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Law: My legal traineeship at the EU Commission in Brussels


Dear diary,

ever since I majored in International and European Law at university, I wanted to work for a European institution at least once. So it quickly became clear to me that I wanted to complete one stage of my legal traineeship at the EU Commission in Brussels. But how did I get in there? What awaited me there? And what is it like to do a traineeship abroad? I will answer all these questions here!

By the way: This article is also interesting for non-lawyers, so don't be put off!

I don't regret for a second my decision to complete my administrative traineeship at the EU Commission in Brussels. On the one hand, it made a small dream of mine come true to work at a European institution one day. On the other hand, it may even have given rise to a new dream. The traineeship at the Commission has shown me that I could indeed imagine working there one day.

How did this new dream come about? The work at the Commission is varied and exciting. Exactly what I want from a job. Brussels also has a lot to offer as a city and has its very own charm. I could well imagine living there. And then there are the people. Without exception, I have met some wonderful people! Both my team at the Commission and my new friends were indescribably nice. I can only feel comfortable in such an environment in the future.

 HOW AND WHEN DID YOU APPLY?

Applying for the traineeship at the Commission is a little trickier. You won't find any information about this on the official website. There is only information about the “Blue Book” traineeship, a 5-month paid internship at the Commission, which is offered twice a year. However, this is not the right program if you want to do your legal traineeship at the Commission. Instead, you have to apply as an “atypical trainee”. I only found out about this myself through other blog posts. In these, I read that I had to apply directly to the Directorate-General where I wanted to work. No sooner said than done! So I went to the Commission's website to see what areas there are. My immediate choices were DG Competition and DG Environment. I then looked at the organization chart of the respective Directorates-General and thought about which department I would most like to work in. I then sent my application to the people named in the organization chart (you can put together the email yourself: Vorname.Nachname@ec.europa.eu). I also sent my application to the General Directorate for Human Resources so that they could pass on my message. And then it was just a matter of waiting.

First I heard back from DG Competition (DG Comp) and was invited for a telephone interview. I was asked about my knowledge of competition law. I was then asked a few questions aimed at demonstrating independent thinking skills. The entire interview was conducted in English. I didn't need to speak French (this may of course be different for other applicants, but knowledge of French is not a prerequisite for the application). A few hours later, I was accepted for the job. A few days later, I also had two more acceptances - one for DG Environment and one for DG Justice. I didn't need an interview for either position. However, I had already decided to go to DG Comp at this point.

I sent my application in March 2021 for September 2021. 6 months lead time is therefore generally sufficient for the application. However, I would probably prefer to apply 9 months in advance for better chances - better safe than sorry!

 HOW DID YOU FIND YOUR ACCOMMODATION?

I was looking for accommodation together with a friend from Germany who was working at the Commission at the same time. As we were only in Brussels for three months, we needed a furnished apartment. The Commission recommended a few websites (Brukot and Immo.Vlan) where we could look for apartments. We also found a few apartments here, but in the end we opted for a wonderful Airbnb. If you book there for longer periods, you get discounts. As a result, we ended up paying less than anywhere else and had a huge, beautiful apartment. However, most of my friends in Brussels found their apartments via other platforms, such as Immoweb, Spotahome, Colive and Appartager. All of them also had nice apartments or rooms. So you will definitely find what you are looking for on one of these platforms!

 WHAT DID YOU DO? WHAT WERE YOUR MAIN TASKS?

My unit works on cases on the one hand and on the development of EU law on the other. I have mainly supported them in two major cases by reviewing and analyzing documents from the companies involved, preparing inquiries to companies, writing analyses on specific topics and conducting research. In addition, I always took part in our unit's meetings - both internal and external - and contributed to discussions. However, your tasks could also look very different. For example, my roommate helped write a guideline. Other friends of mine have prepared small decisions for the Commission and one has even been assigned a smaller case of her own. So the tasks are very varied and depend a little on what's going on in the relevant unit.

 HOW DID YOU MEET NEW PEOPLE?

