Tips and tricks for MEP assistants
As the new crop of MEP assistants prepare to become indispensable assets to Parliament’s elected deputies, voices of experience have offered vital advice on how to navigate the political and bureaucratic maze, reports Lorna Hutchinson
These were some of the key pieces of advice given to fresh-faced MEP assistants at a recent event organised by Aviva, one of the EU’s largest insurers, in collaboration with The Parliament Magazine.
Aviva has recently published a report on Sustainable Finance, entitled the “Sustainability Union.”
Opening the event, The Parliament Magazine Managing Editor Brian Johnson highlighted the increasing recognition of MEP assistants, adding that, as a sign of appreciation, next year’s Parliament Magazine MEP Awards will include a new award category for outstanding MEP assistants.
“Now, more than ever, people realise the vast amount of work done by assistants, putting together information for their MEPs and working on reports. It’s an incredible job. We also find that assistants are increasingly the gatekeepers,” he added.
Thomas Thaler, a veteran MEP assistant who has previously worked for MEPs including Paul Rübig and now assists Austrian deputies Lukas Mandl and Karoline Edtstadler, said that as an assistant it was very important to get to know the MEP’s personality and to become a filter for their information flow.
“You should work out what his or her political priorities are, in order to be a good gatekeeper. It’s important to give [your MEP] access to information that’s relevant to their work and block information that you deem unhelpful.”
“You have to develop a kind of feeling of what the MEPs want to have before they tell you,” he added. Thaler underlined the importance of networking, saying, “there are many smart people out there with expertise and you need to know how to get to this expertise.”
“You have to know the right stakeholders, you should reach out to them, and then you have to give your MEP advice on who to meet and who to reach out to.”
"Politics is all about compromise and agreements and majorities can sometimes be found in strange places, so be careful not to write off certain people or certain groups" Anna Davreux, Policy Advisor
He noted that networking with stakeholders should not be confined to outside the European Parliament, but also within, adding, “Challenge yourself, challenge your own ideas, get to know other assistants, get to know other policy advisors and really listen to the opinions of others so that you can really understand each other.”
Echoing many of Thaler’s tips, Policy Advisor Anna Davreux, who has also worked as an MEP assistant during her 13-year career at the European Parliament, highlighted the importance of attending meetings.
“Presence is key. You need to understand the dynamics when you’re working on a legislative report and understand where everyone else is coming from. You also gain respect if you’ve attended and you’ve been seen as an active member of the team.”
Davreux pointed out the dangers of the voting list, saying, “You’ve got to go through every amendment, you’ve got to check, check and check again.”
“You’ve got to get the political approval. You must make sure that everything you do has the political cover from those elected members for whom you are working.”
She also warned against making assumptions, saying, “Politics is all about compromise and agreements, and majorities can sometimes be found in strange places, so be careful not to write off certain people or certain groups. Talk to everybody and see where the majority can be found.”
In the same vein, Davreux said it was vital to forge good contacts with the other European institutions - the Commission, the Council, the technical experts and lobbyists – and above all, to stay calm and be nice.
"Aviva has significant expertise that we are willing to share to help address the common challenges we all face" Suresh Weerasinghe, Head of EU Public Policy at Aviva
“It helps the process hugely if you can carry out your role in a civilised manner. You need to rely on others to get your job done, so you need to be nice to everybody. Be someone that people want to work with.”
Newly-elected Lithuanian S&D MEP Juozas Olekas said he was first elected to office in the former Soviet Union in 1989, and that what he achieved as a politician was in large part due to the hard work of his assistants.
He said, jokingly, it’s important to have assistants “who are smarter than you are,” adding, “you are a very important part of our family – without you we are very weak.”
Closing the event, Suresh Weerasinghe, Head of EU Public Policy at Aviva, said that the company was looking forward to playing a positive and constructive role in the development of EU policy under the new mandate, adding that “Aviva has significant expertise that we are willing to share to help address the common challenges we all face.”
Aviva’s expertise spans numerous areas, including insurance, pensions, savings and retirement, asset management and more. Weerasinghe also invited new MEP assistants to contact the company for background information or briefings on “the matters where we are experts.”
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