maandag 13 augustus 2012

European Parliament Assistents

Apart from political assistants and the secretariats MEP's are also helped by their own personal assistants.

It is difficult to overstate the importance of the assistents of members of the European Parliament. While it is ofcourse the members of the European Parliament who in the end are the decision makers, it is safe to say that without parliamentary assistant the whole legislative process in the EU would come to a screaching halt. Parliamentary assistants are the oil that makes the engine run smoothly. It is all the more strange that there is hardly any scholarly research done on the influence of MEP assistants on the legislative process.

So who are they?

MEP assistants tend to be relative young persons, sometimes taking up the assistantship as their first or second job after graduating from University. A lot of the times they have some affinity with Brussels as they have either a European Studies or political studies background. the University of Maastricht and the College of Europe seem to be the chief suppliers of assistants, even though no formal study can back this claim. A majority of them are members of the same party as their MEP, even though a significant number does not have a party membership but is picked for their merit, expertise and/or experience. In certain cases assistants have gone on to become MEP's as was the case with Sophia in t Veld and Emma McClarckin. Assistants are as a rule cheerfull, open personalities and very dedicated to their work. They do however seem in a constant stress because of the workload thrown at them by their MEP's. So don't be surprised if a assistant doesn't have time to chat when you meet them in Parliament, it is rarely something personal, rather their to bussy.

What do they do?

The role of Parliamentary assistants varies from MEP to MEP. Sometime there is a internal division between assistants; some act as policy advisors, while others do more logistics stuff like answering email, managing the MEP's agenda and welcoming groups. More often though assistants will do both. The extent to which a assistant is a policy advisor -or in extreme situation atually drafts policy- depends on various factors. The most important one is the MEP and to what extent to he entrusts the assistant with policy advice or even formulation. Besides that, there is some degree of competition with both the group political advisor and the committee secretariats when in comes to to assisting the MEP. Also, the role of the assistant will depend on his expertise, engagement and bond with the MEP. They are rarely given the task of drafting a whole rapport, as opposed to drafting amendments which they are often entrusted to do. In the end the work of a MEP assistants boils down to knowing what his MEP wants and making sure all initiatives are coherent with this.

How can assistants help you further your cause?

In the case of the MEP assistant, this question is formulated the wrong way. It should be the other way around; How can you help the assistant? Understanding this is vital to building a longstanding relationship with assistants. By assisting him with anything from information to thinking how certain press releasing can be distributed you can really help the assistant and save him/her time. As the guardian  of his MEP, an assistant will never do you a favor which is opposed to positions taken by his MEP. However you can remind assistants of similiar positions or actions taken in the past which become pressing or require new action. Helping the assistant to save time and consolidating the position of his MEP is the key to a meaningfull working relationship with MEP assistants. At any rate, always make sure you dont waste their time or do anything that jeopardises your working relationship with assistants, because most of the times you can forget about accessing the MEP as well. The Strasbourg week are excellent weeks to meet up with assistants that stay in Brussels. Normally, they are a bit less buissy and have time for a lunch (even though you wont be able to meet in Parliament premisses as brown badges are not allowed entrance during this week).

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