Notes from the Brussels Bubble: Five insights from my year as an EU public affairs intern


It’s a cliché, but time really does fly when you’re having fun. I arrived in Brussels last September, one of nine hopeful (and nervous) undergraduates embarking on a ten-month internship at FleishmanHillard. It’s been a year full of new experiences, big and small – everything from attending COP21 in Paris to getting lost (a little too often) in the corridors of the European Parliament. I’ve worked with some great people and learnt a lot about EU policy, public affairs and what it‘s like to live and work in the heart of the European project, Brussels.

My fellow interns and I are almost at the end of our time in Brussels, but for anyone considering doing a similar internship, here are five insights into the “Brussels Bubble” and EU public affairs to help you on your way.

    1. Don’t be shy – Break into the Brussels Bubble. Brussels is a small place and the EU quarter where decisions take place is miniscule. In fact, within the EU sphere everyone knows pretty much everyone. I once heard someone compare the city’s EU quarter to a university campus, which is not far from the truth. To make the most of your time here, both professionally and socially, networking is key. Whether it’s at a work event or over Thursday drinks at ‘Plux’ (Place du Luxembourg), don’t forget your business cards, push past the awkwardness of introducing yourself to a total stranger, and get talking about that latest POLITICO article or whatever is going on in the Bubble at the moment.
    2. To tweet or not to tweet? The answer is easy – tweet. Social media like Twitter and LinkedIn are big in Brussels and can be very helpful, especially if you work in communications. They are good sources of information and an easy way to connect with people. So, create a Twitter account and update your LinkedIn profile now because you’re going to need it. Also, think about how you want to present yourself – do you want to keep it personal or profile yourself professionally? Many EU public affairs professionals use their social media platforms to discuss their chosen policy area. Whether or not you do the same, it’s always good to have a clear idea of what you want to achieve with your digital presence.
    3. Stick your neck out. There’s a lot of room for initiative and creativity in EU public affairs. Don’t be afraid to find your niche and voice your ideas. Public affairs professionals in Brussels are an open and dynamic bunch, ready to embrace new ideas (even from newbie interns). Take this opportunity to get the most out of your internship and learn about your strengths and weaknesses in the work place.
    4. Embrace your inner nerd. Working in Brussels is a great opportunity to get bogged down in a particular policy area (energy, financial services, food and health etc.) or the intricacies of European politics. It’s a city full of knowledgeable people, so don’t be afraid to ask questions and develop your particular area of interest (even if your friends may tire of hearing you drone on about the Energy Union, the Juncker Plan or the intricacies of the European Parliamentary groups…).
    5. Learn by doing. Having studied European politics at university was a great help for me when I started my internship. However, you quickly realise that many of the ins and outs of EU politics are best understood by experiencing them first-hand as well. If you’re an EU geek like me, who loves the academic side of EU studies, an internship is a great way to get practical knowledge to complement your education. Brussels life puts everything you’ve theorised about into perspective. For example, there is nothing like following a legislative dossier for months through the different institutions to really appreciate the dynamics of how the European Commission, Parliament and Council interact with each other. Working in public affairs in particular is a unique experience, in that it gives you a birds-eye view of EU policymaking while allowing you to take an active part in the process yourself. So, make the most of this opportunity and learn by doing!

By: Louise Olander