As a student of European Studies, I’ve dreamt of seeing the European Parliament from the inside for a long time. The fact that my long-planned internship took place in June and July this year, when MEPs voted for Ukraine's candidate status and the Czech Presidency of the Council of the EU began, meant that even summer months were full of tasks, events, and impressions that I would like to share here.
If an MEP takes his or her mandate seriously, which is the case for the vast majority of them, it means a workload that not only exceeds the strength of the individual, but requires the full involvement of a team of assistants in Brussels and the local constituency. Having seen how the pace of work in the European Parliament requires MEPs and assistants to work late into the evenings, nights and sometimes weekends, it is painful for me to hear that 'MEPs do nothing' - a view that I am sure you have encountered more than once in the Czech Republic.
So what do MEPs actually do? They are part of committees based on their areas of interest, in which they usually build on a wealth of professional experience. For example, MEP Michaela Šojdrová, in whose office I did my internship, is a member of the Committee on Agriculture and the Committee on Culture and Education. I attended sessions of both committees to listen and take notes and therefore learned about a wide range of topics, from the most pressing ones, such as how to export grain from Ukraine and whether it is possible to reopen Erasmus to the UK, to topics that are important in the medium and long term, such as sustainable aviation fuels or pesticides. Committee meetings often last over three hours with an agenda full of diverse topics and guests - experts from the European Commission or other organisations, for example the Executive Director of the UN World Food Programme who visited the Committee on Agriculture. All Members then have the opportunity to ask questions and debate, as well as to voice their own proposals. In the first week of July, the ministers of the Czech Republic were also invited to the committees to present the priorities of the Czech Presidency to other countries (you can read more about them here: Priorities (europa.eu)).
In addition to attending committees, MEPs also communicate with their political group in the Parliament, where they among other tasks coordinate how they will vote. Naturally, MEPs then vote according to their own consciences to best represent their constituents. An MEP has to take into account the interest of their home country and therefore communicates with diplomats from the Permanent Representation to the EU and the ministries. At the same time, when voting, (s)he should follow the line of both the European party to which (s)he belongs and the national party (the last two points, or ideally all three, should overlap).
A great asset is the team of professional interpreters who ensure that all Members can speak and listen to the contributions of others in their own language, which is particularly useful because of the many technical terms in the bills under discussion. This does not mean, of course, that foreign languages are not used, on the contrary: when negotiating with colleagues informally, English or French is essential.
Beyond their legislative work, MEPs can organise events to showcase their country and they have a busy calendar of events and debates in their local constituencies and in the media. In our team, during my internship, we organised for example a screening of the film Comenius including a discussion with the director, then an event to remind and raise awareness of children's rights violations in Ukraine, and also a visit of a Czech group to Brussels.
Thanks to the Czech Presidency of the Council of the EU, Brussels came alive with Czech events, and I attended the opening of an exhibition of Czech art in the Parliament or an exhibition commemorating the 200th anniversary of the birth of G. J. Mendel in a nearby square. My favourite event, which literally kicked off the Czech Presidency, was a run at Brussels' Trois Tilleuls stadium, where Emil Zátopek ran a world record 10 km in 1954. We ran in pairs not only so that we could run only five kilometres, but mainly because Zátopek had a French running mate, Alain Mimoun, and the Czech Presidency symbolically took over the baton from France.
In addition to Zátopek's run, the Czech Presidency was also opened by a speech by Prime Minister Petr Fiala in Strasbourg, to which the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, responded by saying that she could not think of a better country to preside over Europe now that it is helping Ukraine. I am therefore leaving Brussels proud of the Czech Republic and of Europe, despite all their shortcomings, and I certainly do not regret the two months I have spent here.
Finally, if you are still interested in what is going on in Parliament, you can find both live and recorded debates online, as well as background material translated into all EU languages. However, I am grateful especially for the opportunity to get behind the scenes of parliamentary debates and for the friendliness and openness of my MEP's team. Fingers crossed for the Czech Republic and all those involved with the Presidency!
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