Talking about Europe in the UK

Sat here at an event about the European Regional Development Fund in London, almost a month into the new job, and looking at my Twitter feed, it occurs to me that there are so many people in the UK who are working on letting people know about opportunities in Europe. Some are very local, some national, some sector specific, some very general. I wonder, though, whether they all know about each other. I had a call from someone in the European Movement the other day who wanted to find out what a Europe Direct Centre was. So I thought it could be an idea to get them all together in one place, get them to talk to each other, maybe develop new partnerships. Any thoughts?

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Ageing across Europe

You may not know this, but 2012 will be the European Year of Active Ageing.  The official title, in the way of these things, is European Year for Active Ageing and Solidarity Between Generations, which is not only clunky, but hits one of my syntactical bugbears, the difference between “between” and “among”. I think there is more than one generation around at the moment. No matter…

We are hosting a series of events at the party conferences on what European Years can achieve and Age UK are talking part. So a recent publication of theirs, Grey Matters – A Survey of Ageism Across Europe, came to may attention. It’s worth a look. Some of the things that leapt out at me were:

  • the UK has the earliest perception of all EU countries of when old age starts, thinking being over 59 makes you old. Of all European Social Survey countries, only Turkey had an earlier perceived start of old age at 55. The average was 62, and in Greece, you’re not considered old until you’re over 68!
  • people in the UK don’t seem particularly worried about preference being given to people in their 20s, hovering about 50%. The least worried about this are the Norwegians and the most, perhaps counter-intuitively are the Finns.
  • The UK has one of the highest rates of belief that ageism is a serious problem and one of the lowest rates of believing that it does not exist. Turkey (where, you will remember, you are considered old after 55) is the only country where the levels of people thinking ageism doesn’t exist outnumbered those thinking it was a serious problem.

It’s a good issue for a European Year, I think, where there’s a lot of European involvement in lots of different ways, and there are strong voices in the UK that are working to achieve the same aims, so I hope it will be a good campaign next year. My greatest hope is that the “intergenerational solidarity” issue doesn’t get lost behind active ageing. Breaking down attitudes about “young people” and “old people” is a key element to tackling ageism, either at work or in society.

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The intern experience

We sometimes have work experience interns working in the office here. I know there is a lot of talk about interns, but I think that the European Commission manages it quite well. Outside the graduate intern scheme, which is open to all and paid, we are allowed to take short-term unpaid interns. However, their time here is limited to 3 months and they have to be registered students who can demonstrate that the internship is going to help them in their studies. We have had several who worked just a few hours a week alongside their studies, but for them it was valuable workplace experience. Our latest was Cristina Leon Barbadillo , who has written a guest post on her experiences here over the last month:

Within all that the international aspects of law have to offer, especially after having studied EU Law, I knew that, despite the possible limitation of sticking to a particular area (the EU), it was of greater interest to me than any other. I believe in the EU, in how much it benefits its members and also helps other areas, of how unity is always a better option.

 We sometimes don’t understand the functioning of things, of institutions in this case or, even if we think we do, it’s not until we get to see them from the inside that we properly get to know how they work and how much they do. I certainly wanted to be, in whichever way possible, part of the EU’s institutions, and combining such participation with living in a city that makes me feel at home, seemed like the perfect chance.

 Shortly after enquiring about the possibility of doing an internship at the European Commission’s Representation in the UK and sending my CV, I received a positive reply, offering me to be a trainee at the office for five weeks. I felt (and still feel) incredibly lucky for the chance I was given. It was time to see the EU internally, to have some work experience and to help me have a clearer idea of where I wanted to take my future career.

 I arrived to London in mid-August, a city that I know well and which never disappoints me. My first day at the office was my initial contact with the European Commission: meeting new people, getting used to being in an office, understanding the dynamics of it, finding out where everything was… I hadn’t truly known what to expect, but it turned out to be a fantastic first day. Everyone made me feel welcome, and they would keep on doing so throughout my time here.

One of the things I’ve most appreciated and enjoyed has been the variety of activities I’ve been involved in, having worked with other departments besides Media. I prepared a presentation for the Head of Media, I followed the news closely every day, analysed meetings and current affairs situations, helped with the organisation for the Thames Festival and the upcoming European Day of Languages, as well as, of course, the more personal aspects of every day life at the office, meeting new colleagues, being with a ‘usual crowd’ at lunchtime.

