Notes from Catherine Rowett, former Green Party MEP for East of England and deputy coordinator of the Eastern Region Green Party*(UK). Biographical reflections on life as an MEP. Longer reflections and discussions on issues relating to policy, the good life, justice, equality, anti-austerity economics and the future of the planet. This is also a forum for exchanging ideas on how to tread lightly on the planet and avoid supporting exploitation and corrupt practices. Here we go...

Sunday, 9 June 2019

First days in the new job: Week 2

This week I didn't go to Brussels. Us new MEPs aren't actually employed as MEPs until July, and we won't get paid till the end of July— and that means I am still in my old job (as a professor at the UEA), though there is precious little time to do much of that at the moment.

In fact there are many important things that I have to do, or ought to be doing, in Brussels every week at the moment. Some of this is meetings of the Green Group, which has important decisions to make and plans to develop, and the members ought to be helping to input to this, and to get a full understanding of what we are trying to achieve in this parliament. Some of it is the more boring bureaucratic stuff about getting registered and installed with an email address, a bank account, information about what to do and where to be when. And so on.

But it's not compulsory to go every week and not all of us can. Some of the UK Greens who weren't able to go last week went this week for the first time, but I had been last week and will go again next week, and I decided that I had too many things to sort out at home and at work this time. I had to see the HR people at the University for instance, about what happens to my position there: do I leave, do they keep my job in case I come back at some point? In addition I needed to mark and agree marks on a dissertation, deal with some grading of MA work, sort out various tricky aspects of my domestic and financial affairs here, and turn up for the Norwich Green Party AGM. Most of all I was anticipating the fact that I had to be away for at least part of this weekend, to attend the Green Party Conference in Scarborough.

A week in Brussels and then a load more travelling and hotels, for a weekend at Conference in Scarborough, is all very well, but I haven't really squared this new schedule with the expectations of the cat (named Pushkin) who is currently in charge of my life. Making sure that he has suitable staff to help him adjust to the new life is a task I am currently working on.

As a result of not going to Brussels this week, I am very behind, compared with some of my fellow MEPs, on setting up my staffing for my office in Brussels, so this will be a priority in this coming week. I have to get the paperwork in for the staff I want to appoint this coming week, as early as possible. That's going to be my number one priority along with attending Group meetings, catching up on what I missed, and discovering the leaders of my committees and working groups to identify what I should be getting to work on first.

Talking to lots of people at Conference this weekend made me think that it's worth saying a little about what the job of MEP involves. Some people asked me whether I was going to be giving up my current job. And the answer to that is yes: being an MEP is not a part time role, like being a Councillor for example. It is a (more than) full time occupation, and I shall no longer be working for the University, nor enrolled on the USS pension there nor having employers' contributions paid for me, nor paying my National Insurance there. I shall be employed full time by the European Parliament (though I shall continue to be registered for tax purposes in the UK).

The European Parliament has a complicated calendar. Most weeks we are at work in Brussels, to which I shall normally go on a Monday and return late on Thursday or early on Friday. Around one week per month is spent in Strasbourg, where the parliament holds its plenary meetings. In fact there are two of those weeks in July, so we begin with one of those when the job first starts. Just occasionally there is a week when we don't have to be in Brussels or Strasbourg but are expected to spend a week in the region that elected us. This is known as a "Green Week". But a close look at the calendar suggests that there is only one of those this coming Autumn, at the end of October; so for the most part I shall be abroad and rather rarely available to do things locally in the region, other than on Fridays.

For those MEPs who are elected for five years, you can see that it would make sense to get a flat or a house in Brussels and make that your principal home. After all, that's where you work and spend most of the time. Maybe my cat would like to become an unelected Eurocat? But for those of us who have been elected for the uncertain amount of time that is "until Brexit happens", it can't make sense to settle in Brussels (unless you intend never to come back, which has its attractions, on the assumption that we know what Brexit is going to do to this country). And of course, if you effectively move to Brussels, it's that much harder to ensure that you do really continue to keep in touch with the region you represent. Whatever you do, there's a lot of time away from home, and a lot of time to spend on trains. You might even ask whether it isn't just a little bit bonkers that the European Parliament has two different locations, so that everyone is working in three different places, two of which are not home. If you ask that, you will not be the first to ask!

So one of the things I have spent this week doing is planning and booking travel tickets and hotels for the next six weeks, including the two weeks in Strasbourg in July. Hotels become very scarce and rather expensive in those weeks. My bank balance doesn't quite know what's hit it: there'll be no refund of any of these expenses from the EU for a long time yet!

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