Sunday, 13 November 2011

Annemarie Bruggink: “Go for work, go for contacts. And if it does not work, come and see us!”

Annemarie Bruggink has been the head of the Traineeship Office for six years. Even if she loves the program - unfortunately, she has never had an opportunity to become a trainee herself. However, she has been working for the Commission already during her last year of university. She started in the Commission in 1977, first in Translation, later in Operational Services where she managed the Citizenship Program. She greeted you all on your first day at the Commission and now she will tell us also some snippets of what she sees from her office at 24th floor at MADO.
Photo by Greg Smith

Stage Echoes: The European Commission Traineeship program is generally perceived as a prestigious type of internship. Thousands of young people apply every year to get this opportunity. But what are the main objectives from the side of the Commission?

Bruggink: I believe it is always useful to give a real historical overview. The aim of the Traineeship Program is to give an opportunity to young university graduates to learn about how Europe works. Either they decide to stay or not, all of them have a very concrete experience. This very idea already started in 1960, so right after institutions have been created. The first scheme started with three trainees, which, compared to the total number of staff, was already quite important. This basic idea of introducing people to things that we are doing and why we are doing them is still there. The program has expanded over years and since the mid-90s we have had about 600 trainees twice a year. Also, the number of applicants has increased, since in the mid-90s there was increase from four to six thousand applications per period. Now, due to the crisis, there are about ten thousands of them for each period.

Stage Echoes: So the program has been running for over fifty years and since its beginning, indeed, many interesting and nowadays important people took part. Could you mention some of them?

Bruggink: What is astonishing is that we do not know how many people working for Commission have been trainees before. We do not have statistics about that, mostly because of different IT systems. However, there are a couple of Commission employees that have been on training before. The most significant case is Commissioner Cioloş – he was a trainee some twelve years ago, so he made a bright career since. Commissioner Reding was a trainee, also former European Commissioner Mario Monti, who may create a government in Italy soon, was one. Then some royal persons, like one of the princes of Belgium and king Hassan of Jordania have also been trainees.

Stage Echoes: Since your engagement for the Traineeship Program, do you remember any particular group of trainees that simply stayed in your mind?

Bruggink: What I say when I do the pre-selection and afterwards: every trainee is different. You all are people who have generally lived abroad already, trainees with a lot of energy, ideas and plans, people who take the future in their hands, not just doing studies and then going for a job. Thus, it is full of life and of people who want to get the best out of those five months. However, there is a group dynamic. It is absolutely visible already from the Flagey Conference if the group will be dynamic or not.

But there are some famous stories. Once, we had a Greek trainee and one day, while sitting in his office, he was feeling like making a joke. He came up with this idea two months after the beginning of his traineeship. He created an email address: And from this address, he started to send emails to fellow trainees saying: “I have been informed by your services that you have not been working very well and therefore I decided that I will end your traineeship as from immediately. If there is anything you can say to defend yourself, I want to see you at my office tomorrow morning and perhaps I may revise my opinion.” And all those trainees saw the message from Jose Manuel Barroso and they were so upset and many of them started calling the Commission, saying: "Please, Mr. Barroso, listen to me, I really do my best,” and things like that. And after Barroso’s office started calling us saying: “What is going on?” it became quite a big deal. At the end, I had to call the trainee and speak some serious words with him. He did not realize what the reaction would be, but we did not fire him, of course. And it became quite a funny story around.

Stage Echoes: We will see what our trainees will come up with. But nevertheless, let´s talk a bit about the future of trainees. Does the Traineeship Office keep any statistics on the future of its stagiaires in the sense of whether a traineeship particularly helps them to get any better position afterwards?

Bruggink: Unfortunately not. Also, we do not have a man-power to do take care of that. We loose track immediately after the traineeship ends. However, with social media, many of you keep in touch with their fellow trainees. Last year we celebrated 50 years of Traineeships and we had a group from the '60s that is still meeting every year for a week, all together – about fifty or sixty people. There is synergy, and I know that quite a lot of them stay in Brussels, not only to work for EU institutions, but many go to consultancy organizations, to regional representations. We estimate that about 30 per cent of people who have been here after five months stay here and find some kind of a job. But I do not know if they are here forever, or for couple of years and then they go home. However, everybody who comes back says that it is a plus for your CV if you have done a traineeship in the Commission.

Stage Echoes: It is true that many of trainees are not certain about their future and they may struggle while searching for a job after the traineeship anyway. What would you suggest to them?

Bruggink: This is really a difficult question because the situation is changing all the time and it is not getting better. However I think that you are a privileged group of citizens who alreaday have high skills and most trainees have at least a Master degree, you have language skills, you are flexible and open and all of you have already been abroad. Therefore I think that the experience at the Commission is the experience of how to deal in daily life with working in an environment of different cultures and different languages, so I think it is a very good experience to push further and to look for challenges.

Stage Echoes: What do you think trainees should take from this experience the most? What would you advice to trainees or maybe, what would you try if you were a current trainee at the Commission?

Bruggink: Well, what we say is to make the best of it. Now, it is not easy also for the Commission to integrate people who know nothing about its daily work, basically. So as a trainee, you must never feel neglected or so. You must be pro-active, look for work. All units have need of people, they are happy to have helping hands and they will appreciate it. And therefore, you have to make yourself also the best of it: go for work, go for contacts. And if it does not work, as I said, come and see us. It is five months that can be fantastic, because you can integrate, you can get to know people, learn how things work and you do not have to dig for career promotions, you are totally free in this environment, so take advantage of that. It is five months that will not come back.

Stage Echoes: Thank you for the interview.

By Lucia Mrazova