We were delighted to have Jesse Coleman, University of Manchester student shadowing us in the Brussels office last month. Read about Jesse's experience in our office and the European Parliament here -
"Julie Ward and her team (Eleanor, Julia, Omri, Trevor, and Jack) gave me a fantastic opportunity in letting me shadow her for a week in Brussels. I wanted to better understand the work an MEP, particularly a Labour MEP, does in the European Parliament.
I saw Julie standing up for her constituents by working on a range of issues. Some issues were more domestically focused, such as addressing light bulb legislation to protect one of her constituents with a rare light-sensitivity condition. There were issues that bridged the domestic and the international, such as a constituent who came to talk to with us in Brussels because of the impact Brexit was having on his business and his European employees’ lives. Julie also does a significant amount of work promoting international Human Rights. Much of this has been at her constituents' behest, as they have friends or relatives being persecuted abroad, and some of it has been as part of the EU’s relations with 'third countries' - External Action missions to maintain peace and promote democracy in places like Bosnia & Herzegovina.
Eleanor, Julia, and Omri gave me an insight into the specificities of the work in Brussels, as they took me through examples of the legislative and policy work an MEP does. I have studied the European Union at University, but having the team take me through their work enabled me to grasp the tangible difference an MEP can make, as well as the critical and detailed role the assistants play. Fortunately, the work of the European Parliament is remarkably transparent. I was introduced to www.mepranking.eu which gives detailed quantitative analysis of how MEPs perform their duties. Julie is ranked 3rd in the UK for most active MEP, and is the number one UK MEP for report amendments. Unsurprisingly, the rankings showed that UKIP MEPs perform lots of speeches, but do almost none of the work that helps British and European citizens.
Individual MEPs all have their different areas of focus, which is often determined by which committees they are in. Julie’s focus on working with activist groups and civil society made me appreciate what a unique role MEPs have in being able to listen and engage with these groups. This can either directly inform Julie’s work, or she can take these issues to the attention of the Commission, the Council or the Parliament.
Lobbying therefore plays a huge role in the European Parliament, which can be extremely good and necessary, but it can also be a huge concern. For example, Julie was part of a conference which discussed the problem of unseen domestic violence towards those with a disability. This is an important example of lobbying being able to inform a politician’s work. Julie, Omri, and I also attended a conference by Transparency International that highlighted the problems with lobbying, particularly the ‘revolving door’ between some MEPs, Commissioners, and lobbyists. The revolving door is a complex issue because often public affairs and negotiation are a politician’s area of expertise, and so it is natural that they may transition to this area in either the private, public, or charity sector. So, despite the issues surrounding lobbying, I was incredibly hopeful because the issue was gaining attention and was beginning to be addressed.
During my week, I sat in on the European Parliamentary Labour Party’s meeting with the General Secretary Iain McNicol. I sat in on a meeting of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists & Democrats, which is the European Parliament’s political group that Labour is a part of. In this meeting, I listened to the Leader of the Cypriot Democratic Party discuss the reunification of Cyprus, I made notes, and then created a briefing report for Julie on this issue. One of my week’s most interesting moments was watching a plenary session in which the European Union’s response to Trump’s ban on Muslims was debated. I watched as Nigel Farage attempted to lecture the European Parliament with his warped views on democracy, immigration, and his sycophantic approach to Donald Trump’s presidency. I was particularly proud to be Labour when I saw the MEP Seb Dance hold up the now infamous sign behind Farage that said,“He’s lying to you”. It was peaceful, memorable, and effective.
An almost surreal moment for me was directly after this debate, when I saw Farage walking through the Parliament building. I knew I was not going to be able to suddenly transform his world view by talking to him, but I thought that I would give it a shot. I went up and questioned him on immigration and the EU, and he gave his typical answers. Although he seemed at least a little floundered when I asked whether he felt he had the ability to speak honestly one-on-one with Trump. My impression is that he has become little more than a Trump cheerleader with delusions of grandeur.
In my final moments at the European Parliament I reflected on what I thought and felt about the Parliament. It is an incredibly diverse and beautiful place. That diversity does not lead to any loss of national identity; in fact, I had never felt more British. That diversity meant that there was tolerance, respect, and above all effective and progressive cooperation.
Thank you to Julie and Team Julie for giving me this opportunity and for making it so worthwhile and engaging."
The University of Manchester
BA (Hons) Politics & Philosophy