No guarantees: Future uncertain for British officials in Brussels

What was once considered a well-paid and secure career, has turned into a nightmare for hundreds of British EU officials.

In the blink of an eye, officials working for the European Union were faced with the harsh reality of Brexit - forced to contemplate what will happen to their job, their home in Brussels or Luxembourg, and whether they'll be able to pay off their houses in coming years.

"I don't have permission to speak," says a British man in Brussels. Sworn to secrecy, he wants to remain anonymous fearing negative repercussions of speaking openly.

"I can't tell you anything," another British employee says. "Even before the referendum we were told to be extremely cautious," she adds. "We don't know anything."

And this is exactly the problem: British EU officials don't know anything and are left to agonize about the future.

Immediately following the vote, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker tried to reassure the officials: "I know you all have legitimate expectations about your rights and duties, your families who might have followed you to Brussels and your children who might be enrolled in schools here."

He added that he will do everything in his power to help the workers. "We are not going to fire anyone," he said, but neither did he offer any job security. "We cannot guarantee anything," he said.

There are roughly 33,000 employees at the Commission, 1,164 of them are British nationals. As a rule, whoever wants to work as an EU official must be an EU citizen. They qualified when they took on the role, but not anymore.

Union for Unity (U4U), an organization that represents the interests of European workers argues that the employment agreements remain valid even after Brexit because a contract was signed. However, employers can resort to measures like early retirement, compulsory resignation or "retirement in the interests of the service."

This raises a number of concerns for workers, but the European Commission remains persistently silent. Everything is at a standstill. Decisions aren't being made before Britain takes the next step forward.

"There will be no negotiations of any kind, and no internal preparations, before a notification under Article 50," an EU spokesman says. "And we will not speculate on potential future scenarios."

Will British EU officials be told to return to their country of origin? Will the number of staff remain the same? The answer is always the same: "We will not speculate on potential future scenarios."

For some this means taking matters into their own hands, like considering Belgian citizenship. And it just so happens that the Brussels municipal offices have already seen a considerable increase in the number of naturalization applications.

Last update: Fri, 15/07/2016 - 14:04

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