General background

New Year – New Facelift for the TO website



New Year – New Facelift for the TO website, which I’m sure you all have noticed.



I think it looks rather better, brighter colours, better structure, which makes it easier to navigate, but there is also less content and less useful information. Maybe they will decide to populate it later or maybe not. We shall see.


Due to the new structure of the TO website, some of the back links on my blog are no longer functional. I’ll work on updating them or deleting them, depending on the case.


Meanwhile, you keep on working on that application, time is ticking! 😉


By the way, how do you find the new TO website? If you have time, leave a comment or open a topic. I’d be interested to know what your views are. (Thanks!)


Atypical Trainees


Atypical trainees” is an atypical phrase in itself (most probably a rough translation of the French “stagiaires atypiques“). Well, although it sounds weird to me, just to be very clear, atypical trainees have nothing to do with Blue Book trainees. (Except for sometimes attending events and parties together.)


If you want to become an atypical trainee at the European Commission, you don’t have to meet any of the criteria that Blue Book trainees have to meet. For example, you don’t need your BA. You may still be a student and still qualify to apply for an atypical traineeship. In fact, all you need to do is send your CV with a letter of motivation to the HR unit of any DG you want. That doesn’t mean you’ll get a traineeship right away.


Although sending your CV and letter of motivation may be easy enough for you, things are not as simply as they seem in the HR unit. There will be probably a selection of CVs as you’ll not be the only one applying. There will be also a problem of budget (provide you an office, a phone, a computer, etc.). How long will be needed the atypical trainee? In practice, not more than 3 months. Can’t think of other pertinent questions now, though I’m sure there’s more.


Contrary to Blue Book trainees, the biggest constraint that atypical trainees have to face is the lack of a monthly grant. As an atypical trainee you will be unpaid, therefore you will have to provide for yourself or most likely your parents will have to. If you ever get a contract as an atypical trainee, make sure you have enough money for your stay in Brussels (rent, food, travel, etc.).


Another issue would be that there are few atypical traineeships granted at the level of the entire EC. Each DG has its own way to deal with atypical traineeships. Unfortunately, I have no stats or numbers or details about it.


On the bright side though, there is no specific time frame to start or end the traineeship (it can be at any time), there’s less paper work (only CV and motivation letter) and probably less time to wait.


Yet, no guarantee!


EC Traineeship – most wanted DG

And the award goes too…? That shouldn’t be difficult to figure out. Let’s see… most applicants seem to have a preference for specific study subjects, such as European studies, political sciences, international relations, humanities, law and economics. This doesn’t mean that everyone has degrees and these subjects and completely left out the others.


But, taking into account this little piece of information, it is quite obvious that most wanted of the DGs will be the newly founded European External Action Service (in the past, DG External Relations used to be the most popular), followed by DG Education and Culture. Other highly rated choices are DG Justice and Home Affairs, but also the Legal Service. In my opinion, the Cabinets are also in the top choice of many. And of course, the list may continue with DG Competition, DG Communication and many others.


Now, certainly, this reflects my personal view on applicants’ choices and it is based on my discussions with trainees from my session, as well as ex stagiaires and future candidates.


Yet, regardless of these top choices, don’t think that other DGs are less important or that they should be disregarded when submitting your application. My simple advice is: think carefully which DG would match your profile the best, if you have doubts, go to their websites and do a bit of research, then use all 3 options you have to put down in the application.


Update! Although you can no longer  make the choice of a DG/Cabinet/Agency when submitting your application, it is still very important to know what the European Commission does, how it is structured and how it functions. This should make it easier for you to get inspiration when writing the motivation.


Go check out the full list of European Commission DGs on my post about Blue Book trainees.


Blue Book trainees


Blue Book trainees… just what are they? Everyone speaks about them, but not everyone knows what that means. I did mention about them earlier in a post without defining the term.


Despite what you may think, Blue Book is not really a book, but a data base. It is the data base with the names and CVs of all the candidates who passed pre-selection. Their number cannot exceed 2,500. It goes without saying that there will be just as many CVs. Therefore, once your application passed eligibility and pre-selection, it means that it will enter the Blue Book data base. You will then be a Blue Book applicant (or candidate), but not a Blue Book trainee just yet.


Who has access to the Blue Book data base? All the services of the European Commission who are entitled to get a trainee. What they do is look on the CVs and select a candidate whose profile suits best the profile they need in their unit.


In reality, they don’t select just one person for the same position, but a few. They do some informal interviews by phone and then they make a final deliberation on who is going to get the job.


Of course, you can only be sure you got the internship when you receive the offer in your e-mail inbox (it is no longer sent via traditional mail), otherwise don’t take any promises for granted.


If you decide to accept the offer, then you become a Blue Book trainee. Your status will change from applicant/candidate to trainee in the Blue Book data base.


(As a parenthesis, it is likely that your profile matches the profile that a few of services are looking for. In that case, you may be informally contacted by all of them. However, you will only receive the offer from one. Just make sure you weigh all the propositions carefully and give the final answer to the one that truly interests you.)


Naming the official traineeship programme of the EC, Blue Book traineeships, makes it easier to distinguish it from other traineeships at the Commission, such as the so called atypical traineeships. Bear in mind though that, unlike Blue Book traineeships which are paid, the atypical traineeships are not.


Either way, don’t forget that the 8 months from the submission of your application cover several stages of the selection, namely eligibility, pre-selection, selection and final recruitment. You will only become a Blue Book trainee if you pass each of these stages and receive a formal recruitment offer from the Commission by e-mail.


