Structure and location add to the problems of precarity in the EU agencies
Precarity – a position of uncertainty where your future depends on chance or events beyond your control – is increasingly common in the European public service, including in the agencies of the European Union. Despite their ‘independence’, decisions about jobs and careers, which affect the livelihoods of some 9.000 staff who work in the EU’s 43 decentralised and executive agencies, are taken ‘elsewhere’.
Agency staff numbers are controlled by the European Commission whose imperative seems to be to keep those numbers down. In 2012, the European Parliament, Council and Commission signed the ‘Common Approach’, which between 2013 and 2017, cut staff in other agencies to compensate for the staff needed by new or expanding agencies, such as Frontex which manages the EU’s borders. Following the Common Approach, seven agencies have a ‘sunset’ and 13 agencies a ‘review’ clause in their founding regulations, making it easier to merge and close them (1). Periodic agency evaluations now focus on cost-cutting and examine merging, or closing, the agency being evaluated. Distant authorities questioning the existence of the organisation you work for is always unsettling.
Many problems of precarity and uncertainty that are familiar to colleagues in other institutions can be exacerbated in agencies by the relatively small fixed number of staff on the agency’s table of posts.
New work demands and too many ‘priorities’ placed on smaller staff numbers, who need to ‘multi-task,’ blurs the lines between roles and responsibilities. This inevitably leads to contract agents being underpaid as they are recruited, or asked, to do the job of administrators and assistants. As in the larger institutions, contract agents in agencies also face the problem of reclassification to a higher function group, after taking on additional responsibilities. Reclassification for contract agents is difficult and can only be granted through a new contract, which can lead to the loss of employment conditions, or pension rights, or both.
 A provision in the founding regulation that closes the agency automatically after a fixed period unless that period is extended by amending the regulation.