Intern Spotlight II: Dilia Zwart, European Parliament Intern

Hello everyone, This summer I was an intern in the European Parliament (EP) for Monica Macovei, a Romanian Member of the European Parliament (MEP) of the centre-right political party the EPP. The EP is situated in Brussels, Belgium where I rented a little house with a garden and chickens and charming housemates.

Truly, these past two months have been enriching and enlightening as I got to figure out how the European Union (EU) is put together and got hands-on experience on European enlargement and human rights issues, both of which are keen interests of mine.

My reasons for choosing this internship:

I have grown up in between two very different regions and cultures my entire life; with a Dutch heritage I grew up in Arizona and now attend Harvard College. I love to travel and experience new cities through the local people and the language and when I learned about internship opportunities in the EP, I knew this could bring together my European identity with my desire to know more about how Europe relates to the rest of the world. Since childhood, I have been passionate about community service and human rights. I also thought it would be fascinating to gain a new perspective on Europe, from the Romanian angle.

Preparation:

During the academic year, I took classes concerning economics, human rights, and government on Eastern and Central European Capitalism and Democracy to prepare me for this internship, so as to learn more about some of the other issues Ms. Macovei fights for–anti-corruption, democracy, and rule of law.

Internship logistics:

The internship started in mid May, just days after I finished final exams. Right away it became apparent that I would be taken seriously and that I would have most of the same responsibilities as the assistants.

I met the three other assistants and the other intern; we were given a quick tour of the vast EP building (some claim it looks like a cheese box) and became familiar with our individual responsibilities over lunch. I was to shadow the assistant who specializes in Foreign Affairs and the Eastern Partnership, Neighbourhood, and Enlargement. This means I was to attend all meetings concerning these topics and follow the debates by taking scrupulous notes and presenting them to the rest of the office.

My tasks included: researching topics to make sure we were always up to date on current events, writing explanations of vote, oral explanations, editing articles, going to conferences, and taking care of important letters and parcels. These kept me busy from nine or ten in the morning until well after six in the evening, even as late as ten or eleven p.m.

A day in the life:

A typical day depends on the week. EP sessions rotate on a weekly basis during one month; one week will consist of political group meetings, two of the weeks for parliamentary/committee/inter-parliamentary delegation meetings, and a four-day part-session in Strasbourg called the plenary.

The EU vocabulary and setup can be a little confusing and complex, so I will do my best to be clear. During the political group week, each political party (there are seven) meets individually and in smaller committees to discuss the party line on topics; I followed foreign affairs. The other two weeks I followed topics such as European Neighbourhood (nations surrounding Europe such as Tunisia and Armenia which the EU maintains relatively close relations with), Enlargement (this involves countries such as Moldova and Macedonia who have long-term goals to join the EU).

I attended the Strasbourg session in July, following the same meetings that I did in Brussels, and prepared explanations of vote for Ms. Macovei.

The best bits:

What I loved about this internship is how I can better frame how Europe relates to the rest of the world, and how human rights are dealt with at a political level. These are questions that I had before I started and now I am more aware of the EU’s place in global world.

But…. It was an exhausting two months as it was a very demanding job and atmosphere. In fact, everyday was a crisis in the sense that the Euro itself is still in question and Romanian politics have become quite muddled and alarming. The long hours were exhausting, as were running from meeting to meeting and the pressure of finalizing explanations of vote and meeting summaries. But I am grateful that Ms. Macovei’s office entrusted me with such valuable work; I never found myself with nothing to do, and even the times I spent three hours printing or getting coffees I knew this was the groundwork for vital business. The printing was to prepare documents for members of the Budgetary Control committee for the budget discharge. The coffees were for important members of the EP as they met with Ms. Macovei over the three agencies whose budget discharge she did not approve due to conflict of interest.

The EU can seem like a huge bureaucratic mess but through this internship I was not only able to navigate my own way through the parliament but also see the inner workings of 27 member countries trying to find compromises as well as defend national interests. This included 23 different languages constantly translated at every meeting to protect and promote the diversity of Europe and its multilingualism.

Before I started this internship, friends remarked that I was going to be in Europe at a critical time concerning the economy and euro zone. That turned out to be true, but what was even more fascinating was the disintegration of Romanian politics before my eyes. As events unfolded in Romania, I got to experience how politicians deal with corruption and scandals, and how one office can come together to support a cause they believe in.

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