White Rose Brussels’ Fourth Year Anniversary!
White Rose Brussels Office Celebrates Four Years since Launch
7th / 8th April 2020
Four years since the official launch event of the White Rose Brussels Office, we sat down with its European Public Affairs Director, Dr Phil Holliday, who reflects on his highlights since then and gives his vision for the future of the office. From setting up the very beginnings of the WRB’s office space to hosting research showcase events in the European Parliament, Phil gives us an insight into some of the more memorable moments of the Office’s journey so far.
“A highlight for me was convincing the then-European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Phil Hogan to give a key note speech at our White Rose event on Food Security in 2017. We have a great photo of the two Phils, but he’s a very tall man and he towers over me!” Phil added that another unforgettable experience was during a WRB event in European Parliament when “the fire alarm went off! It wasn’t a test, halfway through our discussions we were escorted out of the room and down the stairs of the labyrinthine building. Half of our group exited the building and the other half stayed in a section of the building that the fire alarm wasn’t ringing. When the alarm stopped, the people outside weren’t allowed back into the building as only one entrance was open. By the time we got back to our meeting room, we had lost half our audience and only had an hour left, but we persevered.”
Perseverance is a trait with which the Brussels Office has become well-acquainted; the unprecedented COVID-19 outbreak has curtailed much of the office’s plans for Spring 2020. Of course, the 31st January also brought a new challenge which will undoubtedly shape the WRB going forward – “dare I say it, Brexit has been the biggest change for the Office. Even though we still technically have access to EU funding programmes, Brexit has caused a huge amount of uncertainty over whether the UK will have access to future EU Funding programmes like Horizon Europe and Erasmus+ and will affect how the office functions as well. We have had to be dynamic and agile to change our European strategy due to the effects of Brexit.”
Amidst this uncertainty, the WRB is still committed to working closely with other regional offices and networks to ensure that cooperation continues. We are actively engaged in a number of Brussels-based networks, such as UnILiON (Universities Informal Liaison Offices Network) and ERRIN (European Regions Research & Innovation Network) where we work together to share knowledge and best practice on European research, education and innovation activities.
On this note, Phil was encouraged by the visit of the Vice-Chancellors of Leeds, Sheffield and York to Brussels in November: “one positive is that they see the benefit of continuing to have a presence in Brussels to reassure European partners that the three Universities are internationally focused. The Vice-Chancellors extended the funding for the Brussels Office for an additional two years, up to October 2022.” This provides a fantastic opportunity for the WRB to continue supporting White Rose academics who would like to engage with the European bubble: “I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the interest of the Brussels office by academics from the three universities. We look to support their work either by assisting with activities in Brussels, or by reporting back on EU research, education and innovation policies. We’re always looking to work with our academics”.
Two more years of funding also means new intakes of interns, who report directly to Phil. “I like the energy and ideas that the graduate interns bring with them, I find it refreshing to have them look at the things we do with fresh eyes and also to bring their knowledge of new technologies, particularly social media, to the office so that we’re always trying news ideas out”. With a four-person office in Brussels, plus another four White Rose colleagues back in Yorkshire, Phil emphasised the importance of team harmony, as “the three interns in particular spend a lot of time together, so the balance of personalities is a key factor that I consider during recruitment.”
The current crop is the first to see 9-month placements with regular travel back to Yorkshire to meet with academic and professional staff, reporting on the latest policy developments. It had previously been a 6-month placement. Phil explained that this extension “covers all the major activities in Brussels. On some occasions when we have had a large event in June, I’ve extended the contract of one intern to cover all the work of that activity. The summer months of July and August are generally quiet in Brussels; the EU institutions have their summer recess, so I’m able to just about cover monitoring work that the interns do during those months.”
Whilst the Brussels Office relies primarily on Phil and the three interns, our European Public Affairs Director points out that none of this would have been possible without “my ex-colleague Jo Hutchings, who used to live in York and moved recently to Swansea. She was an integral part of the Brussels office – she helped me set it up from scratch and we ‘solved’ a number of problems together and the office is as it is due to Jo’s hard work.”
The White Rose Brussels Office would like to thank Jo for her eleven years of outstanding work and support, and extends its thanks and best wishes to other colleagues with whom we have worked so successfully over the past four years. We look forward to continued cooperation, as well as welcoming more White Rose academics to Brussels so that they may share their world-class research and engage with European stakeholders.
Are you an academic from a White Rose university, and interested in working with us? Head to our ‘Engage with Brussels’ page to find out how!
Written by Darren de Souza.