Life as a Trainee with the European Court of Auditors

Life as a Trainee with the European Court of Auditors

So I’m starting my first blog and I find myself 30,000ft in the air, watching the sun set over Scandinavia, trying to figure out how best to explain what I’ve been up to!

A few weeks ago I left Dublin to begin a traineeship at the European Court of Auditors in Luxembourg. I had been given the rare opportunity to work in the cabinet office of Mr. Eoin O’Shea, the Irish member of the Court. As a recent graduate I was firstly delighted to have a job but more importantly I was fully aware of the chance I had been given and determined to make the most of it.

The traineeship had been organised in conjunction with European Movement Ireland and I’d like to thank Noelle and the team for all their help and support throughout the process. European Movement is an organisation that plays a pivotal role in maintaining and strengthening the Irish-European connection both at home and abroad and they are due a lot of credit for all their hard work.

So by now I’m sure you have a few important questions, like what on earth is the Court of Auditors, where is Luxembourg again and have I seen any reindeer on my travels?!

The European Court of Auditors is one of the institutions of the European Union. The job of the Court is to act as the external auditor of the finances of all EU activities. Put simply the Court keeps an eye on all the money that is spent around the EU and beyond from Athlone to Africa. Not an easy task, but someone has to do it! The Court is made up of 27 members, one from each member state.  Each member has a cabinet (where I work) and is also a member of a chamber of the Court. Mr. O’Shea is part of Chamber 4 and he is responsible for EU agencies. The Court comes together for meetings of all members once a week and each chamber meets every week also, however essentially day-to-day Mr. O’Shea works with his team and the agencies unit of the Court on the main task of auditing the agencies of the Union.

So little old me, finds herself off on a plane to Luxembourg (thank you Luxair for the free excess luggage!) to start my 5 month traineeship. To be perfectly honest I knew hardly anything about Luxembourg. I knew that it was small, hard to find on a map and it always pops up on those lists of best places to live or make money, I’m not sure, either of which I’ll take! Now I’m here and it’s like a fairytale city, so pretty and a great place to live. All the EU institutions take on trainees, usually twice a year, winter and summer. The trainees come from all over Europe, with a huge variety of backgrounds and experience, to add their youthful enthusiasm to the European idea. I’m friends with a lot of translation trainees which is good when we were in Germany ordering food and bad when they slag the way I speak English! Don’t worry, they’ll all think everything is “grand” soon enough! The best way to describe being a trainee is that it’s like being on Erasmus again but you get paid, a win-win situation in my opinion!

On my first day at work we went to Brussels at 8 a.m. While there we had a meeting at the office of the European Ombudsman and then attended the Committee on Budgetary Control (COCOBU) meeting of the European Parliament. COCOBU is the Parliamentary Committee which works closest with the Court. On the agenda were discharges of various budgets relating to EU agencies that Mr. O’Shea is responsible for, such as the European Medicines Agency and the European Police College.  It is very important that the Member of the Court has a good relationship with the MEPs so that they can fully understand the work that the Court is doing.

We were back in Brussels last week for a meeting with a member of Commissioner Sefcovic’s cabinet to discuss the Cost Benchmarking Report that Mr. O’Shea has produced on the EU Agencies. The main topics for discussion included budgeting, recruitment and staff regulations.  Commissioner Sefcovic is Vice President of the Commission and also responsible for Inter-Institutional Relations and Administration. Similarly his cabinet would work closely with the Court on many issues.

Let’s not forget the agencies themselves, the bread and butter of Mr. O’Shea’s job! Luckily for me I started my traineeship at the perfect time, as there was a meeting of all of the 32 EU agencies this week in Helsinki and I got to go along on the Court’s team. It was a great opportunity to listen to the discussions of the agencies, their feedback on Mr. O’Shea’s reports and issues and concerns that they have on a day-to-day and annual basis. With 32 agencies there were a lot of acronyms to try and remember! The greatest benefit I found was just chatting to the agencies about what they do because you learn far more than what it might say in a report or website.

The highlight of the trip was a dinner at the Houses of the Estates in Helsinki, an historic building used in coalition talks when forming Finnish governments. You aren’t allowed use the building unless a member of the Finnish Government is present, so the Minster for Finance greeted us on the stairs. And now we come to the final of my 3 initial questions, reindeer spotting (some readers may like to skip to the next paragraph). Gold star for guessing, my first Nordic meeting with a reindeer came in the form of the main course at dinner! Banishing all thoughts of Rudolph and red noses to the back of my mind I embraced this Nordic treat and I’m not going to lie, it was really good, and no it didn’t taste like chicken! The best part of the dinner was the speech given by the host in recognition of the work of Mr. O’Shea over the past 18 months, it was clear to me that all the agencies really appreciate how Mr. O’Shea has transformed the Court’s relationship with them for the better, through clear communication and cooperation. As the host said, what he has done simply cannot be undone and they thanked him sincerely for that and wished him well for the future as he moves on from the Court.

We rounded off the trip with a visit to the Irish Ambassador to Finland, His Excellency Mr. Dermot Brangan. He gave us an interesting insight into Finnish culture and current issues in the economy and so on. We also discussed the work of the Court and in particular the EU agency based in Helsinki, the European Chemicals Agency, which has gone from strength to strength in recent years. I mustn’t forget to mention the lovely cup of Barry’s tea I had which was a nice touch!

So that is just a snap shot of a busy few of weeks in Luxembourg and beyond. Reports, chamber meetings and my endless battle with my computer aren’t as exciting, so you got the highlights! My colleagues in the cabinet have been very welcoming to their new arrival. Also the amount of Irish people I’ve met in different jobs in the EU has reminded me that we get on really well here so if you’re reading this and thinking about a traineeship, just go for it, it’s a great experience and good craic too!

–    Marie-Claire

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2 Responses to Life as a Trainee with the European Court of Auditors

  1. Maya March 5, 2017 at 10:09 am #

    Hi, I am interested in applying for a traineeship at the Court of Auditors but as a law student I am not sure whether I would be suited for the position, since the institution focuses on finances. I know this is now a 6 year old post but I thought I’d try. Is there any chance you could state some of your tasks? Did you look at the actual financial analyses / reports to see whether they are correct or did you look at the legitimacy of the spending, i.e. you assumed the numbers are correct but assessed where the money is going?

    Best regards


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