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New research conducted by European Democracy Consulting has revealed a significant disparity in the representation of citizens from Central and Eastern Europe in EU leadership positions compared to Western Europeans. In 2023, not a single citizen from Central or Eastern Europe was appointed to a EU leadership position, while 73% of new appointments were from Western Europe. This imbalance is further highlighted by the fact that Western Europe earned over 1.5 times their fair share of posts, while Central and Eastern Europe secured just over a quarter of their expected allocation. The study analyzed appointments to executive leadership positions across various EU institutions, advisory bodies, agencies, and other bodies, spanning back seven decades.

As the European Union approaches a new round of elections, the research emphasizes the deepening East-West divide within the institution, leading to unfair representation of citizens in high-level posts. The authors of the study have called on the EU institutions to establish clear “goals and targets” in order to restore geographical balance in the allocation of top posts. Failure to address this issue could lead to Eurosceptic movements gaining traction by capitalizing on the findings of the study. Pre-election polls suggest a potential increase in votes for Eurosceptic and populist parties, who often criticize the EU as a symbol of technocracy and elitism. This situation could further exacerbate the lack of diverse representation in the EU’s leadership.

The study points to a ‘dramatic worsening’ of representation within the EU institutions, particularly since the 2004 enlargement wave that brought ten new countries from Central and Eastern Europe into the bloc. Despite efforts to ensure geographical balance through ‘guiding rates,’ the institutions have struggled to attract applicants from northern and Scandinavian countries as well. The proportion of Swedes and Finns in EU posts has declined, indicating a broader issue of representation across wealthier member states within the EU. Recent data from European Democracy Consulting suggests that the imbalance has grown over the past three years, with Western Europeans being appointed to over 51% of posts, representing a 14 percentage point increase compared to the previous three-year period.

In terms of high-ranking political appointments, Western Europe continues to dominate, with all 14 previous Presidents of the European Commission coming from Western nations. Following the upcoming election, negotiations will begin to appoint the Presidents of the main EU institutions, including the Commission, Parliament, and Council, as well as allocate policy portfolios to Commissioners from each member state. There is mounting pressure on the EU to ensure that strategic portfolios, such as foreign policy, defense, and economic policy, are fairly distributed to allow for a more diverse and inclusive representation within decision-making processes. The need for Eastern and Central Europe to have a defining stake in EU decision-making is crucial for ensuring a more balanced and representative leadership within the institution.

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