Paul Culley is a tutor and trainer, sharing long experience in the EU Council of Ministers where he advised and briefed the ministers and diplomats responsible for the Presidency of the Council.
At CIFE, he tutors four Master programmes.


How would you describe the current job situation for somebody who graduates in 2020 and aspires to work in a European or international institution? What could be the “little extra” that might convince an employer to opt for her/him?
When employers pick people for jobs or internships, they don’t look only at academic qualifications and languages, but also at practical skills. It’s sad, but true, that organisations want to take on interns and staff who will be operational, almost in the first week. They look at a CV and ask how quickly this person would make the transition from the academic world to the workplace. The catch phrase is “employability”. In CIFE, our professional skills courses are like job training. We hope our graduates score high on “employability”.

What are the profiles of CIFE students, what kind of careers are they preparing for?
CIFE’s students come from all over the world, most of them having multilingual or at least bilingual profiles. Our students aim to work on European or international policy in a public institution (European or international institutions, or in a national administration dealing with international affairs) or a civil society body (often in environmental, human rights or trade issues) or a public affairs body (representing the interests of a geographical region or an economic sector) or in the specialised media. Many are interested in Brussels/Luxembourg, but also Rome, Vienna or Geneva – all of which are international policy hubs.

At CIFE, you tutor the module “Professional Skills”, more specifically you teach “Real-time EU policy tracking”. What does this mean?
I’m not a lecturer – I’m a tutor or trainer. Our programme aims to build up some of the main skills that students would need in their first weeks and months in the job or traineeship.  It’s a kick-start for their careers. We track EU negotiations, in real time, on a specific subject over a period of about six months. We learn to see the political angle (the “satellite view”) but we also go into the technical details (the “street view”). We learn to collect information from open sources, ranging from official documents to breaking news and leaks on social media. We learn to analyse what we find – especially to read the sub-plot. Most importantly, we learn to write short, sharp briefing notes as if we were briefing a parliamentarian, ambassador or director of a civil society body.

How does it work in reality?
Like this:

  • You pick a current legislative proposal that the Commission has put on the table of the European Parliament and Council
  • You develop your own tool-box to track the negotiations (sources of information to check weekly).  Who are the deciders, the stakeholders, the influencers?
  • You learn to track the most common EU law-making procedure (called “codecision”), most of which follows an informal procedure that you can track if you know where to look. This is the most geeky part of the course, but it’s also gives you some of the most employable skills.
  • You learn to write 2-3 of the most common “tools” of policy advisors – Factsheets, Briefing Notes and Procedure Trackers. You update these between our sessions as the negotiation progresses. I’m told that if you show them at a job interview, some recruiters are very impressed at your “employability”.

What specific issues do you track?
We usually have several groups – environment/climate, single market/digital, internal/legal affairs, consumer affairs. Specifically, recent students tracked negotiations on car CO2 emissions, sustainable “green” finance, drinking water quality, tyre labelling for energy efficiency, new programmes for ErasmusPlus and Creative Europe, terrorist content on-line, e-privacy, copyright reform. In autumn 2020, we’ll certainly track files in the EU Green Deal (such as the Climate Law), in the Circular Economy, in the area of digital services, the data economy and data privacy. We’ll also see what’s on the table for the post-Covid economy.

To summarise, what would you say is the main benefit for the participants in your module?
Firstly, students develop marketable skills and expertise – research, analysis and writing. I’m a “policy practitioner” and I share what I know. Secondly, every student develops a toolbox (contact names, sources of information and comment) for a sector that interests them. They build this up over 5-6 months and this itself is marketable. Thirdly, they “learn by doing”, so EU procedures and jargon are no longer a mystery. If they arrive in Brussels, they’ll look like a “local” almost immediately! If they arrive anywhere else, they’ll look like an “EU insider”!



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