Thursday, 30 July 2009


It's not that I am popular, just that there are a great many young graduates looking to climb the first rung of the Brussels ladder.

The unexpected departure of my (Portuguese) parliamentary assistant - lured away by the offer of more money to work for a Portuguese MEP - forced me to look for a replacement at short notice. An e-mail notice did the rounds of the Brussels' networks and the applications came pouring in. And poured. And poured. Seven days later 755 had arrived. At one point close to the deadline the monitor screen was showing them arrive at a steady rate of one per minute.

Piles of CVs and cover letters were sorted by my team, who speedily eliminated all those who hadn't followed the advert instructions, whose English was poor, or who hadn't bothered to tailor their letters to reflect my interests, but that still left a few dozen excellent candidates to be trimmed to a shortlist by little more than subjective impressions. A few were mature and looking for a career change, but most were doing the rounds of internships in Brussels.

A day of interviews, a final choice made between outstanding people each offering a very different approach to the job, hours of dilemma and debate about which course to take, then one very nice phone call to make and a whole series of "with regret" e-mails to write.

The winner? A 24 year old French woman with degrees from both Lancaster and Manchester Universities in my region, a strong interest in environmental causes, and loads of personality.

Monday, 13 July 2009


I need someone high up in the European Commission to bang heads together, so I go to the top. On Thursday I write an e-mail requesting a discussion with Catherine Day, the Secretary-General of the European Commission, the Brussels’ bureaucrats’ Number One. I get a reply saying that she is tied up in meetings till late Friday.

Last thing I do before leaving my Stockport office at 5.30pm on Friday is to call her office. I can’t remember the number so I look it up on the European Commission website. There are half a dozen numbers listed under the ‘Secretariat General’ heading, and I dial the first. The telephone is quickly answered.

"Hello,” I say, “this is Chris Davies, I wonder if Catherine Day is available?" "This is Catherine Day," came the reply. “I’ve got your e-mail, but I shall have to make some enquiries before I can respond.” (I get a full reply a few days later).


I looked up a number on a website just as any person can, and within 60 seconds I was speaking directly to the most senior person in the European Commission administration. Of course I hit lucky, and maybe she was the last person left in the Berlaymont building on a Friday evening, but if that’s not a good example of openness and transparency in Brussels then I don’t know what is.

Here’s a challenge. Catherine Day’s opposite number in the UK is the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Gus O’Donnell, “Britain’s most senior civil servant”. Look up the number of his office and see how long it takes you to get through to speak to him!

Wednesday, 1 July 2009


The new leader of the Liberal Democrat (ALDE) Group in the European Parliament is a man formerly opposed by the UK Government for being too pro-European.

Guy Verhofstadt was prime minister of Belgium for 9 years and has 'European Federalist' stamped through him like the words on Blackpool rock.

When his name came up 5 years ago as a potential president of the European Commission the UK Government immediately shot it down.

Now he has been chosen by acclamation to lead the 84 Lib Dem MEPs and his words on day one confirmed all that we expected. "Europe is the solution not the problem." "I want people to know that when ALDE votes 'yes' to a measure it is good for Europe, and when we vote 'no' it is bad for Europe.

The British tabloid press will love him.