country… then again, no correlation found with staff/population ratio (even when combined with earnings).

Then came the suggestion from a colleague: it must be language skills. So I got some data (again from Eurostat) on the percentage of pupils who study at least two foreign languages at school. This provided some results but only when language skills were used in combination with earnings. Simple regression estimates suggest that average earnings have a negative effect once we control for language skills as well: language skills start to matter as earnings increase. The higher the earnings in the country the more likely that language is a decisive factor for becoming EC staff. Put differently, people from poor countries are more likely to join the EC irrespective of language skills. People from rich countries are more likely to become EC staff if they have the language skills.

Most importantly, I also looked at a different measure of standard of living, a happiness index (as published here). Not surprisingly, the level of happiness in the Member States has a strong impact on how well that country is represented among Commission staff. The less happy a country, the more likely its citizens would prefer sitting in the Commission’s offices in Brussels.

(The results are similar if we exclude assistant staff.)

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