How the EU experience shattered one woman’s idealism

On June 9, The Guardian published a piece by a lady named Joanne Fry, who was keen to work in Brussels and finally got her wish in 2012.

She is now back in the UK and works in social policy at local government level.

Emphases mine below.

In the late 1990s Fry believed in the EU and wrote on her UCAS form:

After university I hope to go into the world of politics and international relations. Ultimately I would like to become an MEP or a member of the European commission.

She had no idea how difficult it would be to get a job in Brussels, but, with perseverance, she managed to be posted to an ‘internal service’ there. Her dream realised, she had high hopes:

When I finally got there, I’d hoped to see innovative ways of working, collaboration, agile and responsive decision-making, fast paced and dynamic policymaking, and transparent and accountable governance.


what I saw was slavish adherence to processes and hierarchy, bureaucracy and nobody wanting to take responsibility …

She could not take a file from one office to another, because that was someone else’s job. Meetings were morose affairs, with people moaning for hours about how things weren’t working.


None of it felt strategic, none of it felt like there was a vision behind what we were doing; we’d simply created an administrative empire and an industry in running it

It never felt clear what it was that the policy directorates were trying to deliver. Perhaps this was a failure with communications, but if there had been clear leadership and a strong vision then the job of communicating key messages would have been easier.

She ended by saying she wasn’t even bothered much by Brexit. Yet, she warned:

it’s becoming clear that nobody is particularly interested in upsetting the status quo; everything possible will be done to maintain it. Deals will be made so that both sides can save face and look like they’ve won, just like any good solicitor would do in a divorce case.

That is probably accurate. Note the ambush of support for Theresa May everywhere in the media and the calls for Andrea Leadsom to drop out now.

As one Guardian reader put it, in part:

I am happy to be out but now worry that people’s genuine concerns raised in the debate will just be forgotten now the battle is won. Why we are blessed with such political pygmies in the mother of all democracies is very disheartening.

Readers’ comments to Fry’s article accused her of having a poor attitude and not engaging properly with the EU project. Yet, others who had worked in Brussels in more senior positions shared Fry’s perspective. One man who worked in Brussels when Fry was preparing for university wrote:

Strangely enough February 1998 was when I started my stint as an external consultant at the EC.

Stayed long enough to see what it was about and then returned to England in disgust because I like to do real work, be rewarded fairly for it and sleep at nights.

Talk about disillusionment.

A woman who was a misty-eyed graduate three decades ago wrote:

It sounds like things haven’t changed much since the late 80s. As a language graduate, I was very keen to work for the European Commission when I finished University. I went to a meeting in London about the application procedure, and it turned out that basically you had to go to Brussels – self-funded – and schmooze until somebody agreed to take you on as an intern. So essentially, spend a lot of money going to live abroad and then work for free, until you made the contacts necessary to get a paid job. It seemed then that it was a large club for politicians and their acolytes, but I hoped things had improved since then.

It was no better in the 1970s, either, according to this man:

I spent a few months in 1978 in a policy directorate at the European Parliament. I found many of the processes strange, but expected them to change as British methods became more influential. It appears that never happened. Many reasons for not joining them permanently; the utter boredom of most of eurocrats because they had so little to do, alcoholism arising from the boredom and high salaries, and their closed world with hardly any interaction with local communities.

This is further confirmation that we are definitely better off out.

What is of concern now are our aforementioned ‘political pygmies in the mother of all democracies’, including civil servants.

Leavers are cautiously optimistic right now, ‘cautiously’ being the operative word. Patience, in addition to attentiveness, is now needed.

We may be ridding ourselves of one enormous layer of bureaucracy. Along the way, we will have to deal with another that shares many of the characteristics of the EU.

9 comments for “How the EU experience shattered one woman’s idealism

  1. Ted Treen
    July 10, 2016 at 2:27 pm

    The absolute epitome of Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy.

  2. Mudplugger
    July 10, 2016 at 4:00 pm

    Having spent some time as a consultant to some UK government departments, then the image conjured up here for the EU’s operation seems remarkably familiar, just on a larger, and even more remote, scale.
    Neither enjoy any element of dynamism, motivation or achievement, seeming to exist solely to defend and perpetuate themselves and the valueless jobs of all those therein.
    Sadly, I remain unsurprised.

  3. john in cheshire
    July 10, 2016 at 5:04 pm

    I wish the people who developed the Harrogate Agenda would push it for all it’s worth and I wish a few influential people would recognise the attractiveness of adopting the Harrogate Agenda as the basis for the new way of conducting governance in our newly free country.

  4. Bunny
    July 10, 2016 at 5:59 pm

    I was involved in proof reading the documentation for the European Council of the Regions meeting in Bratislava a few weeks back and what struck me was what a good idea the concept was, but how badly implemented it was. The idea was a science and innovation convention as well, with a bit of art tagged on. Reading the documentation it became an art festival with a bit of science and innovation thrown in.

    As the commenters noted there is no connection with the real world and that is why the EU will fail, it is run by people who have no back ground in reality, in trade or in generating value for themselves or an employer.

  5. Errol
    July 10, 2016 at 7:58 pm

    The idea of the EU -or any form of government – beng remotely ‘agile’ or ‘responsive’ shows a complete dearth of understanding of the point of government.

    This is something I don’t understand: the Left seem to think, despite every scrap of evidence; that government is a good thing. It isn’t.

    Government is a collective of uninterested jobsworths all promoting their own budget while not actually achieving anything.

    Getting things done is utterly anathema to the state. That isn’t what it’s there for. it exists simply to exist. Inertia is the only thing stopping it completely collapsing.

  6. CJ Nerd
    July 10, 2016 at 8:06 pm

    A friend of mine worked in Brussels in the mid-1990s. He told me something like:

    “It’s an enormous heap of the most complete and utter w**k; but it’s a gravy train, and I’m going to ride it for as long as possible.”

  7. CJ Nerd
    July 10, 2016 at 8:11 pm


    “I now work in local government, where the main objective is to ensure that residents are safe and well. That’s the basic bottom line; if children or vulnerable people come to harm then you’ve failed.”

    “Joanne Fry works in policy in UK local government.”

  8. July 10, 2016 at 8:23 pm

    Strangely enough February 1998 was when I started my stint as an external consultant at the EC.

    Stayed long enough to see what it was about and then returned to England in disgust because I like to do real work, be rewarded fairly for it and sleep at nights.

    Talk about disillusionment.

    That horse will not run. [Thanks again.]

  9. July 11, 2016 at 8:08 am

    Oh come along now. All this carping. Where’s the credit for jobs well done? For ‘excellence’, even. The EU has major success and first class experience in expidiciously, comprehensively, inclusively – and dare we say almost exclusively – in making enormous amounts of Taxpayers’ money disappear.

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