What Happens Inside the ‘Brussels Bubble’? Students Find Out at the ‘Public Affairs in the EU’ Seminar in Brussels

Postgraduate PR visit to Brussels

University of Stirling’s postgraduate students in public relations, public policy and gender studies have spent two days in Brussels at the annual Public Affairs in the European Union seminar. The event introduces students to public affairs, advocacy, public policy, lobbying and communication practices as well as career opportunities in the EU through a variety of talks with high-profile experts and visits to the European institutions.
On the first day, students visited the European Commission and the European Parliament. At the Commission, Pablo Perez Armenteros (Social Media Unit, Directorate General Communication) talked to students about the importance of social media in communication with the EU citizens, while Andreana Stankova (Spokesperson’s Service, Directorate General Communication) introduced challenges, opportunities and processes of working with the traditional media.
At the European Parliament, we visited the famous Hemicycle and learnt more about the Parliament, its role and decision-making processes. We hosted two speakers from Alyn Smith MEP Office; Laura Rayner presented latest developments and challenges of Brexit and implications for Scotland, while Schams El-Ghoneimi talked about his work in the area of foreign policy. Lisa Bauer from Transparency Unit presented Transparency Register http://ec.europa.eu/transparencyregister/public/homePage.do and background processes of registration, verification, code of conduct and complaints. The visit finished with meeting Andrejs Mamikins MEP from Latvia, who introduced us to his work and social media communication.
On the second day, student met with public affairs experts and consultants, who provided insights into their work in Brussels. Stephanie Abrahams (EU Policy Assistant for Scotland Europa) introduced their work in representing Scotland’s interests in the EU, while Jonna Byskata (Director, Government Relations Europe, United Technologies Corporation) talked about lobbying and public affairs from a global business perspective. Luis Cervilla (Account Director EU Public Affairs, Webber Shandwick Brussels) introduced the work of public affairs consultants in Brussels and Vincenzo Conforti (Manager EU Government Affairs, Eni) highlighted lobbying challenges in the energy sector as well as good and bad practices in public affairs.
The seminar concluded with the visit to Pralamentarium, interactive and dynamic European Parliament Visitors’ Centre, where students learnt more about the history of the EU, European integration, the European Parliament, EU challenges and how EU citizens feel about EU’s present and the future.
The students really enjoyed the trip and some described it as a life changing experience. MSc Strategic Communication and Public Relations (Joint Degree) student Nora Inka Biermann said: “Most of the speakers were brilliant and very eloquent. It was very interesting listening to them and their insider knowledge. I think I can better understand now how things work in the Brussels bubble and its institutions. Furthermore, it was a great opportunity to get to know my fellow students better.”
Sebastian Pfister from Germany added: “I really liked that we did not only visit the different institutions, but also had the chance to talk to people working there. Meeting consultants and lobbyists and getting to know their views on the institutions and in the end, being able to compare the two different assessments of the work and learning how Brussels ‘ticks’ was great. Also, I have to admit that I never expected to meet so many high-level lobbyists and politicians in such a short time. And they were really open, honest and willing to answer every question, but also to provide help for application processes.”
The trip to Brussels is a great opportunity for students to gain first-hand knowledge of current issues and developments in the EU public affairs, to network and to explore their career opportunities in the EU. Students with public relations and public affairs background are highly sought after professionals in Brussels, where there is an increasing recognition of the relevance of public affairs, lobbying and communication knowledge and skills.