The Complete Guide for Finding a Job in Brussels

Last updated on 06.01.2022

Finding a job in Brussels can be difficult. Being the host city for many EU institutions and affiliated organizations, it poses a set of unique challenges for jobseekers.

This guide aims to help those that want to find a job in the Brussels EU/NGO bubble by providing insights and tips of how to find and apply for job postings in Brussels.

Brussels as a job market

Brussels is known for its unique position in Europe due to it being the host city of different organizations such as several bodies of the European Union. As a result, finding a job in Brussels is not as straightforward as it may be in other cities in Europe.

With the experience of having lived and worked for numerous years in Brussels, this guide helps you get started in your job search in Brussels. We've summarized the most important aspects of working in Brussels into some key areas.

  • Understanding the different workplaces
  • Deep dive into the EU institutions
  • Different contract types at the EU
  • Job opportunities in NGOs (coming soon)
  • Useful resources

The different workplaces and organizations in Brussels

As a first starting point, it is good to know the different types of workplaces that are available in Brussels. In general, the employers can be divided into three different sectors.
  1. EU institutions, such as the European Commission or the European Parliament
  2. Citizen organizations such as NGOs, political parties, lobbying groups etc.
  3. Regular for profit companies

The focus of this guide is on EU institutions and citizens organizations (coming soon), as this is where Brussels is quite unique.

Working in the EU institutions in Brussels

Working in an EU institution is what a lot of people associate when thinking about work in Brussels. As a starting point, it is good to be aware of the different institutions that are situated in Brussels. Understanding the current number of staff members in these organizations is also helpful in understanding the likelihood of finding a job there.

In total, there are around 40.000 people working in EU bodies in Brussels.

As a rule of thumb, the bigger the institution, the more fluctuation and the more likely it is to find a job there. The following table puts the different institutions in terms of staff members.

Number of staff members in the different EU institutions

Number of staff members in the different EU institutions
Institution Staff members based in Brussels
European Commission 21.500
European Parliament 8.000
Council of the European Union 3.000
European External Action Service 2.000
The European Economic and Social Committee 700
Committee of the Regions 500
European Data Protection Supervisor 100

Jobs in the European Commission

The commission is the biggest employer of the EU institutions. As of January 2021, the commission employed around 32.000 staff members, 21.500 of which are located in Brussels.

The European Commission offers multiple routes to becoming employed and offers great detail on the application procedures for the different employment types. The different employment types and how they impact you are outlined below.

If you're interested in working in the European Commission, their job overview page is a great place to start.

Jobs in the European Parliament

The European Parliament employs around 8.000 staff members directly, of which around 5.000 are based in Brussels. In addition to these 5.000 directly employed staff members, there are up to 2.800 assistants to the 700 members of the European Parliament. You can find out more about these assistant positions further below.

Jobs in the Council of the European Union

The Council of the EU is the smallest of the three main institutions, with around 3.000 employees in Brussels. Most of these vacancies are filled by permanent officials. We have described further below how to become a permanent official for the EU.

Jobs in smaller bodies of the EU

There are a range of smaller and affiliated bodies to the EU. These include, among others, the European External Action Service (EEAS, around 2.000 staff members), the European Economic and Social Committee (ECSC, around 700 staff members), the Committee of the Regions (CoR) and the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS, around 100 staff members in Brussels).

Employment types in EU institutions

There are a lot of different ways to finding employment within the EU. The European Personnel Selection Office (EPSO), which streamlines most of the staffing, has a good summary of the different ways forms of employment and their requirements on their website. All jobs that are published by EPSO can be found on their website. You can also find some upcoming job opportunities in the EU on a dedicated site.

  • Permanent staff member
  • Contract staff
  • Temporary staff
  • Interim staff
  • Traineeships and Internships
  • Assistant to an MEP
  • Working for a political group

Become a permanent staff member through the "Concours"

The concours is the most "traditional" way of becoming a permanent official in an EU institution. Unlike with traditional, you do not apply to a specific position, but rather to become a generalist. If you successfully pass the concours, you are added to a reserve list for a period of 1 year, from which the different institutions can draw recruits.

The concours is a highly competitive selection procedure that takes around 5-9 months and that is organized by EPSO. It consists of a series of tests and interviews, as described by EPSO on their website:

The first round of tests you will be called on to complete will be computer-based and will comprise aptitude and ability psychometric exercises. If you are successful in these tests, you will then be called to an assessment centre where you will be expected to complete a number of work-related exercises in a group environment and before at least two assessors. The skills you will be assessed on broadly cover the following core competencies required by the EU institutions: analysis and problem-solving, communicating, delivering quality and results, learning and development, prioritizing and organizing, resilience, working with others and in the case of graduates, leadership.

If you'd like to take the concours, a self-test is available to get a first understanding of the type of qualifications required. In preparation for the concours, most EU member states are very supportive and provide additional information and tips on how to successfully pass the concours.

Contract staff

A somewhat easier and shorter way of getting a position in an EU institution is by becoming a contract staffer. These are positions that are fixed in time, often times with a short initial contract period of 6-12 months. Depending on the EU institution, there is a limit on how many years in total you can work there.

