Outline: Sara Sousa, a current Management student, shares with the Uduni community one of the most challenging experiences that she have ever had: the Euroscola program in the EU parliament in Strasbourg! #uduni #university life
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What did I learn from the Euroscola program in the EU parliament in Strasbourg?
The once-in-life experience in the Euroscola Program in EU Parliament taught me what to do and not to do when you want people to follow your lead and how to convince your competition that you are the right person for the position. This was definitely one of the most challenging experiences that I have ever had, and I will share with you some of my learning insights hoping they are useful to you in the future.
The context: How did I get the seat in the EU Parliament in Strasbourg?
To start with, let me introduce the Euroscola Program. In abstract, about 600 students from the 27 EU member states spend a day in Strasbourg discussing the impact of European integration in a future framework. The Euroscola Program targets high school students with 16-18 years old who are invited to represent their own countries in the European Parliament in Strasbourg. Around 22 students from each EU member state are selected for each Euroscola session, according to the countries own nomination criteria. The best part is: if you reach the top 3 in the Portuguese national ranking, you are offered a full-paid journey by the EU to the Euroscola session in Strasbourg, valid for up to 22 students, 2 teachers and 1 journalist.
This was the path I had to walk in order to get the ticket to the EU Parliament. However, this was not all that took me up to that comfortable blue seat in the upper stand of the chamber. The 600 young deputies were assigned to one of the five delegations to prepare a preliminary paper with resolutions on EU matters (such as Refugees, Foreign Policy, Democracy and Citizenship, EU Elections Abstention Rates, Renewable Energy) that will later be presented and defended in the plenary, and eventually decided for adoption if they get at least the majority of the plenary voting. Besides, before this process starts, every commission had to elect a spokesperson and a chairman, the former accountable for the proposals presentation and defence in the chamber, whereas the latter is responsible for the flow and speaking turns of the cross-culture debate in the commission.
So, how exactly did I get the seat in the EU Parliament in Strasbourg? In theory it was pretty simple. In a nutshell, I got the voting support of the majority of 100 deputies from my commission, but in practice, there were a lot of small things that contributed to the desired outcome.
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From shame to sorry
I went to the EU Parliament in February of 2012, and one of the hurdles was my nationality. Do you remember how highly-considered was Portugal in the European framework? Well, the Portuguese economy was a hot topic worldwide, and not for the best reasons. The Portuguese bail-out and the decreasing trust in the country’s recovery placed me in a shame position. From the questions asked to the MEPs and to the eyes of my audience I belonged to the untrustworthy losers (thanks homeland), and of course, the Greeks were in the same boat. However, this gave me two important advantages for my candidacy for spokesperson: the first, I had the unconditional support of the Greeks and the Italians that shared their understanding (interesting, ham?); the second, as my nationality placed me in the stage around all the controversial debate between lenders and receivers, I decided to use that spotlight and shift it in my own favour.
Learning Insight #1: Leverage your strengths and take the opportunities you encounter to create value for your side. This was how I got the votes from the Greeks and the Italians. For example, I approached some Greeks, and after some cheap chat we jumped to the million dollars question “Do you agree with the IMF imposed tight policies?”. Listen then talking about what really scares then and what they care about. If you agree with their statements show then that you are in their side. If not, tell them that there may be a better way, and give then your friendly opinion and ask them to consider other points of view, but do not enforce your way. Also, do not forget that you are already running even though they have not realised it yet. So, smile and say “hi” whenever you bump into each other. They will not forget you. If you need to get support, people who identify themselves more with you will follow you without much effort, but they need to hear from you that they can count on you too.
The fall-in-love rule
My only chance to change the game was to give a knock-out speech. As no one had met before, only first impressions and stereotypes made up our opinions about the 27 candidates. Therefore, two minutes were all that I had got to make them “fall in love with me”.
Learning Insight #2: Every first impression counts! I realised that talking to people in the coffee-breaks and even when we were queuing to go to the restroom proved to be worthwhile. So, try to get to know the people around you. When no one knows each other, being the friendly and familiar face that one met in the hall makes the difference. So, do not be shy nor isolate yourself in your corner, be the one giving the first step.
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My candidacy speech was certainly the twisting point. I took the advantage to go beyond our individual nationality, make them thing about our common European citizenship and remind them of the ultimate reason for our gathering in the EU Parliament that day. In fact, we were the representatives of the younger generation, gathered with one and only question “What is the future that we want for us, and how is the European integration part of that answer?” Basically, the speech appealed to the youth empowerment as the way forward. Instead of making them taking sides against one another on current matters, the aim was to make them united in favour of the future that only we can protect, “the future is in our hands and we are responsible for it and, thus, we cannot just stand here watching the policy makers deciding the future we will live.
