One of the cornerstones of SYL’s international advocacy work is a trip to Brussels twice a year. Usually, one or two Board members and the EU Lobbying Adviser go along on the trip. This autumn, I was joined on the trip by Board member Petteri Heliste, who is in charge of EU affairs. We left on the evening of Monday 15 October after the strategy day at the SYL office, but luckily this time we were treated to rare direct flights in both directions.
In Brussels, we usually set aside three full working days for lobbying. We book in 15–20 meetings with politicians and interest groups, depending on their schedules. Our working days tend to start around 8 am and finish around 8–10 pm. For example, many Members of the European Parliament (MEPs for short) have such full diaries that we book in breakfast meetings, while representatives for interest groups are happy to meet over dinner instead of having a rushed meeting. One of the highlights of these lobbying trips is, however, visiting the European Parliament, and that is where we spend most of our time. Here at SYL, we are proud of our excellent contacts with the Finnish MEPs, and we are grateful that they will always find time for us, even if it is only for a quick coffee between meetings. The European Parliament building is maze-like, but definitely worth a visit. The corridors are buzzing as MEPs, staff of the political groups, assistants, interns and visitors are speeding along from meeting to meeting.
Out of the interest groups, our umbrella organisation the European Students’ Union is of course the most important and natural group for us to meet up with. We also try to meet as many Finnish representatives as possible from the government, labour market organisations, education organisations and NGOs. This year, we have also strengthened our ties to international education policy organisations, such as the European Universities Association.
How does this promote SYL’s lobbying activities?
It is no secret that our trips to Brussels are a large investment for SYL, both in financial terms and in terms of working hours. But it is worth it: during our three-day visit, we get through six months’ worth of lobbying in one go. Our days are long and busy, but lobbying always works best face to face.
As always, this autumn we also gained a lot of first-hand information on the EU’s decision making and political realities. We were able to confirm budget schedules and the contents of the European Education Area. We had also just completed SYL’s aims for the European Parliament election platform, so we were able to share our election goals with both politicians and interest groups. In our meetings, we emphasise that SYL is first and foremost an expert organisation on international education policy matters, so our election platform reflects current needs in society which relate to education.
Even though only two or three people usually participate in this trip, we are still working to increase the network of the entire SYL office. We share our travel details ahead of time with the entire office and think about current themes to discuss with our interest groups so that all sectors will get as much out of our fact-finding mission as possible.
SYL’s impact is larger than its size
I have to admit that it feels strange to find oneself at the other side of the table in a lobbying meeting. In 2015, I did an internship at the European Parliament for seven months and gained invaluable experience of the functioning of the EU and political lobbying. I spent a lot of time observing politicians, officials and lobbyists at work. Now, I am able to make use of the skills I learned there in my work as an Adviser at SYL.
I always recommend to students I meet that they grab every international opportunity they come across during their studies. Exchanges and internships broaden the mind and increase your skillset in a short amount of time, and you often do not realise the benefits until later. Without my experience of working for the UN or in the European Parliament, I would probably not be sitting here in SYL’s office writing this blog post right now and I would not be experiencing these tough but rewarding trips.
The student movement needs and will continue to need strong international experts who understand the EU’s influence over Finnish education policy. Our area of influence is moved further out from Finnish legislation every year, so the student movement must be able to meet these demands.
I hope that this blog post went some way in explaining SYL’s international advocacy work. Lobbying on an international level is no more mysterious than it is on a national level, but it takes more willpower and requires more resources. It is tough, intensive and varied; the core activities of a strong student movement.
P.S. If you would like to know more, please get in touch with us!
International Affairs and EU Lobbying Adviser
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