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BIPR | A Career in European Foreign Policy
A Career in European Foreign Policy

November 26, 2020 - 18:30

Helen Campbell, European External Action Service, Belgium

Event Recap

A multilingual environment, ever changing areas of work and a growing importance of the institution. That – in short – are the rewards of working in the European Commission or in the EU’s foreign service, the European External Action Service (EEAS), as laid out by Helen Campbell. On November 26th, Ms. Campbell joined the Bologna Institute for Policy Research to share her insights on EU career opportunities with the students of SAIS Bologna.

After almost three decades of working on EU affairs, first as UK civil servant and later at the European Commission, Helen Campbell knows the inner workings of the EU institutions better than many others. After joining the European Commission in 1995, Ms. Campbell worked on the EU’s eastern enlargement policies, before switching fields to become Head of Unit representing the EU towards several South Asian countries. Following a stint as EU Ambassador in Norway, Ms. Campbell currently serves as Head of the Division for Horizontal Coordination and Protocol in the DG for Budget and Administration of the European External Action Service.

Through the decades, the European Union’s institutions have only grown in importance and professionalism, both in regards to their portfolio as well as their internal recruiting structures, Ms. Campbell observed. As professional careers progress, it is encouraged to work on a wide range of European policy issues. These opportunities brought Ms. Campbell from dealing with European enlargement in Central and Eastern Europe to handling the EU’s relationship with South Asian countries and back to the portfolio of the EU’s relationship with neighboring Norway.

While Ms. Campbell sees it as useful to have worked within both national and EU institutions, she highlighted the EU’s potency as a convening power. Senior officials in foreign countries often see the EU Delegations as useful conduits to convene with all member states at a time instead of meeting them one by one. At the same time, the challenge remains to increase the level of unity among European nations, Ms. Campbell noted. “Where there is unity, we can be strong,” she added.

Speaking about her experience as Head of Unit for Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the Maldives, Ms. Campbell highlighted the EU’s ability to affect positive change in areas which other donors or countries focus less resources on. One area in which the EU was able to achieve significant progress in that region was natural disaster preparedness and reconstruction. Today, new issue areas are emerging for the EEAS, such as combating disinformation or assisting national administrations in dealing with the fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic, Ms. Campbell observed.

With all of these changes going on Ms. Campbell said that now is a good moment to join the EU institutions. A lot of work is being done to address gender imbalances and opportunities to work flexibly from home are likely to remain even after the end of the pandemic.

Full Audio:

A Career in European Foreign Policy

hosted by Professor Michael Leigh

Helen Campbell
European External Action Service, Belgium

The EEAS is the European Union's diplomatic service. It helps the EU's foreign affairs chief – the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy – carry out the Union's Common Foreign and Security Policy.

Helen Campbell is the Head of Division for Horizontal Coordination and Protocol in the DG for Budget and Administration of the European External Action Service.

She started her career in the UK Civil Service after obtaining a degree in modern languages. In 1991, she was appointed as a Second Secretary to the UK Representation to the European Communities for the 1992 UK Presidency working on Social Affairs and Employment. In 1995, she became an official of the European Commission. Helen served as a member of the Cabinet of Commissioner Hans van den Broek where she worked on the enlargement towards Central and Eastern Europe. She then worked in the External Relations DG of the European Commission as Desk for Bulgaria and as part of the negotiation team on enlargement, then Political Assistant to the then Deputy Director General for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy, Michael Leigh. Following that, she became Head of Unit for Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the Maldives. From 2008-10 she was European Correspondent of the European Commission, following Foreign Affairs Councils, G8 and the annual UN General Assembly in New York. After the ratification of the EU Lisbon Treaty, she was the first Head of the EEAS Policy Coordination Division, working closely with the EEAS Political Director on preparing the HR as Chair of the Foreign Affairs Council and on developing the role of EU Delegations. Helen Campbell then served as EU Ambassador to Norway from 2013-17.
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