Graduate Careers: `Not one meeting about bananas'

The Working Week: Diary of a School-Leaver on Work Experience at the European Parliament
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The Independent Culture
Name: Emma Jones

Age: 18

Education: Completed A-level studies at Kirkby Stephen Grammar School in Cumbria and currently on a gap-year before going to university to study politics.

Mission: A month's work experience in the office of Tony Cunningham MEP in the European Parliament, Brussels.

Monday

I arrived on the Eurostar and bundled down the platform with my huge suitcase and stomach full of butterflies to be met by Mr Cunningham's PA, Pauline. The welcoming smile melted my nerves and I negotiated the traffic to get to the car with a parliament sticker on the back bumper. All seemed to be going well until my driver discovered she had been sent a 16- year-old.

I was whisked up to the office and taken for a tour of the building. The place seemed colossal and I tried desperately to remember where we had gone. I returned to the office and was given a few files to read with various constituency enquiries. I had to find out the answers to their questions and write a response. I put my head down and managed to get through three or four files. A lot of the enquiries were grant requests, which involved contacting the relevant secretaries in the European Commission to ask about eligibility. Some of the cases were, however, slightly more emotional as constituents sought support and guidance for family members and friends in trouble abroad. Most of these cases are referred to the British embassy in the relevant country, but some are used to encourage EU action on issues such as transport safety or drugs. Negotiated the computer system with a basic understanding of word processing.

Tuesday

Finished the letters and was sent on some research around the parliament building. This gave me an, albeit unplanned, opportunity to investigate the lift system. I had to find the library, where all the documents printed by the parliament are available. Whilst attempting a return voyage I walked past Jack Straw, surrounded by an entourage of very efficient looking people.

The day involved a lot more reading of files, researching and responding to constituency enquiries or faxes from secretaries at the Commission. Each enquiry was completely different so it wasn't repetitive. I had the opportunity to use my foreign languages and I would say that French is an absolute necessity for anybody working in the European institutions. As I contacted various institutions, the continent seemed to get smaller and arguments that the parliament has nothing to do with those at home in the constituency seemed petty and unrealistic.

Wednesday

Met Boris, in charge of all of Mr Cunningham's committee work, dealing with international development, the treaty to ban landmines and other humanitarian issues. Spent the morning on constituency enquiries, but in the afternoon I joined Boris to hear a speech by Clare Short.

Thursday

The morning's speakers included Robin Cook so I went along to see if anything of relevance to Mr Cunningham's committee work was being discussed. It all seemed a little surreal, but I sat there and tried to appear at ease.

In the evening, I went with Mr Cunningham's PA on his behalf to a cocktail party for the beginning of the UK presidency. I had never been to a cocktail party before and the idea of a room full of politicians with cocktails was a little daunting, but it was all quite relaxed and enjoyable. I met Glenys Kinnock too.

Friday

My first week was reaching its conclusion and I was beginning to feel at ease in my new environment. I still took a second glance if I passed a familiar face on the corridor. I had discovered Belgian waffles and now cruised the lifts like a professional. I had not attended one meeting about the curvature of bananas or cucumbers and after my brief insight into the humanitarian work of the development committee, I felt quite resentful towards all those who had made snide comments about the EU before I left England.

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