The quaestors’ quest

Silvia Gauci

Silvia Gauci

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).

Brendan Burns

Brendan Burns

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.

1 Comment

  1. Brendan Burns

    Thank you for recognising my travel problems. Too often people in the more remote areas of Europe are told how lucky we are because we live in such beautiful places. Unfortunately we can neither eat or live off such beautiful scenary.

    The problem for the EESC is whether we encourage and welcome those European citizens that do not live close to an international airport. If the EESC is going to represent all European citizens then we have to not only be aware of the problems of travel but be willing to address the unusual problems that distance causes.

    My example is not just a problem for our committee but it highlights that transport is not only a physical problem but is also a social problem. If Europe is going to be supported by our citizens then speed of transport to the political decision making centres has to be a priority. This is not just a problem for the new nations but Scotland is a good example where you can actually be very close “as the crow flies” but actually be further away in hours travelled.

    Next time any member feels that he spends too much time travelling to meetings just consider what it is like to travel by car for 4 hours then wait 1.5 hours before you take off. Fly for another 1.5 hours, wait another 3 hours in an airport and a further 1 hour of a flight; and that is on a good summer day where all flights are on time. Remember you also have to do this but in reverse when you go home! My worst journey occurred last December, It took me 48 hours to get home from Brussels and that was only by luck because I drive a 4×4 vehicle otherwise I would have arrived at home only to turn around and come back to Brussels.

    I am sure some must ask why I do it. I know my partner does. I do it because Europe is not just made up of towns and cities but also includes rural and remote areas. If someone does not voice the opinion of those who live in these areas, then the decisions made in Brussels will be decisions that ignore the problems that people like me have to live on a day by day basis.

    Brendan Burns

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