How to be selected out of 25,000 people? Insight from a traineeship at the European Parliament

Every year, around 25 000 people apply for a traineeship at the European Parliament and 600 of them are selected. Only 10% of the trainees may be nationals from countries beyond the EU and applicant countries, which makes the competition especially tough for Ukrainians. Yet impossible is nothing. A fresh Ukrainian alumnus of this traineeship tells about her long way to the heart of EU law making.

Anna Bazilo is a specialist on EU integration issues, currently working at the EU Advisory Mission to Ukraine as a Coordination and Cooperation Officer/Liaison.

Why did you decide to take traineeship at the European Parliament?

It was quite deliberate step, because I have qualification in European integration and EU Studies. I received Master’s degrees in European Politics and Administration, and European Studies. So, it was a logical and important step for my future career and professional growth. In fact, I had been applying for this traineeship at the European Parliament for five years.

For the first time, I got this idea after finilising my first master’s degree at the University of Maastricht (the Netherlands). I applied to the European Parliament, but it was not successful. In my next applications, I was either on the reserve list, or rejected.

This traineeship seems uneasy to get…

Yes, especially the competition is huge at the department of EU external policies. People all over the world apply to it. Of course, as non-EU citizens, we are selected among all the countries. I was finally selected last year.

students traineeship

What is this traineeship about?

There are several types of traineeship at the EU Parliament: at the secretariat or at political groups and offices of members of the European Parliament (MEPs). I had both. At the Secretariat, I worked in the Eastern Partnership Unit and the Delegation on Ukraine. I assisted quite a lot MEP Andrej Plenkovic, who chaired the EU-Ukraine Parliamentary Association Committee. So he accepted me to work with his team.

These two types of traineeship differ. Work at the secretariat was more moderate. This traineeship is mostly for university graduates. Your work mainly depends on your own initiative and motivation. Of course, I knew why I was there and what I wanted to get. So I was very proactive, participated in various events in Brussels.

The work at the MEP office is much more demanding and dynamic. I liked a lot that I was engaged in different topics and participated in all the meetings of delegations.

What do you remember most about it?

In the College of Europe, I studied EU work in theory, but when you see it alive, of course it is perceived differently. The peculiarity of the EU is that all the work takes place in a constant dialogue and verification with various actors.

We worked a lot on visa liberalisation issue for Ukraine. I got the traineeship at a very important moment for Ukraine. It was a time of singing and ratifying the Association Agreement and start of discussions on visa liberalisation. We worked a lot with preparing official statements on visa-free regime, Minsk agreements, support to reforms in Ukraine, and the Association Agreement. These were quite sensitive issues at all the meetings. Many stakeholders (experts, MEPs and their advisors) took place in preparing official statements.

You may see different parties trying to promote national interests. Especially it was noticeable during discussions on Ukraine, because sanctions against Russia affected bilateral relations. EU member states made lots of concessions with regard to their national business interests in Ukraine’s favour.

Was it already known that Ukraine would get visa-free regime?

In the European Parliament, support to Ukraine is huge and vast majority of MEPs support Ukraine. That’s why there were no questions about the importance of visa free regime for Ukraine. It was also noticeable the great financial support to implementation of reforms in Ukraine.

How did you prepare for applying to the EU Parliament?

The application itself is not very demanding. I filled in online application form. In fact, the most important part is your motivation. There are no any tests or interviews. The only requirement is bachelor degree. But since the competition is very high, applicants are selected based on their professional and language skills, relevant work experience and motivation.

How many languages an applicant should know?

You have to be fluent in one of the official EU languages, there are no demands on quantity. But it is better to be fluent in two major languages – English and French. Those trainees, who are not fluent in French, had a disadvantage, because many people speak French in Brussels. So it is not a demand, but rather advantage.

What are the conditions of the traineeship?

Trainees are paid monthly scholarship of around €1200 under the Robert Schuman Traineeship programme. For Brussels it’s not much. It’s less then the minimum subsistence level, but it allows to rent a room and buy food. Also, the programme covers travel expenditures for arrival and departure of a trainee.

Was it hard to find an apartment?

Of course, it is difficult to find short-term accommodation, especially with a limited budget. There is always someone coming to Brussels under different programs. But I was lucky: as a graduate of the College of Europe, I have many friends who live and work in Brussels. Thanks to my friends and the College newsletters, I could easily find accommodation and live with College friends.

But even if you do not know anyone in Brussels, people are open to dialogue. You can visit various social events. The trainees committee arranges various networking activities. For example, we had a tour of the UN’s office in Brussels. EU quarter is always full of different activities. The European Parliament holds public events, debates, discussions. It’s easy to find new friends there.

How was it to live and work in the EU capital?

It was very interesting, dynamic, and diverse. In total, I spent almost a year in Brussels and have only positive impressions.

Did you have any challenges?

Challenges were related to daily life. Brussels is divided city. There is a big difference between the European quarter, with the European institutions, and Brussels as capital of Belgium, where there have been terrorist attacks, problem of integration of migrants and refugees, social adaptation of people with other cultures. It had no effect on my personal life and work in Brussels, but some events were quite dramatic.

I was in Brussels during terrorist attacks, it was a hard time, because they took place near European Parliament. Of course, the airport was blocked, people from the Parliament were evacuated. It happened during the Euronest session on Eastern partnership, and participants, who came from afar, had to go back.

eu parliament building

What did you get from this experience?

I got better understanding of the decision making in the EU, in particularly which concerns cooperation with Ukraine. I met with many actors involved in cooperation with Ukraine and Eastern Partnership. I saw the interaction between the European institutions – Parliament and Commission – how they interact with civil society and various interest groups.

What can you advise to those, who also thought of traineeship at the EU Parliament?

If this is really what you want, do not hesitate to apply. Do not drop it, if you won’t pass at first, second, or fifth time.

This traineeship will be useful for those interested in politics, relations with the EU; for those, who chose the direction of European integration. This is an experience of work with other cultures.

You will have an advantage if you previously study at one of the EU universities, be fluent not only in English, but also in other EU languages. A big bonus would also be a previous experience in European structures. This is a big contribution to the development of your career.

Background information:

Link to the page of applications which are accepted 2 times per year: 15 May & 15 October:

Photo credit: © European Union 2017 – European Parliament, © European Union 2016 – European Parliament