I met most of my friends in Brussels through work. On my first day at work, I received an email from other DG Comp trainees. I then wrote to them asking if we would like to meet up. That was actually the best thing I could have done. We created a WhatsApp group to meet up and people who had never seen each other before quickly became close friends. However, our group of friends didn't just consist of DG Comp trainees. In fact, everyone brought along other friends and acquaintances, for example I took my roommate with me. We welcomed everyone into the group and quickly became a tight-knit clique.

My flatmate and I also joined a Facebook group with EU trainees. The group is huge, but you have the opportunity to get to know new people and you can always keep your circle a little smaller afterwards. Another way to meet new people is at Plux (Place du Luxembourg). Every Thursday after work, all EU trainees and young employees meet here to enjoy an after-work beer together on the square in front of the Parliament. As most of the trainees are also looking for new contacts there, you have the best chance of meeting someone new!

There are plenty of opportunities to make new friends and contacts in Brussels. The great thing is that most of them come from all over Europe. So you not only get to know interesting people, but also cultural differences. This teaches you how to integrate in an international environment, which may be of great importance in the future. And who knows, maybe one or two new friends will also be important for your future.

 WHAT SHOULD YOU DEFINITELY DO?

Get to know people! Because my new friends made my time in Brussels the special experience that it ended up being. Once you know new people, there are a few things you can do together! At least once you should go to Plux on Thursday after work and enjoy an after-work beer with the other EU trainees. Personally, however, I found Plux better in summer, as everyone was sitting on the grass and drinking in a relaxed atmosphere. In winter, the whole thing tends to take place in the bars around the square.

I also really enjoyed the after-work markets. These take place on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 13:00 - 20:30 at different locations in Brussels (Mondays: Place Maurice Van Meenen, Saint-Gilles; Wednesdays: Place du Châtelain, Ixelles; Fridays: Place des Chasseurs Ardennais, Schaarbeek). At the markets, you can buy fresh food and enjoy your dinner and an after-work drink. I particularly liked the Wednesday market on Place du Châtelain. Make sure you stop by there!

My favorite thing to do in Brussels, however, was to just walk around and explore the different neighborhoods. I went to a café here and a store there, turned left and right and tried to soak up as much of the neighborhood as possible. Each neighborhood had its own charm! You can find out more about this and what there is to see in my Brussels blog post.

If you have nothing to do on a Saturday night, then there are three bars you can head to: 1. Mappa Mondo - a very relaxed, nice bar in the lively Saint-Gilles. 2. Delirium - the cult bar in Brussels, which is one of the most popular addresses at the weekend. 3. Le Corbeau - you'll be dancing on the tables here from 11pm. Dancing on the tables? Please what? Yes! That's quite normal at Le Corbeau. Because as there is no dance floor in this bar, but the atmosphere turns up around 10pm and 11pm, someone just starts to get up on the table and dance there - and everyone else joins in. I can tell you, you can't imagine the spectacle until you experience it for yourself. And believe me: you should experience it once!

Finally, there is one more thing you should do as an EU trainee: Stroll through the EU quarter and take a look at the various EU buildings - and not just from the outside. As a Commission trainee, your badge will take you to the Commission's main building, the Berlaymont, regardless of where your office is located. Here you can enjoy your lunch in the cafeteria. If you would like to see the Parliament from the inside, you can simply book an appointment online. You also have the opportunity to attend a plenary session and see the parliament in action. You should also definitely pay a visit to the “House of European History” and the “Parlamentarium”. Both museums are free of charge and present the history of the EU and the tasks of the various institutions in a very interesting and interactive way. However, I recommend visiting the House of European History several times, as otherwise you will be overwhelmed by all the information.

 WHAT DO I HAVE TO BEAR IN MIND IF I WANT TO DO MY TRAINEESHIP ABROAD?

