Hello there, Felix here from Judith’s team.
As a lot of you will know, Judith recently hosted a group of 24 young apprentices from the South East of England. We assembled at King’s Cross St. Pancras International, meeting up with groups of apprentices who’d travelled from across the region, Kent, West Berkshire and Oxfordshire. Names were checked off lists, tickets were distributed and before we knew it, we were passing through the Channel Tunnel and on our way to Brussels!
On arrival we met Kate Coulson, our colleague who is a Parliamentary Assistant (APPA) working in Judith’s Brussels office. She handed over our tickets and kindly set us in the direction of the hostel, which gave us our first taste of the famed Brussels transport system! Comfortable as the trains were, the lack of signage was a little unsettling. Fortunately, our Chief of Staff, Gabrielle was on hand to save the day. Indeed, legend has it she has yet to encounter a language she cannot master, so it was in her impeccable French that we placed our trust, which ultimately got us to our accommodation in time to kick start our busy itinerary!
During the first evening we had a fantastic event in the MEP salon. Several of Judith’s fellow Liberal Democrat MEP’s took the time to discuss with our visitors, the EU and how central opportunities for young people are to it. Ben Butters, a representative from EUROCHAMBRES, highlighted just how globalised the workplace now is, and how the apprentices could best make use of that environment. Speaking personally, I couldn’t help but feel a little envious. To follow MEPs or Chief Executives online, or on TV, is one thing, but to actually have direct access to them and the opportunity to pick their brains, as our apprentices did afterwards, is absolutely brilliant! It was great to see them take up those opportunities. On an anecdotal level it was also fascinating to speak with the apprentices and hear about their experiences of apprenticeships, which were universally positive. All too often, university is simply presented as the default route, yet we know it’s not a “one size fits all” situation and these apprentices were evidence of that.
The second day started with the somewhat more relaxed option of the bus, which we took to the European Parliament Visitor’s Centre. Here we were greeted by an experienced civil servant from the European Commission, who gave us a fascinating talk on the EU. The EU as a topic has dominated the news agenda now for almost four years, but rarely, if ever, do you get the chance to hear about it and all of its institutions, conventions and processes explained with such clarity. Again, it was fantastic for us all to get such an insight. We were then given a tour of the building, including the hemicycle. Its modern and practical approach was extremely refreshing and is something our own parliament could take note from! Each seat had a set of buttons from which the sitting MEP could vote instead of having to pile out of the doors and into separate chambers, as they do in Westminster. There were also enough seats for all the members, a concept our own House of Commons has yet to grasp.
After that it was into the city centre for another Belgian delicacy: frites! an afternoon spent exploring the city by virtue of a scavengers hunt, before hopping back on the same Eurostar as a certain Liberal Democrat party grandee by the name of Vince Cable.
All in all, a terrific trip and hopefully a great opportunity for our young people to appreciate just how many wonderful opportunities are out there for them to make use of. I look forward to the next one!