Tag Archives: fco

More EU Careers stuff

I said I would blog about the event last week that launched the FCO’s EU Careers month, but time sort of got away with me and with the meeting of all Representation Press Officers in Brussels last week, I didn’t get a chance to get round to it. The event was broadly similar to the 18 October event that I have already written about, but the difference was that this focused a bit more on people who already have a career, whether in the public or private sector and who might be looking for a change. I spoke to some very interesting people who in my opinion would be an asset to the Commission. I hope the event, and the accompanying website,  will encourage them to apply. If you want a good laugh at my expense, see if you can find my video!

The careers bonanza continues with me doing an event at City University tomorrow and more later in the month. The other big theme of the moment is Volunteering, with this being the designated European Year, so I will try to write about that in the next day or two (promises, promises…)

The David and Maros show

One of the things we do a lot of in this office, and more so since the new government came into power, is talking to people about what they could expect from a career working for an EU organisation. I’ve written about some recent events such as the FCO’s launch event in October last year, our Q&A webchat on the Guardian site, the language careers event in June 2010, and a week of several events in March. Last week I was filmed for a site that the FCO are creating and will be launched in early February – I’ll blog about that when it goes live. Now Boris Johnson’s economics adviser, who I knew when he was a correspondent in Brussels, plows in to the debate with a piece in City AM. And then I come across this from the Europe Minister and European Commissioner Sefcovic, which I do like. 

What about working for the EU?

I was part of an event at the Foreign Office yesterday which brought University Vice-Chancellors, department heads and career advisers together to talk to them about the EU as a potential career for their students. It was heartening, if surreal, to sit a foot or two away from William Hague as he said “the EU is vital to the UK’s interests”. This government has really thrown itself behind this issue, and as far as these things matter, the fact that the Foreign Secretary came along the day before the strategic defence review and two days before the comprehensive spending review is impressive.

We kicked off with a film of students talking about what they knew (or perhaps more accurately didn’t know) about the opportunities that exist to work for the EU.

Then Simon Fraser, the top civil servant at the FCO, who did two stints in Brussels, talked very personally about what he had got out of it.

Many of the questions in the first part focused on the teaching of foreign languages in British schools and universities, something regulars will know I write about alot. I was then asked to be one of two case studies, just an example of what working in the EU can lead you to do, where I repeated pretty much what I have said on this blog before. There was, to coin a phrase, a lot of love in the room, and I was inundated at the end by requests to come and talk to students at this or that university. There is such a thing as overexposure (!), so we’re thinking of a sort of “Back to College” scheme, where EU officials who come back to the UK every now and then make themselves available to talk at their old university, or maybe the university in their hometown. Let’s see if we can make that work.

In the meantime, if you’re interested in finding out more, check out the Foreign Office site or the EU careers site.

Est-ce qu’il faut parler les langues?

There have been a lot of pieces in the news the last few days, prompted by the GSCE results and the fact that, apart from Spanish, numbers taking GCSEs in modern languages have dropped. The Independent leader criticises the decision to scrap mandatory languages at secondary level, saying:

Making languages optional at 14 has had several consequences, each as predictable as it is regrettable. The first was to signal that an acquaintance with even one foreign language was a luxury rather than a necessity. The second was to reinforce the impression that languages were difficult, and so to be avoided, by pupils and schools concerned about scores and league tables. And the third was to encourage schools to scale down language teaching and divert resources elsewhere.

The Guardian editorial says

A suspicion that the web is more Anglosphere-wide than worldwide fuels a feeling that others are under more pressure to learn our language than we are to master theirs. Within a learn-to-earn educational philosophy, it is then a short step to deciding that our priorities should lie elsewhere. This is a dangerous line of argument, even in its own terms. If the weave of the web is working in favour of English, there is an awfully long way to go. Three in four of the world’s people speak no English, which is a lot of people to give up hope of trading with. More profoundly, to forgo familiarity with foreign languages is to forgo the chance to see the world from a foreign point of view.

which reminds me of the argument I always used at school when people asked why I was doing languages – “I can chat up 3 times as many boys as you can”. Even though the likelihood of the 15-year-old me chatting up any boy no matter what language he spoke was a near-zero, the argument seemed to hit home with my fellow 15-year-olds.

A longer piece in the Guardian goes into more detail and raises the point that even if lots of people speak English when we want to buy from them, us speaking their languages when we want to sell to them is more effective. As the article says (and the errors in the German are theirs not mine!):

It is true, says Kelly, that many Germans speak English – “but they are proud of their own language and are pleased if potential partners can make a gesture towards it. And it’s easier to buy things in English than to sell them.” He quotes Willy Brandt: “If I’m selling I’m happy to speak to you in English. But if I’m buying dann müssen sie deutsche sprechen.” The impact on British exports is obvious.

What none of these articles pick up on is that language is a serious industry in its own right for the EU in general and for the UK. A recent report commissioned by the Commission estimated the size of the language industry at €8.4b in 2008, set to grow to €16.5b in 2015. For the UK the report estimated that

the total turnover of the translation and interpretation market … is therefore estimated between €290m and €434m

There is money to be made here and that money will not be going to UK citizens if we neglect our language learning. A study by Cardiff Business School suggests that the UK economy is losing business because of our poor language skills – estimated in 2007 by the same professor to be €9b.

That’s all before we get into issues of EU staffing, mentioned in the Guardian article. The FCO are focusing on this, in the wake of Hague’s speech about it (which I can’t find a link to at the moment). The UK is certainly under-represented in the EU institutions. Now, of course, the Commission is charged to have the European interest at its core, and so there is no question of ploughing a national furrow when you are there. But undoubtedly where you come from informs your approach. When I joined, I assumed there would be this wonderful melding of cultures into a European administrative culture. Wrong – the European Commission is lots of people with very different ways of doing things getting along together and making it work. So having UK people in the mix is important. But if you don’t speak languages, you won’t get in. Even if the entry requirements as they currently stand discriminate slightly against native English, French and German speakers*, the sad fact is that the biggest barrier to entry for most Brits is the language requirement. The other problem is that if anyone learns languages in the UK, they tend to be linguists, whereas what the Commission also needs are agronomists and vets and engineers and computer technicians who speak languages. So I applaud the UK government for trying to encourage more applications, and I have already told them that I and this office will do what we can to help, but at the same time, this language issue needs to be tackled in the broader sense if they are to succeed.

* the entry exams have to be sat in EN, FR or DE, and not in your first language. So if you are an English speaker with fluent Spanish, Italian and Portuguese, you will not be able to take the exam (or at least not have any decent chance of passing). This is true for French and German speakers too, but as most of them will probably have English as at least one of their languages, it is less obviously a problem.

News the new way

I got given an iPad for my birthday and it is every bit as wonderful as I thought it would be. I use it in ways I never expected – it is fabulous for recipes, which I would never have thought of:  you can prop it up like a cookbook. One of my favourite apps is Flipbook, which puts your Twitter or Facebook feed as a magazine. Very stylish. The idea seems to be catching on, as I just set up a paper.li account and have a “newspaper” of my eurostuff feed which you can read here. I remember early on in my Twitter incarnation someone defending it as “a newspaper written by people whose opinion I value”. So I guess actually MAKING it into a newspaper was just the next logical step…

Thanks to Jimmy Leach at the FCO for showing me this. You can see theirs here.