My previous post about working in Brussels ended in June 2002, but fast forward to 2010 and I am as happy to be back in the EU environment! It feels like “home” to understand and know what people are talking about in the office. Unfortunately my current job contract ends next Wednesday but I hope to find something more permanent next year.
Anyway, here is an introduction to some Eurocrat words and expressions:
- Fonctionnaire, agent contractuel / auxiliaire (doesn’t exist anymore) / temporaire / intérimaire, and prestataire de service are all different contractual statuses that you might have when working for the European Institutions. Fonctionnaire is a civil servant who has a permanent contract with one of the European institutions. Such a person has passed a so-called…
- Concours, competitive examination, which is held regularly for different nationalities and competencies (lawyers, administrators, secretaries, economists etc). In Brussels you always talk about fonctionnaires and concours, typical examples of the many French words and expressions that are never translated into English (or Swedish).
- My first contract was with an external contractor (a university) and my status was as a so-called service provider; I had a Belgian contract and paid taxes like everybody else in Belgium (and you pay a lot!). Then I became an auxiliary and later on a contractual agent which meant that I was employed by the European Commission and did not pay taxes. At the moment I have the lowest contractual status of them all – I am an interim agent which means that I am paid per hour by a temp agency (and pay taxes)!
- AZERTY – the French keyboard which is standard on the Commission computers. Swedish and English keyboards are QWERTY (the first 6 keys at the top). A French keyboad also means that you have to press shift to make a full stop (otherwise you get a semi-colon!) or type a number. Highly irritating, as your typing ;ight look so;ething like this before you get used to chqngning keyboqrds fro; your ho;e PC to the one in the office;;; (see photo below where an AZERTY keyboard can be seen). One of the Project officers in my office joked the other day that he was working in the QWERTY office (together with a Dutch and a Pole) while the other project officers work in the AZERTY office (the French!)
- DGs – as in In which DG do you work? Standard question in Eurocrat circles where people just assume that you work for the EU. It used to really bug O who works for a private corporation… DG stands for Directorate-General and they are like the ministries of the European Commission. I have worked for the Sec-Gen (Secretariat-General), EuropeAid (external aid office) twice and DG Enlargement (taking care of negotiations and projects with possible future member states.) At the moment I work for an office which is independent from the European Commission but still part of it somehow.
- Journal Officiel / Official Journal is where all legal documents of the European Union are published. Funnily enough, I used to work with legal documents (directives, regulations, decisions) and sometimes even proof-read Swedish translations but a few weeks ago was the first time I actually dealt with a document to be translated for publication in the OJ! I didn’t write the document but I had to work out how to get it to the official Translation Centre in Luxemburg and figure out how many languages it needed to be translated into. Conclusion: 21 translations as there are 23 official languages of the EU; the doc was in English and didn’t need to be translated into Irish.
- Legal entities – Everybody who is paid by the European Commission (contractors, grant beneficiaries etc) need to submit a form stating name, date of birth, address and a copy of an ID. The form goes under the acronym LEF (Legal Entity Form) and people have a tendency to forget to sign and date it. And let’s not speak about the private entities (companies) that never seem to be able to submit the correct official “VAT registry extract”, especially the French ones… This is bureaucracy after all and if one document is wrong or not signed, the whole procedure is blocked!
- Signataire – I have never heard anybody use an English* term for the folder in which you put documents that need to be signed or approved by a series of staff members.
- Fiche de circulation (routing slip in English but usually the French word is used) is the list of names on the cover of the signataire. It needs to be signed and dated by everyone handling the file, starting with the secretary / assistant preparing the folder, and circulating upwards in the hierarchy all the way to either a Head of Administration, Head of Unit, Director or Director General (and then back to the secretary who sends it out / files it).
- Visa – to give your visa to a file means that you accept and sign it, usually on the routing slip but also sometimes in the computer system.
- And don’t forget to say the following when entering – exiting a lift with other people, regardless if you know them or not: Bonjour – Bonne journée / Bonjour – Bon après-midi / Bonne soirée / Bon Week-end. If not, people will think that you are a rude Scandinavian**!!
Have you fallen asleep yet from reading about European bureaucracy? Of course a lot could be done to make the administration more efficient but bearing in mind that we are dealing with public money, a lot of checks and balances need to be in place so that the big organisation can be held accountable to the European taxpayers.
*) Or Swedish for that matter. A Swedish friend of mine who has lived in Brussels since 1996 was told by a Swedish visitor to the office that it was obvious that she had spent too much time outside Sweden as she had lost her Swedish. It is not true, but try to talk about your job in your mother tongue when you are used to speaking a foreign language at work. It is not easy!! I called an office in Sweden a few weeks ago and I had the head full of French and English words and expressions. The Swedish woman I spoke to probably thought that I sounded like Dolph Lundgren / Anita Ekberg / Jean-Claude Van Damme and all the other stars who are mocked for having forgotten their mother tongue…
**) It is true, a lot of my [French-speaking] colleagues over the years have told me that Scandinavians are quite rude because they don’t acknowledge other colleagues when meeting them in the lift or in the corridor. I have tried to say that maybe people are shy and they feel awkward and that is why they are so quiet? It is definitely a cultural difference!