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A Day in the life of

Eva Maydell is a Bulgarian MEP in the EPP Group. She is a member of the IMCO committee and substitute in ECON. In 2017, she was elected as President of the largest pro-European organisation European Movement International and the first woman to take this position in the organisation’s history.

We caught up with her a couple of weeks ago for another insight into the day to day lives of MEPs at the European Parliament.

Three years into the mandate, there is definitely not a single day that was the same as another. I’m constantly racing against time. Don’t get me wrong, I love this dynamism of my job and it’s definitely one of the reasons why I love doing it.

January 24th, the Bulgarian Presidency has already started and I consider this as an opportunity to promote my country in every possible way. Because of the Presidency, I believe many people in Brussels and Europe will see that Bulgaria is a vibrant European member state, giving opportunities for businesses and young entrepreneurs to develop their ideas.

Making our way through the Brussels traffic en route to the Committee of the Regions, where I am about to open the conference on building the entrepreneurial ecosystems of the future. Traffic could be a slight boredom, yet I try to make use of this time and speak with my team over the phone, planning the day and quickly going through e-mails. Here I am, arriving at the CoR and it is exciting to meet and talk with representatives from regions across the EU, see the energy and passion they put into creating the right conditions for entrepreneurship to thrive.

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On my way back to the European Parliament, I managed to squeeze a phone interview on the Western Balkans. It is crucial for the EU to be involved in the processes there for reasons of stability, solidarity and security. Quickly passing through the office to get some documents and I am rushing on to the ECON Committee to hear Bulgarian Minister Goranov outlining the Bulgarian Presidency Priorities.

I head off to the first Board Meeting of the European Movement International which I am President of. Upon my election as President of EMI I stated that we must try to bring more Europeans to the project through uniting all pro-European forces of the continent, by starting and supporting the real, bottom-up pan-European debate on the Future of Europe, while positioning EMI as a cornerstone organisation that reaches beyond the European institutions [run on sentence]. It is crucial also to ‘win’ the hearts and minds of the next generation, to encourage them to feel European and call themselves Europeans, for a more united, stronger and inspiring Europe; one that doesn’t fail on its principles. Today’s board meeting was one to try and map out how we will achieve this ambitious agenda.

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Going back to the Parliament, I’m passing by my favourite place to grab a fresh orange juice. In the hectic environment of the EP I really try to make time for fresh juices, vegetables and fruits in order to I keep my body and mind energised.

Kicking off my last event on the agenda today. I have the pleasure to bring together the Bulgarian Minister on Education and my fellow colleagues across the different political groups to discuss quality education and a new pilot project, partnered with Teach for Bulgaria. The project is an excellent example of increasing teachers’ motivation and upskilling them so they do not feel alone in the important task to bring up the future generation of Europe.

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After closing this meeting, I go back to my office to prepare for the next day, touch base with my team on constituency issues, committee files, and update my Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Home sweet home, where time is irrelevant and my son and husband give me a priceless serenity.

 

Professor Dame Caroline Dean – who is one of the five L’Oreal-UNESCO Women in Science laureates for 2018, explains how her interest in flowering plants and a curiosity to understand how this works has guided through her career as a scientist.

What advice would you give to those who want to pursue a Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine (STEMM) career?

I would encourage everyone to follow their curiosity. When you’re really interested in something then you’ll be motivated to find out more about how that thing works. This is how most STEMM careers work – we ask questions, and the journey to the answer is what we do every day as scientists.

Don’t let others put you off, or make you feel like you can’t achieve something because of your gender, or what you look like or where you were born. Those barriers pale into insignificance if you have a genuine curiosity for something.

Women in STEMM industries are still underrepresented as compared to their male counterparts. What can be done to improve female representation in science?

There is a need for role models to encourage the next generation of scientists. I hope this year as a L’Oreal-UNESCO Women in Science laureate I can provide something positive for a wide range of people. As female scientists we can raise aspirations by being more visible and honest about what a career in a STEMM subject is really like, and how a diversity of personalities and skills is essential to success.