Contract staff positions are filled in a more traditional sense, in that you apply for a specific position that you are interested in. Based on the applications, individual applicants are recruited. The application procedure is a much shortened version of the concours and differs from position to position, as outlined by EPSO:

The selection procedure may include CV sifting, reasoning tests, and/or competency tests, that may be written, oral or other practical tests in the field.

Open contract staff positions can be found on the EPSO job board.

Salary for EU contract staff

Below are the starting salaries for contract agents of the EU based on a 40 hours working week (as of 01.07.2020):

Salary grid for contract agents in the EU (source)
Function Group Grade Salary Range
Function Group IV 13-18 €3.555,98 - €6.593,66
Function Group III 8-12 €2.777,78 - €4.552,18
Function Group III 4-7 €2.169,66 - €3.142,81
Function Group I 1-3 €2.088,92 - €2.672,85

Temporary agent

Next to the contract agent, the temporary agent is another form of temporary contract. This type of contract is far less common than the contract agent contract type. It is typically used for very highly specialized tasks, such as conducting a piece of research.

Traineeship

If you have recently graduated from university or are about to graduate, there are multiple traineeships offered in the different European institutions. Each year, a total of around 1.900 traineeships are on offer at the different institutions. We've compiled a list of the most significant traineeship programs internship and traineeship opportunities in the EU institutions below. EPSO also has a comprehensive list of all traineeships that are offered by all institutions

Working as an assistant (APA) to a Member of the European Parliament (MEP)

Each MEP has several assistants. In the current legislative period, there are 705 MEPs. Each MEP can have up to 4 assistants, meaning that there are up to 2820 assistants.

Naturally, most fluctuation happens around the election, when a lot of MEPs change. The last election took place in 2019, the next election will be in the spring of 2024.

During the legislative period, there is of course also a certain degree of fluctuation. For instance, if there are national elections in a country, it might happen that an MEP changes from the European Parliament to his or her national parliament. This of course also results in assistant positions opening up.

The requirements for positions and the selection of applicants is done by each MEP individually. Unlike with most other positions in the EU institutions, there is no concours required. Most commonly, APA positions are filled by candidates from the home country of the MEP, or who at least speak the same language as the MEP. If you are looking for an APA position, it makes thus sense to start the search among the MEPs that represent your home country.

APA positions can generally be found through the websites of the MEPs. The salary grid for APAs at the European Parliament can be found below. Note that actual salaries can be higher, as it just shows the base salary and does not include possible recent indexations. The typical grade that is applied is between 7 and 10.

Salary grid for APAs in the European Parliament
Grid position Full-time basic salary
1 €1900,13
2 €2213,65
3 €2400,04
4 €2602,16
5 €2821,28
6 €3058,88
7 €3316,47
8 €3595,78
9 €3898,57
10 €4226,86
11 €4582,80
12 €4968,73
13 €5387,14
14 €5840,80
15 €6332,66
16 €6865,95
17 €7444,14
18 €8070,99
19 €8750,68

Working for a political group in the European Parliament

In addition to working as an assistant to an individual MEP, it is also possible to work for the political groups that are present in the European Parliament.

Similar to the institutions, the bigger the group, the more fluctuation there tends to be.

Political Groups in the European Parliament and their seats. Click on of the groups to go straight to their vacancy page.
Group MEPs
Group of the European People's Party (Christian Democrats) 179
Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament 146
Renew Europe Group 98
Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance 73
Identity and Democracy Group 70
European Conservatives and Reformists Group 63
The Left group in the European Parliament - GUE/NGL 39

Internship and traineeship opportunities in the EU institutions

There are internship and traineeship opportunities in almost all EU institutions. As mentioned above, you can find a comprehensive list of the internships that are offered on the EPSO website. Below is a short summary of the main internships, namely

  • Blue Book traineeships at the European Commission
  • Schuman Traineeship at the European Parliament

European Commission Traineeship: Blue Book
As part of their Blue Book traineeship programme, the European Commission offers around 650 individuals a 5-months paid traineeship at the Commission. The monthly allowance is around 1.200 Euros with an additional travel allowance.

Application deadlines are typically in January and August of a given year, with the January applicants starting their traineeship in October, and the August applicants in March of the following year.

Blue book traineeship periods and application deadlines
Traineeship period Applications open Starting date
March traineeship July-August 01. March
October traineeship January 01. October

The Blue Book page of the Commission is quite extensive and offers ample details on the application procedure and requirements. ECA Maastricht also has a good, compact summary on the Blue Book traineeships.

European Parliament Traineeship: Schumann
The traineeship program of the European Parliament is called Schuman traineeship. There are usually around 400 to 500 open traineeship positions per period. The traineeship period is 5-month, during a which a monthly allowance of around 1.300 Euros is paid.

Schuman traineeship periods and application deadlines
Traineeship period Application deadline Starting date
March traineeship 30. November 01. March
October traineeship 30. June 01. October

Junior Professional Programme
Every two years, the European External Action Service and the European Commission run the Junior Professional Programme. The programme consists of a 12-months traineeship, which can be extended for another 12-months. For the 2021-2023 period, at least 54 positions were being offered (two per member state). The next Junior Professional Programme will most likely run from 2024-2026.

Find out more about the programme