WelcomeAbout once every six months the EESC organises a series of information sessions for newcomers and I am traditionally invited to speak last on the first day. It’s not exactly the ‘death slot’ (that’s the first hour after lunch, when eyelids droop). Nevertheless, it is always a potential challenge to talk to a group of people who, if not already punch-drunk from speeches, have had a long day. My messages are simple ones. I tell them why and how I came to the Committee myself and why I still believe in it. I tell them about the role they will henceforward all play as members of the European Union’s communication team, in the sense that their behaviour away from work will either confirm or confound prejudices about ‘Eurocrats’. Above all, I tell them about our members and about their unique authenticity, based on the fact that they are true volunteers who spend most of their time out in the ‘real world’ (not Brussels) and who do not get a salary for what they do. What this means is that they rarely, if ever, ‘go native’ and retain their critical faculties about the European Union. This is a priceless attribute, since our members are not there to say what people would like to hear but what they feel needs to be said, and this on the basis of their expertise as representatives of civil society organisations. Many of them are passionate about the European cause and very supportive of the integration process but they frequently express that passion and support through constructive criticism, surely the best sort of criticism there can be.