The Athena SWAN Charter is a useful scheme here in the UK which recognises organisations who are working to improve in areas where women are traditionally underrepresented. Their bronze, silver and gold awards give a visible sign that the organisation understands the values of a diverse workforce.

Now there are also many schemes that enable women to have families, and to work in STEMM subjects, you can do both. For instance, here at the John Innes Centre there are family and career break initiatives, support for attending conferences, or fellowships designed specifically to enabling women to return to STEMM careers following the birth of a child.

You are a distinguished and award-winning scientist in your field. Tell us about the importance of role models and mentorship.

My passion for science was born through watching Jacques Cousteau on TV as a child, really enjoying lab experiments at university and then working with visionary scientists in my early career. Watching those minds linking apparently unrelated results into a unified picture describing a new concept was inspirational.

Is there a need for workplaces to become more culturally inclusive so women do not face barriers but can reach their full potential?

Indeed, work places need to be culturally inclusive, but the greatest challenge for a woman’s advancement is herself. Constantly working just a little out of one’s comfort zone increases self-confidence and enables those apparently unattainable goals to be reached.

How can STEM industries attract more women and girls into the field?

By helping to nurture their scientific interest from an early age and fanning the desire to discover.

“Excellence THEN relevance.” It was the persistent message from the Chief Executive at BBSRC, Professor Julia Goodfellow, in the late 1990s.

This struck a chord with me. I’ve spent most of my career at the John Innes Centre, where fundamental research into plant and microbial science is central to our ongoing success.

The impact of these new discoveries may not be obvious at the outset. It’s not always easy to see where relevance will appear but excellent science will always have impact.

Professor Goodfellow’s message has been very influential in my own research. Many years ago, as a post-doctoral researcher in California in the 1980s I’d noticed the seasons were less distinct than in my home in the north of England. I was intrigued and began to investigate why.

Then there was a moment that cemented my interest. I went out and bought some tulip bulbs, and the man who sold them to me said: “Don’t forget to put them in the fridge for six weeks before you plant them.” That moment triggered my interest in how plants align their development with the seasons.

Many years later, when I applied for a position at the John Innes Centre I proposed to work on vernalization – the requirement for prolonged cold before a plant flowers. Commercial plant breeders had exploited this process to breed winter and spring-sown varieties, but we had no clue as to the molecular mechanism.

I began with three research questions: why do some varieties of plants not flower until they have had cold? How does the plant know it’s had prolonged cold? And how have those molecular mechanisms enabled adaptation to different climates?

All three questions led to a focus on the regulation of a single gene, Flowering Locus C (FLC).

FLC acts as a brake to flowering, if the plant is making this protein it stays vegetative: it won’t flower. Interesting and conserved mechanisms involving non-coding RNAs and chromatin (the interwoven DNA and protein that makes up our chromosomes) underlie all three questions we had posed. How much the gene is expressed affects whether plants need to overwinter. Winter is registered by progressively switching off the gene in more and more cells. Adaptation is the result of small changes that affect the regulation of the gene.

So, after 30 years my research has come down to a very detailed study of basic principles of gene regulation. But it is this same regulation that is important in humans too. Instructions are given to genes in the embryo (human or plant), but the initial instructions don’t stay around all the time, instead the instruction is remembered. The memory is passed down from mother to daughter cells by epigenetic regulation- through non-coding RNA and chromatin regulation.

You will read about epigenetics everywhere at the moment – in the context of how the environment affects our genes. When memory mechanisms go wrong and genes turn on and off at the wrong place, disease is the result: most cancers carry genes that are expressed in the wrong place.

What is also amazing is that we can now build on our fundamental understanding of the vernalisation mechanism to help plant breeders produce Brassica varieties that respond to winter temperatures in predictable ways. New varieties could flower earlier, or be resistant to cold snaps, where previously premature flowering led to a glut of certain varieties in the supermarkets.

 

Usually, I leave my apartment in Brussels around 7 am. However, “usually” is a difficult word to use since there is hardly any routine that structures a day in the “quartier européen”. Depending on the week, my workplace is either in Brussels, Strasbourg or my home country Germany. This involves a lot of travelling and means that a well-organized calendar is vital.

