One of the reasons I was brought to London was to improve the services we offer people via the web. At the moment, I have to say that our sites are a little old-fashioned, and don’t really serve the requirements of the groups that are engaged with us, such as providers of information about the European Union (e.g. Europe Directs), citizenship and language teachers and students of EU politics and policies. We’re starting the process and I’d love to get your advice on what I need to keep in mind when redesigning a website. Please leave your comments below, or if you’d rather help me out privately, use the contact form.
This week is clearly careers week. I don’t think I’ve done a single careers talk since I arrived, and I’m doing two this week. On Monday we had someone from EPSO, our recruitment service, in the Rep holding open sessions for graduates (or soon-to-be-graduates) on the new round of recruitment and the new system. I was there to give a bit of a personal view of working in the Commission, describing my career path, and of course answering questions. The experience of new aspirants to an EU career will be a bit different from mine, as they will be taking tests designed to test competence and not knowledge. So no more questions about how many traffic accidents were there in the EU, or what is the weight of printer paper (both terrifyingly examples of questions in past competitions!). I was only at the final session of the day, but it was striking how many of the people who came along were from other Member States. Apparently this was less the case earlier in the day, but it raises yet again the issue I mentioned at Abingdon about the spectre of a loss of UK influence within the EU institutions.
Tonight I’m going to City University to talk to their Sociology MA candidates about possible careers for social science students. Given that I did a social science Bachelors and am starting a Sociology MA at City in September, it seems a shoe-in for me to do!
So, if I’m having to stand up in front of people and encourage them to consider a career here, I have obviously have had to think about what makes it a career I enjoy. So here is a purely personal look at the main things:
1) I love being able to use languages on a daily basis (and so that’s something I really miss here). As a spokesperson I got to do interviews in French and English, brief journalists in those languages and German and improve my minor languages by reading the press cuttings. Really made all those years of language learning worth it.
2) I’m a bit of a butterfly (5 different posts and 4 houses during my 15 years in Brussels), so working for an organisation with such a broad range of subjects means I can imagine about a lifelong career without worrying about getting stuck in a rut.
3) Leading on from that, there’s something for everyone. If you’re a really technical type, whose life revolves around widget regulations, then you can spend your whole career on widgets. If you want to move around a lot you can. There are many jobs giving an overview of a broad policy area, and many that are highly specialised.
4) The calibre of people you work with, both within the Commission/other institutions and their broader ecosystem of trade assocations, think tanks, law firms etc is very high. So intellectually it’s an amazing environment to be in. Like university with better food…
5) There is a strong element of idealism. I came to the view when I was a teenager that it is in our continent’s best interests to work together, and I was happy to be given the chance to work daily to make that happen.
I’m sure if I sat down for a beer and talked about this, more would come up, but that’s it for the moment. If any of this strikes a chord with you, why not apply for one of the recruitment competitions coming up? If you’re on Facebook you can follow developments via the EU Careers fan page.
A big thanks to the members of Abingdon European Society who welcomed me so warmly to their meeting on Saturday. I was there at their request to talk about recent developments in the European Union. I had quite a moment when the chairwoman introduced me saying I would talk for “about an hour”, knowing that I had a very short slideshow and a tough challenge to make the EU an interesting topic for as long as it would take to show that, never mind an hour! I already felt I was on a losing wicket, being up against the final match of the Six Nations and a concert of Russian music in the nearby church. But it seemed to go very well. I kept the presentation very light – no-one’s looking for an in-depth exposé of the co-decision procedure on a Saturday night – and there was a good range of questions. A bit of a discussion got going on the whole issue of measuring the wealth and state of a nation: our shorthand is “Beyond GDP“. Maybe they should consider having a separate meeting on that, as it really is a fascinating issue. A lot of interest in the whole situation regarding language-learning in the UK and its knock-on effect on UK influence in the European institutions, as Brits are on the whole lacking the required language skills to get in. Several people said that Britons are at a disadvantage: they don’t need to learn foreign languages as so many people speak English. That argument is debatable: Cardiff Business School research suggests that the UK loses £9 billion of business a year due to our poor language skills. The other problem we face here is that people who speak languages tend to study languages – what we are lacking are the multilingual lawyers, scientists and administrators that come out of other countries’ education systems.
