Lao-tzu told us that the longest journey starts with the first step. Terry Pratchett reminds us that the problem is that most people forget to take the second step and the trillion other steps that follow. So I suppose that to be a “real blogger” I have to get over my apathy and take a second step i.e write some more posts. Unfortunately apathy has won the fight up to this point, and so I have now got too many anecdotes/observations/curious facts/contextual facts/points of advice to cram into one post… and this post is going to contain very few of the entertaining bits!
The first week of “working” for the EC involved a Welcome Meeting held at the JMO building here in Luxembourg. This generally consisted of 50 people introducing themselves to the group, 50 people forgetting the names of 49 other people, 50 people getting bored, 50 people getting a security card, 50 people getting a bank account and 50 people getting more bored. This was a really bad start to an internship. In fact there was a general feeling that perhaps those ultra-nationalist, embittered eurosceptics that write for Mr Murdoch may actually had a point about wasteful EU inefficiencies. It is also worth noting that EC buildings in Luxembourg are not pleasant -Think cheap 1970s made large school buildings, i.e. lots of dirty looking linoleum interspersed with cheap aluminium and concrete. Apparently Brussels is where the life lies!
So bright and early on Wednesday morning we headed to Brussels where we would meet 600 other stagiairs and be properly welcomed to the traineeship programme.
-Now I should make a point: The first draft of this post turned out to be huge. So I propose that this post will include points about the EU that I learnt during the conference. So this will be boring, but informative. Everything else, including the champagne, 2000+ beers, crazy contract law, the Spanish and my new nickname etc, will appear in the next post. So turn off now if you do not want to learn about the EU, if you do continue read I assume that you will turn off in the near future 😉
The conference essentially consisted of presentations from the major EU institutions, such as the Commission, Parliament, Council, careers service, environmental director general and the Hungarian presidency. This meant a broad spectrum of interest; some presentations were catatonic, some lacked style but contained useful info, some being exhilarating.
3 major issues/changes arose about the direction of the EC in the medium term future. 1) Economic Regulation –following the “orgy of state debt” and unregulated market expansion it appears as though the reality of integrated EU economic governance is will shortly come into existence. Philip Brunei [ ] was keen to stress that Germany was not about to leave the EU and that the “EU project was not an option or even a choice amongst alternative, it was a necessity.”
2) The Arabic revolutions signalled the point that the time of real-politick justifications has passed. The EU’s position is that the revolutions are fighting for ideals that also form the core of EU political philosophy and so the EU will actively support them.
3) A huge change was about to happen to the EU budget. Specifically, the mechanism for budget allocation within the EU institutions was to change. Whilst technical details were not explained in great detail, it appears as though the era of EU budget expansion has come to an end. As I understand it each DG (=”Directorate General” =working department within the Commission) will be required to apply for a now limited budget through a more objective, transparent and ultimately competitive application process.
Other salient points to note:
The Council “provide the Union with the necessary impetus for the development and definition of the EU’s political direction and priorities there of.” The role and identity of Council is evolving and developing. There appears to be a real tension between the different EU institutions, in particular, who has responsibility for the creation and determination of legislation. –watch this space
EU bureaucracy is actually surprisingly efficient, and getting more so! In terms of its legislative capacity the key indicator of efficiency appears to be the percentage of legislation that is passed on first hearing. In 1999 this stood at 21% in 2009 it was 71%. The cost per person represented of the European Council is, apparently, a fraction of your average town council.
The “EU is the subject of one of the most widespread miscommunication of any political institution in the world.” –This is perhaps not surprising when one considers that the presentation given by the EU Spokesperson Service was by far the worst presentation given during the conference! =the EU is a victim of often malicious national press, but it should also really consider hiring a new PR team.
An EU country is not a full member until after its first presidency.
There is a real problem with EU careers. The process to become a stagiaire, is competitive, fair, open and well explained. Going from being a stagiaire to being a full member of staff is erratic, mainly based on luck and generally not possible. When I say “luck” I do not mean in the sense that bad people are hired, everybody hired is incredibly talented. Rather I mean “luck” in the sense that there is no systematic that ensure that the most talented stagiaires are actually given a job. This is mainly because there is an extremely low turn over of staff at the EU + as a civil service the EU has limited capacity to expand =a lot of frustrated stagiaires and a lot of missed talent.
Alex Albaue is an EU parliamentarian and vice-president of the Budget Committee. He is a politician. I have rarely seen someone squeeze so many words into so few ideas.
The EU’s environmental policy and plan to actually implement ideas that may actually save the world is exceptional. I was genuinely very impressed by a great combination of scientific and economic analysis and understanding, innovative ideas, commitment and capacity to actually do something. It looks like the EU may well drag the world into the future of resource management. This should be more widely recognised and appreciated.