This particular morning, I got to my office after a few hours of sleep and a cold shower. I had arrived from Hannover by car the night before and had been welcomed home by a broken boiler in my apartment. Nevertheless, I had to shake off any exhaustion and prepare for a busy day at the European Parliament.

There was one major story today: the failure of the exploratory talks to form a new government in Germany. After several weeks of negotiations, the liberal FDP announced that they had ruled out any coalition with the CDU, the CSU and the Greens. National politics deeply affect my work at the European Parliament which is why I keep close track of current events.

After an hour of reading the newspapers, checking the mails and preparing the agenda for the day, I left for the first committee session. I have the honour of being the Chair of the Committee on Foreign Affairs. Here, members from all political groups get together to discuss the EU’s foreign and security policy.

One of the tasks of the committee is to strengthen the EU’s relations with the parliaments of third countries and the parliamentary assemblies of other international organizations. Our committee provides a platform for delegations from all over the world to exchange their views with the MEPs and to discuss common interests. Chairing the committee is exciting and challenging at the same time since the agenda is very diverse.

At today’s session, I was happy to welcome the Indian ambassador Mrs. Gaitri Issar Kumar for the debriefing of the EU-India Summit which took place on 6 October in New Delhi. With India’s growing influence in the world, it is of great importance to hear the Indian voice in the European Parliament. Both the Indian representatives and the MEPs emphasized their ambition to strengthen cooperation regarding trade and civil society.

After several other points in the committee, I rushed to an interview with Radio Free Europe about the upcoming Eastern Partnership Summit in Brussels.

The Eastern Partnership is an initiative of the EU involving the countries Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. By strengthening cooperation with its partner countries, the EU is able to foster democracy, stability and prosperity in its neighbourhood. However, I also try to draw attention to the challenges and shortcomings of the reform process in the region. In my interview, I underlined that the EU should offer more support for those countries that successfully implement reforms while reducing support for countries that fail to meet the requirements.

After a quick lunch-to-go, I was very happy to welcome the former British foreign minister Mr. David Miliband in my office. He now is the CEO of the International Rescue Committee, which provides emergency aid and long-term assistance to refugees. A topic which is more important than ever. Personal exchanges with politicians, representatives of NGOs and ambassadors are vital for gaining a realistic picture of the situation in other countries.

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In another three-hour session of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, we discussed the pre-accession assistance for Turkey. The EU offers financial support and expertise to all accession candidates. The goal is to enable these countries to adapt to European democratic and economic standards. In any case, the willingness to reform needs to be the precondition for EU support. The situation in Turkey is worrying!

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Due to the news from Germany, I had been invited to join a panel discussion addressing the failure of the exploratory talks and its implications for the European Union. The end of the negotiations is unfortunate. After a complicated start, the parties had come closer and closer to an agreement. I also regret the end of the negotiations because all four parties are pro-European. They know that a strong EU means a strong Germany. During the discussion, I could highlight that Germany will remain a reliable partner with a functioning caretaker government that continues to work towards the successful future of our European Union.

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My days begin with my cat looking at me and he is not happy: he was not allowed to spend the night in my bedroom, and he wants me to know his displeasure. The fact that I drink my coffee and read the news distracts me from playing with him, and that doesn’t help.

That’s the only predictable moment in my day as an Ambassador in Belgium.

 

 

Whenever I can, I walk to the office, a 40-minute walk, a moment to consider the day ahead, a moment to put my thoughts together, a moment to plan. And yes, a moment when I’m feeling lucky because I don’t have to drive to work.

But I often have to hit the road. I’m also accredited to Luxembourg and I probably know by now all the bumps on the road between the two capitals, as I know also most of them between Brussels and Ieper, Antwerp, Namur and so many other cities. I come from a federation, like Belgium: I know that the capital is beautiful and important, I know that one needs to leave it to meet the entire country.

The geography is not the only challenge. In the same day I can deliver a demarche on a foreign policy issue, meet an artist, visit a company, be informed of a consular case, attend an official event, plan another one, complain (silently) about a bureaucratic requirement, draft or revise a note, brainstorm with colleagues, check on them. And make a speech.