We must express our voice about todays’ world, show them that we are not bystanders, we do care about our future and, most importantly, we do something to change it for the better”. This approach proved to be successful, because they heard not only what they wanted to hear, but also what they had to hear to work as one. To conclude my intervention, I gave my world and commitment to honour the delegation’s resolutions if I was elected, and that I would defend in the chamber. Well, surprise, surprise… I was elected with majority of the votes.
Learning Insight #3: Thank your audience and take a horizontal leadership style. Never forget to show your gratitude. Although you may have some merit, you got there only because they trusted you would represent their interests. So, thank them before starting a new chapter. Moreover, you may be in a higher position, but never forget to consider or listen those below your rank, your work will be better together.
Learning Insight #4: Be yourself! Do not lie and do not make promises if you cannot keep them. Instead, show them why do you care and what will you accomplish if you all drive in the same direction. Think with the end in mind, evoke something that you all care about very much and make them feel that you all are fighting for the same principle, even though you all have opinions that set you apart.
The previous learning insight is of paramount importance. At the end of my duties in the commission, I was being called to the chamber when one of the deputies approached me. She offered me her thankful appreciation and quoted my candidacy speech to tell me that she was inspired by it, and, as a consequence, she was expecting me to persuade the chamber to approve our paper. The truth is, the chamber was another combat, and if I had not been myself since the very beginning, I would have be caught in my own trap. And let me tell you, you do not want one-fifth of the chamber turning up against you if you are caught in lies and platitudes.
Learning Insight #5: Inspire and be inspired. As I mentioned, the speech was part of the reason why I was elected spokesperson. People were inspired to vote in me, but most of all, they were inspired to contribute positively for the cross-nation discussions. Their motivation was also a contributing factor for me to do a great job. Feeling their trust and support helped me cope with all the uncertainty and anxiety. Time was pressuring, and I had no final speech prepared. I had to hold on to the idea that I was not doing it for me, I was doing it for us.
Learning Insight #6: Use more “we” and less “I”. This is a common mistake in our daily lives that I also witnessed in the debate. I remember a deputy that was attacked for focusing too much on the benefits he would have if decision A would be accepted, actually, a proposal that would be impossible to implement in every member state. So, every time you want to talk about a team effort, use “we accomplished”, “we decided”, “we believe”. Do not be selfish to the point that you end up endangering your own success to get an extra attention to yourself.
We are all scared of Q&A
Well, if you think the most difficult part was over, I tell you that it was yet to come. I was literally dragged to the chamber as I run out of time with my colleagues’ congratulations and my teachers’ photo requests. They were all ‘cheers’ for knowing that I had been elected, and I was like a desperation bomb ready to explode. Anyway, I sat in that comfortable blue seat (actually, not that conformable) facing around 600 people. I manage to control myself and to present as clear as possible our resolutions so as to raise the least number of doubts as possible from the audience. Let us admit, we are all scared of Q&A! However, there is always that question for which you do not have the answer to. The question is completely out of the scope of a 17-years-old economics student who does not have a clue about electronic voting systems security. The guy asking the question knows that you cannot answer that, you know that you cannot answer that question, but he asks it anyway! How to get rid of this, to say the least, awkward situation?
Learning Insight #7: You are not everybody’s cup of tea. Some people will like you, some people will hate you. You cannot be appreciated by everyone. So, do not feel disappointed every time you do not meet someone’s expectations. That guy definitely hated me that day (sorry mate). Although I am not proud of it, I had to give him the most political answer possible. Instead of shifting the scope of the question as many MEPs did that day, which pissed us off, I was truly honest with my fellow. I gave him a simply “I cannot answer that question because it is beyond my knowledge. However, in order to implement this measure, research and tests have to be conducted to ensure the full-security and validity of the voting processes”. I saw that he was not pleased with the answer, but it was the best I could do.
Regardless of the tricky questions that made me feel like a fool, the screen showed us the adoption our paper by majority, and more than that, it was the only paper accepted that day. I was so happy for delivering that win to my delegation and for seeing the chairman in his seat sending a convincing thumbs up. Mission accomplished!
Learning Insight #8: Give always 100%! Even if you don’t win, you learn, and this is already something you should be proud of.
Author: Sara Sousa