Pauline Tawil, Former Stagiaire in the European Commission Legal Service
BL: Which unit did you work for and what were your main tasks within the unit?
PT: Contrary to most of the Commission’s Directorate Generals and Services, the Legal Service is composed of teams, and not units. I worked for the MIME team, which is composed of twenty lawyers dealing with free movement of goods, energy, enterprise, customs union and environmental issues. I worked mostly on environmental issues, focusing on the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive and Waste legislation.
Before my stage at the Commission, I had some knowledge about the former but knew nothing about the latter. When I learnt I would have to dig into such a glamorous-sounding subject, I have to say I was expecting something rather boring. I was pleasantly surprised, however, to discover very important and interesting dossiers, evoking at the same time legal, political and economic problems.
The main task of LS stagiaires is to assist their advisers and other members of their team in their day-to-day work. This work consists of answering legal questions raised by DGs and Cabinets, assisting DGs in the drafting of legislative proposals and, of course, pursuing infringement procedures the LS will have taken over from the “reasoned opinion” stage onwards. This final point leads to one of the highlights of the stage: the visit to the ECJ. Indeed, at least once during their time in the LS, stagiaires are given the opportunity of attending the hearing of a case they had been working on.
BL: What would a typical working day look like?
PT: A typical working day starts at 9am and ends around 6pm. Beyond this bureaucratic cliché, everything depends on the daily work load.
My adviser and got into the habit of meeting everyday at 5:30pm to talk about what had been done during the day and what would need to be done the next day. I appreciated this routine very much because it really made me feel like a part of the team.
Every Friday, the members of the MIME team meet for two to three hours, during which time the lawyers discuss their main dossiers and cases. Stagiaires can take part in these discussions, most of them being quite interesting for young lawyers who wish to put theory into practice: the role of the Commission before national courts, Article 30 EC exceptions versus mandatory requirements, sanctions taken against Member States in the ETS, etc…
BL: What were the best and worst aspects of your job?
PT: Let’s start with what I appreciated the least: being an observer.
Being a stagiaire can be frustrating because we are sometimes limited to the role of an observer and are not always given the opportunity to play an active role. Given that our stage only lasts five months, one can understand why this is case. However, it is still frustrating to feel “limited” in this regard, since we usually have the appropriate level of education to allow us to take on a few more responsibilities.
Now for the best aspects of the job.
Firstly, working with people coming from so many different countries. I know it sounds like a cliché but it is true. The genuine European experience is priceless, from both the human and professional perspective.
Secondly, working in the Legal Service. Nestled between Cabinets and DGs, the LS offers a perfect overview of the Commission political and legal machinery. I had little idea about this machinery before joining the Commission. Cabinets and DGs have their respective rhythms and their interests to defend, and often differ in their positions. The LS, therefore, often plays the role of the middleman, trying to draw compromises. This is truly fascinating.
BL: What (legal) skills do you think you gained from your stage that has been valuable in your subsequent endeavours?
PT: During my five months, I learnt two important things: how to quickly become familiar with dossiers I had never heard of before; and, how to quickly analyse legal questions.
These are two skills that are particularly valuable.
Indeed, in my current job, I constantly have to go from one topic to another and identify legal issues as rapidly as possible.
BL: And what about the social side of things?
PT: The Commission’s stage is both a working and a social experience. In fact, the social experience tends to get the upper hand at times! In short, the stage sometimes feels like a 5-month Erasmus programme in the heart of the European bubble. Beyond working hours, stagiaires get together for different social, artistic or sporting activities. Language classes among us are quite popular. Once a week, I took Spanish classes and taught French. Plus, of course, we quickly became very familiar with the cafés and pubs Brussels has to offer.
Beyond this bubble in which everything seems to fly by at a torrid pace, the stage is also a great opportunity to make “real” friends. Among the fifteen stagiaires in the Legal Service, almost everyone left Brussels. We nonetheless have made an effort to stay in contact. Actually, seven of us met this summer in Bulgaria for our first stagiaires’ reunion! The next one should take place in Spain next year!
BL: Good luck. Thank you for your time.
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