I speak in public often: at business events; at commemoration ceremonies; on so many other diverse occasions. And because my 92-year old mother who lives in Montreal wants pictures of me, I send her pictures of those events. She then asks me if I’m doing something other than just speaking. “Yes mother, I’m also sending you pictures of me speaking.”

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Because this year is the 100th anniversary of the battle of Passchendaele I spend a lot of time attending commemoration ceremonies. For the last two months I didn’t need to worry about what I would do come the weekend. The small ceremonies, sometimes with Canadian families present, are the most touching: there is hesitation and lovely mistakes, the protocol is imperfect, the children who play a role look at me with pride and nervousness, the emotions run high, it’s life as its best –as we remember those many soldiers who lost their own.

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But I also have to be present on social media. Diplomacy is a very old profession and if its logic has not changed, its tools have. I was told that I have to be active on the social media. I tried to argue that I was raised in another world, a world where the printed word was everything, but the argument was dismissed. I don’t have my kids with me to help me, I’m missing them -and I miss my electric typewriter.

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There is always an occasion in my day to remind me that to work in Brussels as Canadian Ambassador for bilateral relations is a real privilege. Our countries are really close, our relations are deeply and emotionally rooted in the tragic European history, the trade relationship keeps growing, the number of active links between our various institutions is impossible to count, and there is real friendship even we don’t agree on all issues.

And then I come back home, but my day is not necessarily over. My colleagues in Ottawa seem to get a new burst of energy at the end of their day, forgetting that by then I’m well into my night. The internet knows no time zones, but my body does.

And my cat complains that I don’t let him in the bedroom.

Claire Bury

What does a Deputy Director General do in the European Commission?  My job is to help the Director General run a Directorate General in the European Commission.   A Directorate General, DG for short, is the equivalent of a Ministry in a country.  My DG, DG CONNECT, looks after telecoms, digital and tech policy, online content, ICT research and media and digital culture issues for the Commission.  I work with about 1200 experts based in Brussels and Luxembourg who work on topics ranging from robots to roaming, from start-ups to spectrum policy, from copyright rules to quantum computing. We advise the College of Commissioners on all things digital.  In the case of DG CONNECT, our direct political bosses are Commissioner Gabriel, responsible for the Digital Economy and Society and Vice President Ansip, responsible for the Digital Single Market.

I’m a lawyer by training, and have been in the European Commission since 1992. I’ve worked with many different Commissioners and in different departments dealing with everything from human rights and democratisation to postal services and company law. I joined DG CONNECT In January 2016.

In an average week, I spend a third of my time with colleagues  in the DG, a third of my time working with the Commissioners’ political advisers and in other Commission departments and the rest of my time with colleagues either in the Council, European Parliament and external stakeholders.

I go to a lot of meetings. You cannot escape this! Every week, the DG’s senior management team meets to discuss the issues of the week.  We also meet the Commissioner and the Vice –President and their teams to get political guidance on our work. I also meet my Directors every two weeks to discuss the hot digital topics of the day, staffing and finance issues. I also run DG CONNECT’s diversity and inclusion network which is very rewarding.

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On a good day, I work from 8 to 7, but I’m often checking emails or reading later in the evenings or over weekends.

I love working on digital policy. It’s a very rewarding policy area, where we can make a difference to people’s lives and opportunities.  Whether you work in agriculture, marketing, manufacturing, fashion or in a shop, you will need digital tools to get your job done and will need a fast and affordable internet or mobile connection whether you are at home or travelling abroad.  This is what we are trying to achieve in DG CONNECT.  We are working to deliver the digital single market and ensure that people have access to the digital world and online content wherever they are. We are also trying to ensure that Europe is ahead of the game when it comes to cybersecurity, 5G, High Performance Computing and in digitising industry. For Europe’s authors, journalists, artists, audiovisual professional and other content providers we are pushing to make sure that their creativity is recognised and rewarded fairly.

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Claire Bury – Deputy Director General, DG Connect – October 2017

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