The Ombudsman’s proposal followed a complaint by an Austrian intern about the European External Action Service’s (EEAS) practice of not paying trainees in its delegations. The policy has been heavily criticised by MEPs and the Ombudsman herself.
The EEAS is thought to have been alone among EU institutions and bodies in not paying interns.
Speaking after Thursday’s decision, the Irish official said, “I welcome the progressive stance of High Representative Mogherini on this issue, and now the support of the EU budgetary authorities for my recommendation that trainees in EU foreign delegations be paid.”
She added, “These placements, in what is essentially the EU’s foreign service, can be an important stepping stone in a young person’s career. An allowance will help to cover expenses such as travel, accommodation and insurance and therefore open up these traineeships to more people.
“This sends the message that the EU is committed to the principle of non-discrimination by making traineeships available to at least some of those whose financial resources are less than others,” said O’Reilly, the EU's official watchdog.
BINGO, the Brussels interns NGO group that champions the rights of EU trainees, recently called for more action to tackle the issue, saying, “Young foreigners who come here to try their chances find themselves without pay, without health insurance, and often without any meaningful learning.”
The original complaint to the Ombudsman, who is based in Strasbourg, was filed by an Austrian citizen who had worked as an unpaid trainee in an EU delegation in Asia. The Ombudsman in February 2017 proposed that trainees in EU delegations be an appropriate allowance based on the cost of living in the country where the delegation is located.
The EEAS responded by asking the EU budget authorities for the funds to do this.
O’Reilly followed up on her inquiry finding by writing to the Council and the Parliament as well as the Commissioner for budget to underline the importance of ensuring that such traineeships are open to as wide a pool of people as possible.
The EEAS has a network of 139 EU delegations worldwide employing nearly 6000 people and in 2016 offered approximately 800 unpaid traineeships. Brussels-based EEAS trainees are however paid.
Across EU institutions, other than the EEAS, paid traineeships are the norm.
The budget for 2018 contains €1.2m earmarked for paying trainees in delegations.