Frites, waffles and quirky fountains. Of course, there’s much more to Brussels, and many can see the appeal of transferring to the home of the European institutions. Beginning a career in European politics can for some, be fairly straight-forward; the well-trodden path of becoming a Parliamentary Researcher before moving to an entry-level public affairs role that is prominent in the UK exists similarly in Brussels, with a stage at a European institution the most common starting point. However, making the move from Westminster to Brussels having already embarked on a UK-focused public affairs career is a less obvious process, and often a frustrating one.
First and foremost, you’re going to be hugely advantaged if you can physically be in Brussels for your job search. Networking is key to learning about opportunities in Brussels, be it colleagues, associates or recruitment consultants like myself, they’re all leads to opportunities. But it’s important to weigh up why you want to make the move, and what your expectations are once you’re looking at positions. It may be obvious but any exposure to European politics is going to be of significant value, while knowledge of the European institutions is essential. A “change of scenery” is not a good reason to be looking to move to Brussels, there needs to be genuine interest, understanding and passion around the politics of Europe. Those that have studied in Europe have a head-start, furthermore those that have gone on to complete a stage, so long as it was relatively recently, will find looking for roles relatively easy or at least with the same ease as looking in the UK. Further up the career ladder things become a little more complex.
A straight-forward switch from say a UK public affairs consultancy to an equivalent European consultancy can often be problematic. European institutions operate differently to Westminster, networks of influence will only in a few cases bear the same relevance in Brussels as they do in the UK, and of course the political issues faced are different. For most public affairs professionals, an internal move to a sister-office is an attractive option. Secondments to Brussels offer UK-based clients tax breaks and can last up to five years. However, they are placed under significant scrutiny by the Belgian government and the process requires a good deal of litigious research on the part of your employer. Internal moves at in-house organisations are also possible, but rare. These positions will almost exclusively look at Brussels-based candidates, as the resource and time to up-skill EU knowledge often isn’t available.
A final curio to bear in mind when assessing opportunities is the Belgian tax system. Expect to be paid in 13.92 salary instalments, but only once you’ve paid a social security contribution of 13.07%, followed by a very uncompetitive rate of income tax (varies depending on salary but can reach 53.5%), couple this with a 35% employer contribution to your social security and you can begin to understand some of the complexities you might face in moving to Brussels. But with a lower cost of living (36% lower than London) and a usually extensive benefits package, its appeal grows.
Senior Consultant, Electus (London and Brussels)