Who are they?
MEPs receive a secretarial allowance to employ staff and they pretty much use it as they wish. This means that whilst some MEPs prefer to hire two well-paid real policy assistants, others prefer to have more secretarial/office management types, whilst others use a combination of both. They can be based in Brussels, in the MEP’s constituency or in the MEP’s national capital.
Assistants are usually young (often freshly graduated from University) and most of them stay only for a short period.
Only a small number of the assistants stay in the Parliament for several years, either for the same MEP or switching from one MEP to another.
Where are they?
Assistants do not always follow their MEP everywhere he or she goes. Even if some of them are adepts of the plenaries in Strasbourg, there is often a split between those assistants to an MEP that follow him or her and those that stay at the office in Brussels or in the home country.
This means that plenary weeks in Strasbourg can be a good time to find assistants more relaxed in Brussels and willing to have a chat or coffee.
What do they do?
It varies greatly and can range from:
- Preparing the policy and political dossiers for an MEP, notably by conducting background research.
- Handling logistics ranging from typing work to booking tickets, running errands, ensuring visitors’ have their badges, arranging meetings with Commission officials or lobbyists.
- Handling relationships with the MEPs constituents
- Handling correspondence: reading the hundreds of emails most MEPs receive per day and draft responses or letters.
- Drafting articles, press releases, amendments, parliamentary questions.
- Meeting lobbyists or other interested parties instead of the MEP or as an initial screening.
They are thus key elements in the process and should never be disregarded, whatever the role they play. After all, regardless of their function, a vast majority of them read the emails their MEPs receive and you would not want them to hit “delete” too soon!
Why would they care about your issue?
MEP assistants know that their bosses have hectic schedules and do not like to see their time wasted.
They will care about you if:
- The arguments you bring to them and their boss are well structured, easy-to-use, in the right formats and allow them to shine and/or make their boss look good.
- You do not come to them only to ask: third parties outside the EP often have access to documents from other institutions faster that people in the institutions themselves! Sharing that info, pointing them in the right direction, being willing to respond to questions that might not be related to a dossier you are involved in…all of this makes them care!
- You consider them as equally important to their boss!
Good to know
- About 15 former assistants ended up becoming MEPs themselves!
- Some assistants combine a part-time function assistant with the running of their own consultancy. This is perfectly allowed as long as they declare in writing to the Parliament secretariat all of the additional remunerations obtained from their activities outside the Parliament. This financial interests’ special register is publicly available.