EU seeks experts in at least 3 new focus areas

The EU seeks to improve its capacity by tapping into a new pool of experts. Photo by: EU / ECHO / CC BY-ND 

Do development organizations still have the right expertise to cope with modern-day threats? Against a backdrop of crises such as Ebola and the looming presence of Islamist terror groups in Nigeria, Syria, Libya and elsewhere, the European Union is thinking ahead about the new skills and specialties they need from their partners and collaborators.

The Ebola crisis in particular appears to have created demand for some new, original vacancies for the European Commission, the European Union’s executive arm. Following his visit to West Africa with European humanitarian aid chief Christos Stylianides last November, health commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis launched a remarkable appeal: “We need anthropologists!”

Andriukaitis had been struck by the way persistent burial customs in the region — whereby family members are in physical contact with the corpse of the deceased — had allowed Ebola to spread. These traditions had to be understood in order to address them — hence his call for anthropologists.

3 new areas of intervention

There are three new fields of operation that demand specific qualities from collaborators, Marcus Cornaro, deputy director-general of EuropeAid, the Commission’s department for development and international cooperation, told Devex in an exclusive interview.

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The first priority area is linked to security and development, including counterterrorism; the second is migration and its impact, with a focus on understanding the root causes of departure, the transit and destination, socio-economic factors — and how all of this can be tackled through a common response; the third is the role of the private sector, especially economic growth and job creation, as a new area of emphasis.

“On all of these three fronts, we don’t have all the expertise in-house,” Cornaro said. “This can partly be resolved through recruitment and training, but over the medium term we will have to look at outside experts.”

Not all new posts will be filled through recruitment of staff or framework contracts with consultants.

“For counterterrorism and security,” Cornaro said, “we might find better solutions through EU member states than with a framework contract.”

The fight against terror: A crosscutting issue

To a certain extent, this is already happening, with the foreign ministers of the 28 EU member states deciding at a meeting on Feb. 9 to provide security attachés to EU delegations in relevant countries to develop cooperation on security and counterterrorism matters with local authorities.

The move reflects the increasing importance of the fight against terrorism as a crosscutting issue for the EU, transcending the traditional thematic divisions within the Commission.

Counter-radicalization is a field where EuropeAid not only sees a need for more awareness, but also for new skills, Cornaro said.

“We need increased sensitivity for working in an Islamic environment on issues such as gender, human rights and the role of the private sector,” he said. “We will look increasingly at the capacity of economic operators and of some of the consultancies to factor these problems into solutions.”

This will be all the more necessary as EuropeAid is directly involved in anti-radicalization programs — in Pakistan, for example, where it supports an initiative to counter the recruitment of young people by extremist and terrorist groups.

And the EU also sees a need to improve its communication in Arabic in all its work settings. Indeed, the EU’s foreign policy coordinator Federica Mogherini impressed this message on the assembled EU foreign ministers at their Feb. 9 meeting: “I think we need to improve our capacity to speak Arabic, read Arabic, explain to the Arabic-speaking population our policies and also to listen to the messages that are coming from the Arab world. I think this is a basic communication strategy that we need to implement from the very beginning.”

More varied skills: Increased demand?

Implementing NGOs and consultancies contacted by Devex have not yet seen the new demands for expertise reflected in vacancies or demands for specialists, however.

“We’re still working pretty much in the same fields, such as health, youth, gender,” said Alexandra Makaroff, who heads the EU office of NGO Plan, “but there is a growing interest for initiatives related to job creation and working with the private sector.”

Practitioners expect a broader pool of activities to come to the fore in future, with increased demand for more varied skills. This is because EuropeAid is being encouraged to work more closely together with other commission departments, such as those responsible for trade, home affairs and environment. Under new European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, commissioners are encouraged to pool efforts and strive for more policy coherence in their actions, taking into account a range of policy dimensions instead of developing them in silos.

Working in conjunction with other EU services and partners is bound to bring development practitioners into new fields of work, creating new demands for their skills and competencies.

“The message to the commissioners is: Be broader,” Makaroff said. “This will open up new possibilities for funding and programs.”

What nontraditional profiles and skill sets could be leveraged to play a larger role in development and humanitarian aid efforts? Have your say by leaving a comment below.

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About the author

  • Diederik Kramers

    Diederik Kramers is a freelance correspondent in Brussels covering EU and NATO affairs. A former spokesperson and communications officer for UNICEF and UNHCR, he previously worked as foreign desk and Eastern Europe editor for the Dutch press agency ANP and as editor-in-chief of the Dutch quarterly Ukraine Magazine.

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