About the EC traineeship programme


The EC traineeship programme, as you may have guessed from previous posts, is a bit particular in its way. The particularity stands in the name itself – “traineeship programme” instead of internship programme, as many would argue is the correct definition. There’s no need to consult your Oxford dictionary and there’s no need to start a linguistic debate on why traineeship and not internship. It’s written as such in the official Rules and thus shall remain (at least for the time being). In this blog, I’ll use both terms, traineeship and internship, interchangeably.


The service responsible of this programme is simply called the Traineeship Office of the European Commission. As far as I know, the EC traineship programme exists since the late 1950s. If you think of it, it is as old as the European Commission itself. In fact, last year they celebrated its 50th anniversary by organizing a major conference. I do not know how many trainees were there in the 1950s, but nowadays there are roughly 600 per session. There are two traineeship sessions a year: one starts on March 1, the other on October 1. Most of the trainees, called Blue Book trainees, are based in Brussels, with a small number in Luxembourg and some other countries where the European Commission has permanent representations. The application process for each of the sessions starts more or less 8 months before. During the 8 months, all application files goes through a series of selection stages.


Still on the plus side, the EC traineeship programme is opened to people from all over the world, regardless of nationality, age (yes, there’s no age limit, though most of the interns are fairly young) and sex, of course. Most importantly, as mentioned in a previous post, trainees receive a monthly living allowance. So as long as you hold a Bachelor’s Degree, you speak a couple of languages (and you can prove it), you fill in few other criteria (I’ll explain them all in detail in future postings) and you’re motivated enough, you could give it a shot and apply.


Last but not least: why does this programme exist and what is its objective? All the dull explanations are published on the official website and in the official Rules. But beyond the dryness of the official explanations, there is no doubt that the EC traineeship programme is one of the best and most popular run by the Commission. The stage gives the chance to some of the most brilliant young minds on the planet to meet and work together for 5 months, exchange ideas, network, learn about different cultures. As a trainee at the Commission, you will learn how become a polyglot in 5 seconds, how to be a professional, how to be tolerant and much more.


In other words, think of the EC traineeship programme this way:



EC traineeship programme – how did I learn about it?


How did I learn about the EC traineeship programme? Accidentally. A friend of my parents called me one night to talk me into it. I have lots of loathing for speaking on the phone in general and he went on and on for over an hour. Of course, I was being polite, but still could not get rid of my proverbial reluctance and mulishness.


“I don’t want to do an unpaid internship. I just don’t have money to live for a few months in Brussels. I don’t even like Brussels.” (Yes, I had visited Brussels before and had kept few pleasant memories of the place.)

“The internship at the Commission is paid. I’ll send you an e-mail with the details so you can convince yourself.”


To keep it polite and short, I did look on the details, but banished the thought from my mind for a few months. One day though, I suddenly decided to check again the information on the EC traineeship programme and realized the deadline was getting very close. I spent one night filling in my online application and especially writing the motivations. That is serious business and can bring you some good points during evaluation. Next day I printed everything, signed, made copies and dashed to the post office. Mission accomplished!


Coming back to the “paid” topic, the traineeship at the European Commission is indeed paid, a bit over €1,000 a month. For some of you that might be nothing, but compared to most traineeships/internships in other organisations, which are usually not paid (think, for example, of the UN), this amount is good enough to cover your rent, subsistence expenses and even the price of a beer or waffle every now and then. In fact, if I remember correctly, the right term to define all this is monthly living allowance. Once you get here, you will discover there is much more than just a waffle and a beer. Trainees have a rich social life, it is not all about being locked in an office and doing hard work.


The official website of the EC traineeship programme looks fairly rudimentary, but it is the information that counts. Make sure you read it carefully!


EC Traineeship vs. EU Internship


EC traineeship or EU internship?

It is a known fact that Eurojargon can create or lead to great confusion, especially for those outside the “house”. To my greatest surprise, even people with very high academic profiles fall into the trap of misunderstanding basic terms such as EU (European Union), EC (European Commission), EP (European Parliament) and many alike.

Of course, I will not engage myself into any type of political or semantic discourse, but if you are looking into applying for an EU traineeship/internship, this could mean quite a few things.

 First, you must understand that although EU (European Union) exists as a legal entity with legal personality (thanks to the Lisbon Treaty) made of 27 independent States, there is no such concept as EU internship. There is no such concept as the institution/organization/body of the EU where you could apply for an internship.

The EU as an institution does not exist. What does exist is a number of institutions representing the EU at different levels. The Council of the EU represents EU’s member governments, the European Parliament is the legislature gaining more powers by the day, the European Commission is the enforcer of EU laws and policies (among other things), etc.

 There are 7 EU Institutions, a couple of advisory bodies, some other related organisations and agencies. Almost each of them hosts an traineeship/internship programme, which you can find on their respective websites.

Each of these programmes are governed by different application rules, so before you proceed, make sure you read carefully these rules and you comply with the requirements.

In addition, make sure you know how to distinguish these institutions (in particular, you need to know their names and what they do). Taking the Commission for the Parliament and Parliament for the Council will do you no favours, on the contrary, such a confusion could make your life even harder when trying to apply or understand how they function.

 The biggest traineeship programme is hosted by the European Commission (EC), because the Commission is the largest of the EU Institutions with the highest number of employees. It is also the traineeship that I took and the one I am writing about in this blog.

There are usually +/- 600 trainees recruited per session (2 sessions a year). In the other EU Institutions, the number of trainees is much smaller, from 50+ to 100+, and as explained above, the application and selection process is somewhat different.

 As a bonus, I added below a very simplistic diagram of EU Institutions, with only 5 instead of 7. I am sure you can figure out where to place the missing 2 on the diagram.