Susannah Savage, Columnist @Swizz677
Trainees are very unlikely to actually be employed by the European Commission. It would be far too simple if you completed a training period during which you proved yourself not to be an imbecile and were offered a job. No, you need to be brutally examined just to be one of the privileged few who can apply for Commission jobs when they come up, once a decade or thereabouts.
With a few public sector exceptions, Brussels is where meritocracy comes to die. And it takes its last breath in the naïve hopes of trainees.
No one wastes any time letting us know that we are here to network. Such importance is placed on this I suspect there may be a strategic memo somewhere entitled ‘Combatting Youth Unemployment in the EU: the Art of Networking’.
Naturally then, one of our first ‘training sessions’ is on ‘how to network and get ahead in Brussels’. A couple of hundred trainees amass and gear up to out note-take each other, fuelled by the desperation that comes with being of the post-economic crisis generation. The ‘established networking consultant’, a plump ageing German man, is then wheeled out and enlightens us with helpful tips such as, ‘walk in the middle of the corridor’, ‘don’t slouch’, ‘project your voice’, and most importantly, ‘go to as many parties and meet as many people as possible’.
But of course, we cannot simply ‘meet’ people; there is a technique to ‘meeting’, he tells us. We have to include interesting facts about ourselves in our introduction, such as our hobbies or our nationality, if its exotic- his example of an exotic nationality is Finnish. Thus you would say:
“Hello, nice to meet you. I’m a semi-professional gymnast from Finland”.
And then if all goes well and conversation runs smoothly, which one can only imagine it would after such an introduction, send a follow up email the next day with yet more interesting facts:
“Hello, remember me? The Finnish semi-professional gymnast? I just wanted to let you know I also have a Masters in origami.”
Finally, he reveals his ultimate secret to getting a job in Brussels: hang around the European Parliament as much as you possibly can because “that is where all the socialising is done and where all the best parties are” – an ode to eurosceptics everywhere.
In Brussels, what counts for getting ahead might not be so much who your Daddy knows anymore, but it’s quite likely to be with whom (or, for the most successful networkers, with which MEP) you did shots last week.
I would say that pretty girls have an advantage, given that many of the sacred employers are middle- aged men. But aside from Gwyneth Paltrow and Claudia Schiffer look-a-likes, all you really need for networking success is lashings of immodesty and brashness: attributes many Continentals possess in abundance, but that amongst the British are mostly limited to Boris Johnson and Spencer Matthews from Made in Chelsea.
Frustrated by my British fear of blowing my own trumpet my Continental colleagues and friends step in. They propel me forward shouting out my credentials, achievements, waist and bust measurements like Mrs Bennett in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. The window to impress, however, is often too short and my suitor moves on to one of my more ruthless competitors before I can blurt out:
“My name is Susannah. I’m from the exotic isles of Britain. I used to have interesting hobbies to tell you about, but I gave them all up to write job applications and go to parties in the Parliament.”
A better strategy for helping Europe’s 5.4 million unemployed young people is clearly needed.