Tuesday, 16 October 2012

An MEP's life?

Since starting my new life as an MEP I have been asked by both family (including my 7 year old niece!) and friends just what it all involves. It therefore seemed timely to write a piece about my life as an MEP.

Firstly, I have quickly learnt that there is no such thing as a typical day.   Secondly, there are many misunderstandings about the life of an MEP. It does not, for example, mean that I have moved back to Brussels.  Typically I’m there 8 to 10 days a month. 

It is also not the case that I am now well acquainted with Business class on British Airways.  I became an MEP 6 months ago and I'm yet to fly in the line of duty! I travel, like other MEPs from the north, from home to Brussels (5 hours, 2 trains) and Strasbourg (8 hours, 3 trains) taking advantage of high speed rail travel. Not only is this less damaging to the environment, but I find it a less stressful and more productive way to travel. 

Being an MEP is a job of two halves; working both in your region and the parliament. There is thus always the need to balance the demands of both sides of the role.

Given the nature of the work, and the long hours involved, none of my work could be possible without support, and I have an excellent team in both the region (Angela, an office manager/caseworker and Mike, a communications officer) and Brussels (Sam who manages the Brussels diary and helps me with environment committee work and Marzena (Maz) who supports me on the legal affairs committee). There is also currently Daniel, a recent graduate from North Yorkshire who has a 6 month (paid) internship.

So what exactly does an MEP do? 

The work in the region includes dealing with casework from constituents – such as assistance to apply for EU funding, or supporting local community groups.  It involves meeting and supporting regional businesses, trade bodies and interest groups.  I have also attended and spoken at community and business events.  There is also the media work, promoting my work or that of the party in the region.  I am also keen to work alongside fellow Liberal Democrats on their campaigns.

In parliament my committee work has seen me take a lead on a number of key issues.  These have varied from cross border health issues, dealing with flooding and supporting the effort to make big business more transparent about their tax affairs.  This is with the added complication of having the meetings occasionally timetabled at the same time and meaning I have to fly (not literally!) from one to the other.

There is also a lot of group work, both within the Liberal Democrat group and across the wider Liberal group for Europe, known as the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe – ALDE.  This is important, particularly for agreeing common positions before we go into committee.

Just as in the region, in Brussels too I will often meet with business or other groups or attend breakfast meetings, working lunches or seminars.  These can be any time of the day, from first thing in the morning to last thing at night.   There are also groups who will come to me to lobby on behalf of a particular cause or campaign.

Contrary to popular belief, money/big business does not always win the lobbying game. In September, the Legal Affairs Committee voted in favour of requiring multinational companies to disclose their payments to governments on a global basis, thus taking a position advocated by Non-Governmental Organisations like Oxfam and Publish What You Pay, rather than the view of large oil and mining companies.

An MEP's schedule does require a lot of moving around. I can travel as frequently as every 4 days, so I have become an expert in packing light! I spend 8-10 days a month in Brussels, 4 days per month in Strasbourg (a ridiculous situation which I hope will end soon, see www.singleseat.eu for more info) and the rest of the time (15 or so days) in the region.

When i am in the region, I work pretty much standard working hours either in my Hull office or at home in Leeds, although I do regularly have evening and weekend engagements. When I am in the Parliament (in Brussels or Strasbourg), days tend to be long; they can start as early as 0745 and go on until 1900 or 2000. My Brussels staff do their best to make sure that my time is well used, so my diary can be a bit jam packed sometimes.

As you can see it's a very varied and usually very interesting role.  It means working all hours, depending on the demands of the time.  It is certainly rather difficult to get bored. I also get to see many parts of the region that I perhaps would not visit otherwise and to meet people from all walks of life with a point to make (even if I don't always agree with them!).

So for those people who wonder what an MEP does, the answer is not straightforward and depends on just what part of the continent they are in at the time.  Hopefully, however, this sheds a little light on the matter!

For more information on how the European Parliament works, visit http://europa.eu/about-eu/institutions-bodies/european-parliament/index_en.htm

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