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David Lidington

Minister for Europe, London

Part of FCDO Outreach

4th June 2010 London, UK

24 hours in Brussels

I spent 24 hours in Brussels earlier this week for a packed schedule of meetings.  As a city, Brussels has a somewhat unfair reputation for being rather dull and grey.  I know from previous visits that there are some charming aspects to the place. Sadly on this occasion I saw little more than the inside of various meeting rooms.

I wanted to pay an early visit to the EU’s centre of operations to explain the new Government’s policy on Europe to the President of the European Parliament, Jerzy Buzek and colleagues in the European Commission, such as Maros Sefcovic.  But I also wanted to pick up the mood on the current big issues – such as  boosting the European economy, creating new jobs, tackling climate change – to help understand how best the UK can influence these debates.

Most of my day was spent inside the European Parliament.  The EP now has powers to agree EU laws jointly with EU Member States in about 90% of all areas where the EU legislates.  So MEPs have real power, though too little is known about their work, not just in the UK but across many Member States.  I met for example representatives of Conservative and Liberal Democrat MEPs, who all represent British views in the EP.

I also had a really good meeting with the leadership of the European Conservative and Reformist (ECR) group.  I discussed with colleagues there – Michal Kaminski, Jan Zahradil and Tim Kirkhope – how the UK Government will work with the ECR group on issues of common interest.

The European Parliament has a very different structure to Westminster.  Both the Tory and Lib Dem MEPs sit inside different political groups.  But it was very clear to me from my discussions that colleagues across the two parties, even those with widely ranging views on Europe, are very committed to working productively with our new partners.

Many people I met in Brussels this week told me they had watched in fascination from across the water as the UK had put together our new coalition Government, itself unprecedented in peacetime for 70 years, in just a few days whereas most EU partners can take months  to do this!  Perhaps this is just another example of British efficiency and pragmatism, traits for which we are often praised by our EU partners during negotiations on all kinds of issues in Brussels.

Another theme which cropped up in several meetings was the fact that not enough Brits are applying these days for jobs inside the EU institutions in Brussels.  This is a real shame for two reasons.  Firstly we need lots of talented, able British nationals working inside the European Commission, the European Parliament etc as a way of helping shape the thinking that goes on inside these buildings.

Secondly, it means as a nation we are losing out on some fantastic career opportunities for our young men and women.  Brussels may not be everyone’s cup of tea as a city to live in.  But the work of an EU official can offer some really interesting career prospects.  It certainly didn’t do our new Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg’s career any harm!

Talented young graduates from e.g. Italy, Germany, Spain and many other EU partner countries apply in their droves to work inside the EU institutions.  We also have lots of excellent Brits working there – but not as many as we should.  So I’d urge readers of this blog to consider whether this might be an option for them or anyone they know to consider.  You can find more information here.

I ended my visit by meeting some of the staff who work tirelessly on behalf of the British Government in Brussels at the UK’s Representation to the EU, or “UKRep” as it is commonly known.  I was really impressed by the quality and commitment of the staff who work every day to advance British interests in Brussels in line with Government policy.

I know there is sometimes a perception on European issues that “Brussels” tries somehow to impose its will on the UK.   In fact British civil servants and British Ministers are actively engaged on a daily basis in negotiating on behalf of the UK.  I see no contradiction between firmly defending British interests and helping build its future.  I want us to get even better at this, and told the staff there I plan to be back in Brussels often in my new role.  Perhaps next time I might even get to see a little more of Brussels itself.  Somehow, I suspect not.

About David Lidington

David Lidington MP was appointed Minister of State at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office on 14 May 2010. David Lidington was elected to Parliament in 1992 and is the Member…

David Lidington MP was appointed Minister of State at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office on 14 May 2010.
David Lidington was elected to Parliament in 1992 and is the Member of Parliament for Aylesbury.
He worked for BP and RTZ before spending three years as Special Advisor to Douglas Hurd in the Home Office and Foreign Office.
His proudest political achievement was successfully promoting a
Private Members Bill which became the Chiropractors Act in 1994. He
believes that this piece of legislation has made a real difference to
many people’s lives.
He has a long standing passion for history, and has twice captained a
champion team on University Challenge, first in 1979 and then in 2002
when the Sidney Sussex team became “champion of champions” in University
Challenge Reunited.
He is married to Helen Lidington and has four sons.