|Series Title||European Voice|
|Series Details||Vol 7, No.7, 15.2.01, p12|
THERE are two tell-tale signs that winter has finally arrived in the self-styled capital of Europe.
Firstly, Hennes and Mauritz adverts of scantily- clad models start popping up on bus-stop billboards. And secondly, similarly risqué posters announcing the advent of the stagiaires' national party season are pasted all over European Commission notice boards - or increasingly forwarded as e-mail attachments.
These 'national parties' have nothing to do with flag-waving groups that parade around the streets of many European cities. Instead they are just another excuse for the next generation of EU officials to raise money for charity, play around with national stereotypes and - if they are lucky - put into practice the Treaty of Rome's pledge to seek an "ever closer union among the peoples of Europe".
It is all a bit of a nightmare for federalists who think the nation state is a thing of the past. The UK trainees' latest shindig invited party-goers to "travel back in time to the 60s and get into the groove Austin Powers style". The central European fest earlier this month played on the
cold-war theme, encouraging interns to "get the unique enlargement feeling" and learn the polka before the "Iron Curtain falls".
Not everyone is convinced that the best way of breaking down national barriers between young Europeans is to accentuate the very things that make them different from their neighbours. Former Swedish Commissioner Anita Gradin lodged a formal complaint when Nordic stagiaires tried to draw in the punters by tempting them to find out if "blondes have more fun".
The outgoing head of the traineeships' office, Joan Scott, says she tried to promote cross-border parties during her tenure.
For the less represented countries, her efforts appear to be paying off. The recent cold-war party grouped together the ins (Austrians), nearly-ins (Czechs), outs (Croatians) and the out-in-the-colds (Belarussians) - proof indeed that enlargement is already a reality for young Europeans.
But by and large, the national stage parties follow a similar format. The first thing is to set up a national coordinating committee to get sponsorship and sort out a venue. (In fact, if the Commission were as efficient at handling taxpayers' money as its interns are at organising parties, it would have a lot more public support).
Stage parties are held in some of Brussels' biggest venues and attract as many as 3,000 people.
The sponsorship the parties receive is also staggering when you consider that most stagiaires do not have MBAs and have a day job - of sorts - to hold down. For example, the splendid setting of the cold-war party was due to generous donations from BP, British American Tobacco, the Bank of Austria, Czech Airlines and Pilsner Urquell. This type of support from big business must have Commissioners turning green with envy.
After sponsors have been collared and a venue has been chosen, DJs and bands are booked, barrels of beer are bought, national delicacies are prepared - or more often than not flown in - and bouncers, cleaners and coat-hangars have to be sorted out.
"I never imagined it would be so much work," says Marina Ullastres Ortiz, who is helping to organise the Spanish national party.
But at the end of the day, the hard slog is worth it - not just for the thousands of 20-somethings who spend the night dancing away to stage favourites such as Abba and Madonna, but also for the charities that benefit from the huge sums of money made by trainees.
Part of the surplus cash from the late-night revelry is handed over to the stage's own charity Solidarité. But the organisers of each national party also dole out a share of the proceeds to NGOs in their respective countries.
Stage parties have become something of a Brussels institution in the 25 years they have been taking place. The only difference between them and the other institutions in the self-styled capital of Europe is that they are fun and don't cost the European taxpayer a dime.
|Subject Categories||Politics and International Relations|