What happened to the UK APAs?

When British MEPs left the European Parliament last January, what happened to their staff , who had dedicated years to learning the Parliament’s quirks and processes, asks Alex White.
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By Alex White

Alex White was an APA for two British MEPs and is now a communications consultant and journalist

26 Feb 2021

Last month, Politico reported that British former MEPs are taking on the Brussels bubble, using their specialist knowledge and contacts to lobby for consultancies and specific interests. But it isn’t only former MEPs that are making things happen in the European Parliament; it’s often the Accredited Parliamentary Assistants (APAs) who have the specific policy knowledge and the contacts needed to get things done.

The vast majority of former British MEPs’ APAs are now employed in EU affairs or in the UK government, continuing to use the experience they gleaned in the European Parliament. For most of them, the skills they picked up while working in the European Parliament have proved valuable to other employers.

“Being an APA probably has a maximum shelf life anyway, as you can’t really progress or grow beyond a certain point. And you’ll always be looking after a needy adult”

Connor Allen works in government affairs for Honda in Brussels, and he believes his inside experience helps him pitch policy positions. Robert Blackmore works for an EU intelligence provider and uses the knowledge he gained in the Parliament every day. Rob is still impressed at how the European Parliament “brings together multiple political families and national interests”, noting that “it is a Parliament like no other.”

Not all the APAs for British MEPs were British. In fact, British MEPs employed APAs from multiple countries. Anna Ferrari, an Italian now working for a German MEP, says she misses the Brits sometimes. “They weren’t just Eurocentric; they had an international eye for things.”

Not everyone agreed that having the phrase ‘APA’ on their CV was particularly helpful. One former staffer commented that “as an APA, you work long hours influencing policy, but many people still think it’s just bringing coffee to MEPs.”

Many of the APAs who worked for British MEPs stayed in the institutions. Some British staffers claimed second nationalities or received special derogations. This allowed them to stay on the institutions’ low tax regime.

One British former staffer, who now works at the Commission and preferred to remain anonymous, told The Parliament Magazine that he “paid Belgian tax once and no way was I going back to that.”

Perhaps the most common destination for former British APAs is the UK government. This applied across the political spectrum, including the S&D, ECR, Renew Europe and the Greens. Christian Garrard used his knowledge of State Aid policy to help the Competition and Markets Authority explore competition chapters in Free Trade Agreements. “Any experience in the EU institutions is valuable to certain government departments,” he said.

Lewis North works for a UK government regulator and felt that the skills of condensing complicated information and working under pressure are valuable, as is his unusual background. “I’m secretly a little bit proud that I have that ability to think in terms of a different legislative system.”

Carmen Smith, meanwhile, stayed in politics, and now coordinates parliamentary business for Plaid Cymru in the Welsh Parliament. She found her time in the European Parliament galvanising, feeling that “it spurred me on to take risks and to try new things.” But not all APAs stayed in the world of policy and politics.

The Coronavirus pandemic and lockdown made Faye Kent re-evaluate what she really wanted. She liked her MEP but realised that she never wanted to work in politics or policy again. She now commissions and sells art, but her time in the European Parliament wasn’t wasted; “I definitely picked up a lot of administrative and writing skills.”

“It’s often the Accredited Parliamentary Assistants (APAs) who have the specific policy knowledge and the contacts needed to get things done”

Sean Summerfield swapped his Parliament lanyard and badge for a wig and robe, now working as a criminal barrister in London. For Sean, the skills he picked up working for the British Labour Party in the Parliament were surprisingly useful. “I am frequently instructed to deal with clients accused of serious dishonesty offences,” said Sean; “Not too dissimilar, you may think, from having to deal on a daily basis with the Brexit fanatics of UKIP and the Tory Party.”

Overwhelmingly, the majority of the APAs missed the day-to-day experience of working in the European Parliament, citing the excitement of last-minute deals or the glamour of the Strasbourg train. Alex Keynes, Clean Vehicles Manager at Transport & Environment, misses his APA role, particularly because of the close relationship with his MEP.

However, he said that he wouldn’t go back. “Being an APA probably has a maximum shelf life anyway, as you can’t really progress or grow beyond a certain point. And you’ll always be looking after a needy adult.”

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