Brussels, 3-4 November 2016
Postgraduate public relations and gender studies students spent two days visiting Brussels for a series of specialist public affairs seminars organised by Dr Alenka Jelen-Sanchez. The annual event aims to introduce students to public affairs, advocacy, public policy and communication practice in the EU, as well as to the European Commission and the European Parliament.
On the first day, students visited the European Parliament and the European Commission. They attended a presentation about the European Parliament by Olav Gade (Directorate General for Communication, Visits and Seminar Unit). At the European Commission, students were addressed by Mark Corner (Member of the speakers’ team), Florian Bergmuller (Secretariat-General) and Renaud Soufflot de Magny (Directorate-General for Communication). They have introduced the students to the role and priorities of the European Commission, lobbying and transparency register from the Commission’s perspective and Commission’s communication strategy and actions.
The students briefly visited Finance Watch NGO, where they were hosted by Katarzyna Hanula-Bobbitt, Senior Public Affairs Officer, who introduced them to her work at the Finance Watch.
On the second day, student met with public affairs experts, government consultants, and EU officials who provided insights into their work in Brussels. Key speakers included Stephanie Abrahams, EU Policy Assistant for Scotland Europa, Marie Thiel, European Parliament Transparency Unit, Vincenzo Conforti (Manager EU Government Affairs, Eni) and Jonna Byskata (Director, Buildings & Industrial Systems, Government Relations Europe, United Technologies Corporation).
The seminar concluded with the visit to Pralamentarium, interactive and dynamic European Parliament Visitors’ Centre. The Parlamentarium takes its visitors to the heart of the European Parliament, explaining the path towards European integration, how the European Parliament works and what its Members are doing to meet the challenges of today.
Students really enjoyed the experience! MSc Strategic Communication and Public Relations (Joint Degree) student Jack Mallon from Scotland said: “It was extremely exciting to see how communications and public advocacy strategies work in such important institutions as the European Commission and European Parliament, while visiting such a beautiful ancient city as Brussels”.
Sophia Honisch from Germany added: “All in one, our fieldtrip to Brussels was a great experience. The guest speeches were very well organised, interesting and offered a perfect overview on lobbying. In general, the program was extensive but not overloaded. In terms of my studies, this excursion confirmed me in my wish to work in Public Affairs.”
The visit was also very interesting for students from outside the EU. Chelsea Pecson from Philippines told us: “Coming from Asia, I have always had the general notion that the European Union operated differently from ASEAN and other unions from other parts of the world. However, I was not aware of how exactly different they functioned and what best practices could other unions adopt from it. I personally liked the talks and learned briefly the ‘tricks of the trade’ on lobbying. All in all, it was a good immersion spending two days in Brussels.”
The trip to Brussels is a great opportunity for students in terms of enriching their knowledge of current issues and developments in the field of EU communication, public affairs, public policy and lobbying as well as in terms of networking and exploring their career opportunities in the EU.