After staying for a year in the Department of Health’s EU team, last summer I was seconded to the College of Europe in Belgium to study for a Master’s in European politics. The scholarship is part of the Civil Service’s overall aim to get civil servants up to scratch on EU knowledge and foreign languages, so that we have a fair chance at succeeding at the entry exams to join the EU Institutions.
It was all fabulous when I arrived, I live in one of the smallest residences, there are just 20 of us. Brugge is a stunning place : all winding streets, tiny bridges, pretty canals. I did a two-week intro course because I haven’t studied the EU before. I took a deep breath and tried to start to get to grips with all the different kinds of political theory and economic concepts.
The first semester began with an infamous course on institutional law in French, which is given by a former head of the Council’s legal service. He’s a bit of a legend ; he’s taught at the College for years, and he’d always turn up to classes with a pipe, a copy of Le Monde, and a big grin. He’s full of anecdotes about how the different EU leaders used to behave at European Council ; the legal service is one of the few people allowed into the room, alongside the big wigs.
The other experience I’ll never forget is the month-long simulation of the legislative decision-making process that we all enacted as a department in January. Oh my gosh ! I promised myself I wouldn’t take it too seriously but then before I knew it, I had been designated to play the Commission team and I dived straight in ! There were four of us in the Commission team and we worked flat out to create alliances of Member States and Members of the European Parliament, convince them how great the Commission’s legislative proposal was, and defeat the lobbyists. It was an absolutely fantastic experience to improve my negotiating and communications skills.
I feel like I will stand a much better chance of joining the EU Institutions with this experience under my belt. My French has come on leaps and bounds and, whether I stay in the UK or go to Brussels, an understanding of law, economics and different European policies will help me a lot when formulating and implementing policy.