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A Career in European Foreign Policy with Helen Campbell

November 26, 2020


Helen Campbell, Head of Division for Horizontal Coordination and Protocol, DG for Budget and Administration, European External Action Service

Michael Leigh, Academic Director of the Master of Arts in European Public Policy; Senior Adjunct Professor of European Studies, SAIS Europe

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. Campbell joined the Bologna Institute for Policy Research to share her insights on EU career opportunities with the students of SAIS Europe.

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, 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, 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, Campbell observed. As professional careers progress, it is encouraged to work on a wide range of European policy issues. These opportunities brought 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 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, 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, 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, Campbell observed.

With all of these changes going on 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.