I can't give a general answer to this question, as it can vary from state to state. For example, in NRW you can go abroad during the administrative and elective stages, in some other federal states only during the elective stage. In addition, trainee lawyers are civil servants in Hesse, for example, but not in some other federal states. The following information therefore relates more to NRW. In any case, you should discuss the details again with your responsible training supervisor.

I went to Brussels for the administrative station. As I did my legal clerkship at Wuppertal Regional Court, the Düsseldorf district government was responsible for the formalities. I had to apply for a transfer to the Commission there in the normal way - just like for the legal clerkship at the regional court. The only requirement was that the trainer responsible for me had a qualification equivalent to that of a German fully qualified lawyer. In addition, I needed a German certificate after completing the traineeship with the following content: details of the person training me and myself, training period, training content, overall grade, date and signature. In addition, we had to apply for an “A1 certificate” from the district court before starting the station so that our health insurance would also cover us abroad.

 DO I HAVE TO BE A TRAINEE LAWYER TO DO AN INTERNSHIP AT THE EU COMMISSION?

No! Theoretically, anyone can do an internship at the EU institutions, as there are various specialist areas. You therefore only have to apply for the specialist area that interests you. Depending on the Directorate-General, architects, geologists, natural scientists and so on may be sought. But you can also apply for a specialist area that is not your own. DG Comp, for example, mainly employs lawyers and economists, although I also met a trainee who had neither a legal nor an economic background.

However, if you are not a lawyer and are therefore not doing your legal clerkship, you should consider applying for the “Blue Book” traineeship at the EU Commission (or the “Schuman” traineeship at the EU Parliament). As an atypical trainee, you will not be paid, which is not a problem for German trainee lawyers as they still receive their normal salary. For “normal” trainees, however, this can sometimes be expensive, especially in Brussels. Therefore, the official internship program offers a better option because it is paid. You can find all the information you need on the official EU website. However, an internship as an atypical trainee offers you more flexibility, so you can decide the start and duration yourself. It may also be easier to get an internship position if you apply as an atypical trainee.

 DO I HAVE TO SPEAK FRENCH TO WORK AT THE EU?

Yes and no. If you want to work permanently for the EU, you should be able to speak French. However, this is not a mandatory requirement and you have the opportunity to attend a French course in the first two years and learn the language that way. As a trainee, however, French is not a prerequisite for your internship, as work is mainly done in English. However, it can sometimes be helpful.

 WHAT WERE YOUR COSTS?

As the atypical traineeship is unpaid and I therefore only received the normal trainee salary during my time in Brussels, it was of course important to keep my costs as low as possible. Fortunately, I had very low accommodation costs. I shared an Airbnb with a friend for the three months, which cost us €550 per person per month (and that's with 100 square meters of living space!). Some of my friends paid a little more, but you should certainly be able to find something decent within the €750 per month range.

The local cost of living was slightly higher than in Germany, although this mainly applies to prices in restaurants, bars and cafés. However, if you cook for yourself and shop at the supermarket, you should end up with similar expenses as at home. I therefore usually had breakfast at home and took a pre-cooked lunch to work. In the evening, I either ate at home or went out to eat with friends. I mainly saved on transportation costs. I usually walked everywhere. Only occasionally did I take the bus or metro, which kept my costs down. In contrast to at home, I actually saved money, as I often get from A to B by car in Germany and therefore have corresponding fuel costs. On the whole, I had similar living costs to those in Germany. They were just slightly higher, as I go out less in Germany than in Brussels. But that was manageable for the three months - and it was worth it ;)

Overall, my time in Brussels was a great experience that I wouldn't want to miss under any circumstances! Therefore, I can only recommend everyone to have a similar experience. In addition, the Commission definitely offers a change from the rest of the legal clerkship. However, an internship at the Commission can also be a great experience for non-lawyers. Furthermore, I think that a previous traineeship at the EU will be of great benefit to you if you want to work at the EU in the future. Many of the people I met were once trainees at the Commission themselves.

So I can only list the advantages of applying for a traineeship at the EU Commission. So what are you waiting for?

xx Chiara



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