Probably the most important asset for work in the EU is networking to achieve what is required, which means building up a personal directory of contacts within the EU to achieve the demands of the job. In the Regional Policy Directorate, I was lucky enough to have a colleague who gave me some of her precious phone numbers without having to flounder around searching. Of course it made sense as I could take over some of her workload. All staff members were given daily a precis of information notices on the latest Commission proposals. Many binned them but I would always speed-read and study more carefully subjects of interest to me and it is amazing how much information I subconsciously accumulated.
London – again
In the London office some years later in Information and the library I manned the phones along with four other colleagues answering calls from members of the public. Normally their queries could be answered from memory or looking up answers from the files and posting out several copies of relevant documents on a myriad of subjects. I enjoyed contact with members of the Great British public, a costly service which was not always appreciated. The cases which stick in my mind are those when I could not assist.
One unusual call was from a well spoken ex-prisoner who held the mistaken common belief that the European Court of Human Rights is the same organisation as the Commission. Shocked, I sympathised and explained this as he told me of his abuse at the hands of prison guards which he wanted to pursue legally, so I advised him to contact Citizens Advice Bureau’s legal team in the first instance though I knew that there was little hope that he would be successful in his claim.
Once a student living outside London requested that I do her research involving posting out over a hundred photocopies which I had to refuse. She would have to make the work-intensive trip in person.
After the Chernobyl incident there was a ridiculous query from a father taking his family on holiday to Austria, which at that time was not a member of the EU, asking if it was safe to do so and the level of fallout. I referred him to the Austrian Embassy. At the time fallout was over Scandinavia with Sweden the first to become aware of the disaster and monitoring radiation, according to the press.
There were sweet calls from parents ignorant of classical music whose children has been tasked to discover the EU anthem. Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, 4th movement. One civil servant visiting the library told me about his imminent work trip to Newcastle upon Tyne which he dreaded as “it is a dump”. Feeling quite dismayed at his comments I explained that I am from there originally and was amused to hear his embarrassment and apologies.
Sadly we all regularly received menacing calls from Indians who were upset about the Common Agricultural Policy amongst other things. These really upset me and I had to hand over the phone to a kind male colleague who dealt with them politely but firmly.
A few years after my experiences in the Information department that office was closed to the public, presumably for reasons of economy.