 The Thames Festival took place this past weekend, on the 10th and 11th September. Being at this event for the first time, having the chance to participate with the EC Representation, was a wonderful opportunity. There were people challenging their friends and families to our EU knowledge quiz, others taking publications to truly inform themselves on the importance of the EU and, of course, many children who I’m sure had a fantastic time. Despite the supposed unpopularity of the EU in the UK, I was quite surprised by (and pleased to see) the number of people our stall attracted and the interest shown by our visitors.

Over the past few days, people have been asking me about my departure and whether I was looking forward to going back home and getting on with my course after five weeks here. As much as I do miss my family, my friends, my homeland after all, everyone at the European Commission office in London has made me feel like I fitted in, they have treated me incredibly well and have sent me really interesting tasks, leaving me with the sensation that I was being taken seriously despite just being a student about to go onto her third year at university.

I don’t know where my future will take me, whether I’ll be lucky enough to return to this office but, at least, I will have been grateful for my magnificent time here and for all that I have learned. What I am sure of, however, is that, somehow, I would very much like to contribute to the evolution of the EU. Whether it is within the EU institutions or not, I would highly recommend anyone to gain some work experience during their studies. If, however, you are interested in the European Union, the EC Representation in the UK office in London would be an excellent place to start and where you will definitely feel welcome at all times.

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Heading out to the country

I spent several days last week out of the office, which is going to be the great bit about the new job (getting out there and meeting real people, that is, rather than not being in the office…!)

I started in Durham, speaking at an event on Europe in My Region, hosted by the Europe Direct there. It was very interesting talking to people who are actually implementing programmes using EU funds, mainly from the European Regional Development Fund and European Social Fund, though also the Science and Research Framework Programme and the Competitiveness and Innovation Programme. The problems seem to be (unsurprisingly) finding the match funding, especially as potential government programmes that could provide match funding have different entry criteria. One woman even raised a problem I had never heard – that big companies were having trouble accessing ERDF funds. In all the years I’ve worked with EU funding programmes, I have never heard any complaint about big companies!

The next day I was in Leeds visiting our Europe Direct Centre there, as I am now responsible for the overall management of the Europe Direct Centres in the UK. It was a real eye-opener. I have been in touch with them quite a bit as they’re very up on the whole social media thing. But I was really impressed with how integrated they are with the general Leeds Library Service and how they have managed to create a lot of demand for their services, through roadshows in branch libraries, connections with schools and getting out and about at public events. I also met the guy dealing with volunteering at the City Council and the head of the Volunteer Centre Leeds, as they have done loads of work around the European Year of Volunteering. It’s good news that they are hoping to be in London for the European Year of Volunteering Tour later in the year.

The final stop on my trip was Coventry, to speak at an event on Zero Waste. Do you have any idea how interesting waste policy is? And how important? The event went from the political/administrative, like Caroline Spelman and to a much lesser extent me, the people dealing with it, such as Biffa, EOn and Severn Trent Water and then zero waste campaigners. I went to the workshop on local authorities and it was impressive how passionate people get about their local waste policy. A real learning process – and I’ll be much more careful with my household waste as a result!

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Goodbye media, hello communication

As of tomorrow, my role in this office will change. I will no longer be the head of media, dealing with the press, TV, radio, agencies and online journalists that I have dealt with in the last 3 and a bit years. Instead I will be responsible for our publications, websites and digitial media, relations with NGOs and the voluntary sector, foreign languages, information networks and parts of England outside London. I hope this new post will give me a bit more time (and, to be honest, some renewed enthusiasm) for this blog. Time will tell…

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2nd day of multilingual blogging

After we all had so much fun with it last year, who’s up for a 2nd Day of Multilingual Blogging? Again, the date would be 26 September and the idea would be to write your blog in a language you don’t usually use. For some this might mean writing it in their native language because they usually blog in another, or for those like me that are lucky to blog in their native language, we’ll write in another one. Being able to communicate in more than one language is a joy and a privilege and we should celebrate it for at least one day a year!

Sign up below if you’re interested or on the Facebook page for the event,  and spread the word on Twitter with the #babel2 hashtag.

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Do you know an active citizen?

Volonteurope, which promotes voluntary action throughout the EU as a mechanism for Active European Citizenship, has announced that nominations are open for its 2011 Active Citizens of Europe award. Of course this has extra resonance in this, the European Year of Volunteering.

They say:

We are looking for nominations from across Europe for individual volunteers, NGOs and corporate organisations with great CSR programmes, who have proved to be outstanding pioneers and ambassadors for voluntary action and Active Citizenship.

You can download the nomination form here: ACE 2011 Nomination Form

 

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