There is no easy way to compare the work of the European Parliament (EP) Office to other parlimentary offices in Scotland. Unlike Holyrood or Westminster, a lot of the public still have genuine reservations about whether the EU should exist at all, or at least include the UK, so the subject is rightly a sensitive and challenging one. The crowded political scene in Scotland also makes media and public awareness of daily political developments in Europe all the harder to achieve.
We aim to communicate and inform the public about an institution which operates many miles away, but has a significant impact on the daily lives of voters and tax-payers in Scotland. My two colleagues and I have to cover the whole range of the European Parliaments areas of political activity - domestic and international - across the whole of Scotland, still one of the EP's biggest constituencies.
At all times we have to highlight and supplement wherever possible the work of Scotland's small but dedicated team of seven MEPs. One advantage of the job is seeing the breadth and technical detail that MEPs deal with, at the same time as getting out and about around Scotland, Brussels and Strasbourg. They are a hugely under-exploited resource in Scottish policy making.
A typical week should, and usually does, involve a lot of time away from my desk giving talks, meeting groups, answering questions. Given the scale of the issues and the small team we are, much is done bilaterally with Holyrood, the Executive and our colleagues in the European Commission representation. Otherwise, we need to work with the written and broadcast media, and umbrella groups of all kinds - from business and the voluntary sector to schools and colleges, the retired, faith groups, universities - everyone and anyone. One of the most promising developments this year has been promoting impartial resources for schools - where many teachers have struggled to teach the EU as part of citizenship or modern studies.
Looking over the past seven days as I write, I have:
- Attended a conference on student mobility in Europe
- Chaired a seminar on worker mobility in Hillington,
- Spoken to youth workers in Cardiff (we try and cover Wales and Northern Ireland from this office too, leaving the 9 English electoral regions to the London office),
- Finalised a meeting in our office between Scotland MEPs and the Catholic and Episcopalian Bishops,
- Spent two hours in a Q & A session with US students in Glasgow University,
- Attended a debate on EU structural funds at Holyrood, and
- Started work on our 2007 planning (despite political events elsewhere!).
Despite all the travel and hard work it is a wonderful and quite unique job - always lightened by bright and unexpected questions from visiting groups, the serious public enquiry about the correct waste disposal of lion dung or drunken polemics on our answering machine after the weekend. Aside from getting our national flags in correct alphabetical order the biggest challenge is hoping others don't tire of the sound of my voice.
John Edward is the Head of the European Parliament's Office in Scotland.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own personal opinions and may not reflect those of Shepherd and Wedderburn LLP.