JCI Cosmopolis member Sofia Saarinen visited Brussels at the end of September and attended the JCI European Know-How Transfer. Below she tells about her experience.
What is JCI European Know-How Transfer?
JCI European Know-How Transfer is one of the great international opportunities organised by JCI Europe. It is a program that provides insights to European Union decision-making and functions of the European Parliament. The program takes place in Brussels, Belgium each year. In 2019 it took place on from 29th of September to 3rd of October.
How was it?
With the support from JCI Finland I was given the opportunity to take part in this year’s JCI European Know-How Transfer (EUKHT) with 40 other delegates from all around Europe. And I must say what an amazing experience it was! The program gave me so much in terms of deepening my understanding of the functions and daily work of the European Union, in particular European Parliament and the work of a Member of the European Parliament (MEP). Above all I met all those amazing people, who made my trip in Brussels unforgettable.
What were your expectations for the EUKHT?
When I applied for the EUKHT I expected to expand my international network, to learn more of the work of the European Union and gain deeper understanding of the processes and the work of MEPs in practice and in the specific committees. I wanted to learn what kind of different aspects the work of MEP can include and how to adapt a proper knowledge base for each meeting, does a specific educational background help you to adapt, how the daily work is managed and how MEP selects the specifics committees and is involved in their operations.
Was it easy to find a MEP to shadow for the visit?
I found that selecting and contacting the MEPs was one of the challenges of the program, however I also think it was a good learning experience. My method of choosing which MEPs to contact was according to which committees they were involved in. I was particularly interested in the International Trade (INTA) and Legal Affairs (JURI) committees. What you have to understand is that MEPs have tight schedules and it is likely that your request may wait in the mailbox for a week or two. It is also likely they do not know of their schedules until very close to the event. I concluded I have to be patient. And in case you have problems in contacting MEPs, you can always ask help from the EUKHT program coordinator. After the MEP was confirmed, selection of flights and accommodation required much less effort.
What was your schedule like?
On Sunday, the first day of the program the participating JCI delegates got important orientation and introductory presentations and workshops to prepare all of us for the coming three days at the European Parliament and the meeting of their personal MEPs. As each delegate was in charge of arranging the possibility to shadow a MEP for the rest of the three days of the program, all of us had a unique schedule for those days. Thus, the orientation day and the following day with the visit to the European Commission, were the only part of the program together with all the participating delegates. However, during the evenings we had different networking events, a panel and workshop hosted by JCI Germany and the visit to the Embassy of Estonia for a reception hosted by JCI Belgium.
On Tuesday morning it was time for the European Parliament. We were welcomed by the Romanian MEP Siegfried Muresan, before we were picked up by the offices of our personal MEP. I had the pleasure of shadowing German MEP Tiemo Wölken, a member of the Social Democratic Party. We both had similarities in our educational backgrounds, and he is a member of the JURI committee as I had hoped for. The rest of the Tuesday was stacked with lobbyist meetings and a commissioner hearing. It was fascinating to see how different lobbyist presented their “cases” and how they had different presentation styles. It was also a learning point for me in terms of language. All the lobbyist meetings were in German. Surprisingly enough I was still able to understand what was presented, picking up the different styles of the lobbyists. I learned tips how to take more out of a short presentation time, in this case each meeting was 30min, and how to present your case in concise and clear manner. Do’s and Don’ts so to say.
Wednesday and Thursday consisted mainly of the commissioner hearings with different focus points according to what committees and matters the commissioners would work with in the future, if elected. MEPs call this time as ”grilling” as they have possibility to question the commissioner-designates on points of concerns. Overall the workload and the amount of information flowing through the offices of MEPs felt overwhelming. Assistants were constantly receiving phone calls, going through documents, replying and writing emails. MEPs themselves had quite tight minute schedules and very little time to focus on any one thing at a time. However, the atmosphere was warm and welcoming. Everyone still had fun together, discussing work related matters, enjoying as the schedules flew by.
What are your takeaways from the visit?
The week of the program was special as it was the time of the commissioner hearings. Those happen only every 5 years. This is why my wish to further see the work of the special committees did not quite go according to plan. Most of the committee meetings were rescheduled because of the hearings. Based on my experiences I can say the program did answer to my expectations from all the other aspects. I learned a lot more than I had expected to, except for the wish to see the committee work in action. However, having that week for the program gave a unique insight not usually available for the program participants.
Overall, I have gained a deeper level of understanding of the whole. The experience has been valuable, being able to see and experience myself rather than read from the books has helped to connect the pieces that previously seemed unconnected. I have learned time management and organisational skills, how to present and process the information, how to fit everything in the schedule, prioritisation and in-depth knowledge on different matters. I believe these skills will be used in a wider scale in the coming year. Most of all I will be able to share this personal experience and spread the awareness of the EUKHT and my experiences.