A career in the EU civil service is an exciting prospect for graduates
When the President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, received his honorary doctorate from University College Cork last week, a woman stood by his side. That woman was Catherine Day, the Secretary General of the European Commission; the most senior position in the EU civil service. She is Irish. Her predecessor in that most prestigious of roles, David O'Sullivan, is also Irish.
Since Ireland joined the EU, Irish men and women, like Catherine Day and David O'Sullivan, have played leading roles in contributing to its development. As Irish citizens, we are currently well represented in the staffing of the EU's leading institutions – the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of the EU.
However, as a number of retirements approach, this Irish presence is set to fall.
This is a concern for Ireland and for Europe. I want to see Irish citizens remain at the heart of the EU, serving the institutions which shape so much of our political, legal and commercial environment.
That's why this week, to mark the launch of the EU's annual graduate recruitment competition, I'm visiting four third-level campuses to talk to students about the excellent career opportunities on offer within the EU.
These visits to DIT, DCU, UL and NUI Maynooth are part of the Government's EU jobs campaign, which aims to provide Irish citizens with essential information about the EU's recruitment process.
An EU career offers the chance to work in one of the world's most vibrant, multilingual environments and play a role in designing policies that affect the lives of more than 500 million citizens. The institutions are excellent employers, delivering exceptional scope for career development.
As Catherine Day herself would attest, an EU career represents a lifetime of different jobs and opportunities, making it an exciting and challenging prospect for the years ahead.
Positions within the institutions are highly sought after. But while the recruitment process is competitive, it's far from impossible.
The competition being launched tomorrow by the EU's recruitment agency, the European Personnel Selection Office, is the union's largest annual graduate recruitment drive.
Known in Brussels as the 'concours', it's designed to recruit 'administrators' to work in a range of important areas and is open to graduates and final-year degree students from all academic disciplines. To be eligible, candidates must have a good command of at least two of the EU's official languages – a group of 24, which includes English and Irish.
Perfect fluency in a second language is not essential, just good communicative competence (B2 level).
Also, the esteem in which our graduates and officials are held in Brussels means that Irish candidates are highly sought after. So there's never been a better time to apply.
Of course, there's more than one path to an EU career. The upcoming European elections will see a significant turnover in the staffing of the European Parliament, with corresponding opportunities for Irish applicants, while the institutions also regularly offer paid traineeships and temporary contract positions.
PASCHAL DONOHOE IS MINISTER OF STATE FOR EUROPEAN AFFAIRS