I promised a post about last Tuesday’s quaestors’ meeting, and here it is. This three-man body, elected every two years, has as its mandate to oversee the members’ statute – put another way, to look after the members’ well-being. Last Tuesday they had an exchange of views with a Maltese Employers’ Group member, Silvia Gauci, about defining a complex or difficult journey. I am not going to repeat the debate here, but the underlying point is that many of the EESC’s members, who do not receive a salary and could be described as volunteers, have to make huge efforts to get to Brussels for the Committee’s meetings. In this context I don’t think we (by which I mean ‘Brussels’, collectively) have fully realised the ramifications of the last two waves of enlargement. Personally, I am much aware of the effort members put in to carry out their work. To get to a meeting in the morning, I pedal in on my bike. It generally takes me fifteen to twenty minutes and, though my days may be long, most nights I am back home. For Silvia and the other Maltese members, they have to take a flight the previous evening. As she pointed out, for a three-hour meeting in Brussels she has to be away from home for a total of thirty-six hours! We call it the ‘Maltese problem’ but this is a sort of shorthand for all of our members with difficult trips. Among the most difficult must surely be that of a Scottish member, Brendan Burns (Employers’ Group).
His home and business are in Killen, in Ross-shire, which is a long way from the nearest international airports. His is the real McCoy; the journey from hell. If he wants to catch the first morning flights from Aberdeen or Edinburgh he has to leave home and start driving at 1.30 a.m.! In effect, he has to add a day on before and after each meeting he attends here. It is because of experiences like this that I am determined that members’ comfort should be high on my list of priorities as Secretary General.