I was at the London Wetlands Centre this morning for the launch of a new animated series called My Friend Boo, which is designed to be both informative and entertaining, in the best tradition of children’s TV. As it was part-financed by the European Commission’s LIFE+ financing programme (though we had no influence over content and creative direction), we were invited to say a few words, alongside the project partners, which include WWF and the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts. The best bit was when a class of 7 and 8 years old came in to watch the three programmes that deal with Water (it being World Water Day and all…) The programmes clearly struck a chord with the children, who were all humming along with the theme tune by episode 2, and there was almost a riot when the project leader said they’d all get their own copy to take home!
I also got a few minutes for a bit of bird-watching over the Wetlands and in just the few moments I was there I saw cormorants, a lapwing and what I think was a Red-crested pochard, never mind many ducks, geese and moorhens. On a day like today, it was difficult not to totally fall for the place! And even better, I have discovered this fabulous widget on the RSPB site to help you identify birds you see – perfect for a novice twitcher like me. They even have a mobile version.
It’s always slightly exasperating when people ask you what you do, you tell them and they say “yes, but what do you actually DO”. Well, for future reference…
I got up at 6.30 this morning, as I wanted to register at 8.15 for the conference that a Commissioner was speaking at today, to get it out of the way. I was on the train by 7.30 (if there’s one thing I miss about Brussels, it’s the short commute!) and then got a call from the Commissioner’s staff that they needed a car. So I headed to the hotel instead and sorted that out. We got to the conference venue, and once everything was sorted there, I headed back to the office. Time for a quick flick through the day’s press review (usually done on the train, but no time today), took part in the daily briefing from Brussels, then finalised the organisation of the team now that we’ve lost one of our staff.
I headed back over to the conference venue at 10.40 or so to find the camera team that would be interviewing the Commissioner at 11. It’s easy for people to find me when I’m wearing the leopardskin coat…! We realised that it was going to be far too noisy in the street so we headed back to the office to do it there. I had reckoned without the building works next door which can be heard everywhere in our office, so we scoured the building for the quietest room that we could bear to be filmed. While one of the team tried to stop the jackhammers for the 10 minutes we needed, I waited outside the conference for the Commissioner – of course it ran over time. One of the most difficult things is always getting the person to do the interview out of the full conference hall where everyone wants to say hello, congratulate him on his contribution, give him their card, ask him to speak at their event… then past the journalists that are waiting for a “quick comment” and off to the interview. The AV interview went pretty well and then it was into an hour with a national newspaper. My role in the interview is different to how it was when I was a spokesperson as I’m not as familiar with the content, so it’s just a question of making sure it finishes on time. Once out of the interview, got the Commissioner and staff back to where they needed to be and made sure the journalist had everything needed. Then I had to work out how to get the luggage into the car that will be taking them to the airport, which is going to entail me carrying it over to the venue in about 30 minutes. Time for a quick bite to eat, then back to my desk to deal with the e-mails that have come in during the morning, prepare for several meetings and try to pin down arrangements for next week, when another Commissioner is in town…and we get to start all over again!
It was a mindnumbingly early start this morning – I don’t often get up at 5.45! I made it to the hotel on time, and then was whisked to the ExCel in the official convoy. The morning was crazy, as we got our bearings and did some recceing for the afternoon’s press activities. The Commission President did two interviews before the summit started which was a really good idea, as he was one of the few. Mandelson was working the media section like the old hand he is, and between him and Geldof the whole place was all a-flutter for most of the morning. By ten o’clock it felt like it should have been hours later. It calmed down once we’d sorted everything like how many microphones to have in the press conference room (oh the glamour!) and so since then it’s been occasional briefings, wandering round the media centre talking to people and catching up with e-mails etc from the office. I’ve been at Councils before, but not the big European Councils or a summit like and it has been really interesting to see the dynamic of an event like this. I worked at a G8 summit years ago when I was at college, but as that entailed sitting in a nice hotel in Knightsbridge and eating chocolate, I don’t think it’s a comparable experience!
We’re all waiting for it to finish and then it’ll be a whirl of press conferences and interviews, before heading off out in the convoy again. A day spent in a bubble – I don’t even know what the weather is like outside!