I originally joined the UK civil service through the European Fast Stream a year after leaving Oxford University. I’d been interested in European issues for some time and wanted to work in Public Affairs so it seemed the logical next step. I wanted something that would allow me to do a wide a variety of jobs and not box me into one area of specialism.
I initially joined the Department for Transport in 2002 and since then have moved around loads. I studied and worked in France for a year at the Ecole Nationale d’Administration which is the training school for French senior civil servants. I then came back to London at an exciting time to work in the Cabinet Office’s European team running the UK’s 2005 Presidency of the EU. I then worked briefly for Peter Mandelson in his “Cabinet” (private office) when he was still a Commissioner, before joining the UK Representation to the EU where I was First Secretary for Employment and Social Affairs. I was lucky to be involved in some politically sensitive and difficult negotiations – for example on rights for agency workers and how many hours you can work a week. I moved just over two years ago to the Commission’s press service, first to be a spokesperson for the Commissioner for employment and social affairs, then in the President’s team and I’m now the spokesperson for the French Commissioner, Michel Barnier, who is responsible for the internal market and the reform of financial services and dubbed by the Telegraph when appointed as “the most dangerous man in Europe ” …!
The biggest opportunity my career has given me is the ability to do a wide variety of jobs: I’ve been able to work on many different issues from employment to the Irish referendum campaign on the Lisbon Treaty or right now on new regulations to cap bankers’ bonuses. I’ve also developed different skills such as strong negotiation skills in the UK Representation (UKREP) and media and communication skills in the Commission’s press service. I’ve moved around departments, I’ve moved countries and changed subject areas. It’s that variety which has made my last 8 years fun and a great learning experience.
I’m really enjoying my current job which is not one I could really do in the British Civil Service. My job is to speak on behalf of the Commission to the media. In the UK, there are press secretaries but they are more constrained and can’t, for example, do live TV and radio – that’s left to politicians, whereas I have that opportunity. My day consists of talking to journalists from UK press such as The Guardian or The Telegraph, but also press services from across Europe. Every day, we have a press conference where I can present the issues of the day or answer questions from journalists live if they’re in my portfolio. I also manage all the press activities of my boss – from chairing his press conferences, to writing articles, preparing him for interviews or writing press releases. It’s all a great opportunity.
If you’re interested in public affairs and enjoy a multicultural environment, then I would say consider applying for the EU recruitment competition known as the concours. Don’t worry about language skills too much, because you can always pick that up on the way and perfect it. I think what’s more important is the willingness to move around, embrace variety, adapt to change and want to work with different cultures and nationalities.