You are a Eurocrat, Harry

While everybody else was thinking of becoming an astronaut or a princess, a trainee, as a child, had only one dream: “Working in the European Institutions”. And they never gave it up! They sent their cv, they filled in creative motivation letters, they learned to use the ugly ECAS website, they got rejected over and over again; until, one bright day, they passed the first and second shortlisting process, they were successful in the DG interview and finally were green-lighted to move to Brussels.

Little Yoda as trainee
“Adventure, excitement. A Eurocrat craves not these things.” The Union Strikes Back (1980)

There are three main types of trainees (or stagiaire if you want to dive deep into the EU jargon):

  • Blue Book Trainees, working at the European Commission
  • Schuman Trainees, working at the European Parliament
  • GSC trainees, working at the Council.

A fourth, infamous category, are the stagiaires atypiques, who are not paid and work only a few weeks, respecting an old heritage, probably dating back to the time of the pyramids, as explained by the Commission: “Unpaid internships were not invented by us. It is a tradition for several international organizations like the United Nations”.

Trainees enjoying a trip after the traineeship
To be fair, trainees are well paid in the institutions

To be fair, the traineeship is well paid, considering you are supposed to be coached towards professional maturity. That doesn’t mean you can drink champagne at Plux every day, but what you get is more than Southern Europeans’ entry-level salaries.

Trainees usually have better CVs and competences than 80% of the MEPs: they speak at least six languages, they hold prestigious academic degrees, they founded start-ups, volunteered in third-world countries and even went to the College of Europe. As such, in the weeks before starting their job, they expect to be welcomed by the President of the Commission, have lunch breaks with senior functionaries and romantic dates with Ursula von der Leyen or Frans Timmermans.

When a trainee speaks up their mindAccording to DG MEME statistics this is rarely the case (though reading the official testimonial page you might think otherwise). Most trainees end up doing demeaning jobs or nothing at all (which some might see as a preparation for senior officials’ tasks). “It’s nobody’s fault: the institution is too big and unpredictable, so planning tasks a few months ahead is virtually impossible”, explained the Head of Unit for Economical Foresight.

Nevertheless there are many positive sides to being a trainee: one can hang out at the coffee machine, attend political meetings and get an insight into the functioning of this giant administrative and political machine. Socializing with fellow trainees, who are often remarkable people, is also an important activity. And you might still strike it lucky and end up in a Unit where your job is appreciated. Or take the lift with the President of the European Central Bank (true story).

Don’t forget that even Margrethe Vestager, Commissioner for Competition and Digital Age, also started as a stagiaire. A vestagiaire, to be precise.

When you connect the printer cable to a senior colleagueThere is one other special breed of trainees, or so they believe: cabinet or presidential trainees that work directly with the stars. As they are so close to power, they shine of reflected lights, more or less like a mirror hit by the moon light. Because of that they soon develop their own specific jargon:

  • “The policy I wrote” means “The policy I made copies of”
  • “Frans and I had lunch together” means “They ate in the same room where Timmermans ate, but at different times”
  • “Do you want to ask me anything about my job?” means “I am a trainee and I do trainee stuff but in a fancier building”

When you find out the inconvenient truthIn any case, don’t forget that the EU is not only Brussels! Some trainees, after a short briefing in the Belgian capital, are dislocated (deported?) to far away places: Representations in the Member States, Luxembourg or even outside of the map: Strasbourg. You can recognize them easily because they don’t react to the word “networking” and consider Belgian beer cheap.

Useless to mention it, trainees at DG MEME are the happiest in Brussels