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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 June, 2004, 15:00 GMT 16:00 UK
Top tips for new MEPs
With 162 MEPs from 10 new member states joining the European parliament after the 10-13 June election, BBC News Online invited some members of the outgoing parliament to give the newcomers useful advice.

Click on their faces to read their lips and their tips, which range from how to make a point in parliament, to what to wear and where to dance.

Elmar BrokCharlotte CederschioldAnna Terron i CusiKathalijne BuitenwegWilliam Abitbol

Elmar Brok (Germany)

1. The very first thing you should do when you arrive in the European Parliament is sign the attendance register ;-). [Note: this is necessary in order to receive the allowance for attending sessions.]

You actually never have to leave the European Parliament building...
2. Don't miss out on the lovely 12th-floor restaurant of the Paul-Henri Spaak building [one of the parliament buildings in Brussels], which very few people seem to know about - until now that is!

3. A "canteen", in the parlance of the European parliament, is not the cafeteria, but the metal box that is shifted to Strasbourg once a month, with all our documents for the week-long plenary session.

4. The Grande Place in Brussels... on a warm summer's evening there's nothing nicer.

5. You actually never have to leave the European Parliament building - each office has its own bathroom, there's a hairdresser, three banks, a post office, a tourist office, a shop, three restaurants, a sandwich bar and a gym (although I've never actually seen the latter...)

6. You'll have to learn to use the chauffeur service, rather than going for "a nice relaxing stroll". Brussels' cobbled streets are not very well maintained, and there are lots of dogs who don't seem capable of making it to the park....need I say more?!

Charlotte Cederschiold (Sweden)

1. Never travel with a bag that is so big you can't get it on the plane with you. This means you will travel with just one pair of shoes and one change of clothes for the whole week.

Stop sleeping - I never slept so little as in the last five years
2. Wear the same colour (usually black), that way wherever you are and whatever you have forgotten to pack, you will have something to wear. Accessorise in different colours.

3. Pack one pair of shoes with the boxes that go between Strasbourg and Brussels. This has the disadvantage of taking up the place of papers.

4. Focus on one issue, don't try to grab the whole parliament, it is not within human capacity.

5. When asking a question in parliament, make sure you always make a little introduction first rather than asking the question straight away. This gives your fellow MEPs a chance to finish any conversation they may be having and listen to what you have to say.

6. Stop sleeping. I never slept so little as in the last five years (since becoming an MEP). I am very happy if I get five hours a night.

Anna Terron i Cusi (Spain)

1. When you go to a committee, only focus on one issue and after that listen to the Greek translation because it sounds like music.

Try to make friends with people at the airport's check-in desks so they will make your life easier
2. Try to know and speak to everyone in your group and with people in other groups, not just with people in your constituency and your country. Now you are in parliament, you are no longer fighting an election, so you should be open-minded. And use languages.

3. Leave the parliament building, especially when the sun is shining. As you can do everything inside the building - from going to the bank to going to the hairdresser - it is easy to become part of the furniture. Brussels is a very lively, beautiful city, try to enjoy it, go to a terrace cafe or a restaurant!

4. Try to make friends with people at the airport's check-in desks so they will make your life easier.

5. Have an apartment in Brussels. Many people stay in hotels, but it is more pleasant to have your own place.

Kathalijne Buitenweg (The Netherlands)

1. Throw out all the furniture in your office and replace it with something more practical. It might look nice to have a sofa and a drinks cabinet, but you can't store your files in them. Equally, the oval table looks great, but all the piles of paper will continue to fall off the edges.

2. Publish an advertisement for an assistant. Many MEPs don't. But trust me, your assistants are going to be of crucial importance. They are your ears, but also sometimes your mind and brains, when they even negotiated between themselves on amendments. The ideal assistant can do secretarial work, can read your mind, but also independently make up your mind.

Step off the gravy train and draw up a financial code of conduct
2b Treat assistants well. Some MEPs treat their personal assistants as private slaves. Pay them well (Yes, including social insurances and taxes!), and give them the respect they deserve.

3. Try to become co-ordinator of a parliamentary committee for your political group. All parliamentary groups (Greens, Socialists, Centre-Right, Liberals etc.) have several members per parliamentary committee. One per political group is appointed as co-ordinator. This function doesn't sound prestigious, costs a lot of time, but gives you also great influence. Don't fall in the trap of wanting to become vice-president of a committee, that is a beautiful title, but buys you less influence. A co-ordinator is the first spokesperson on a topic and plays a leading role in finding compromises when there are differences of opinion between, say, the Greeks and the Finnish.

4. Please fall into the trap of believing that your colleagues are your friends. For the next five years you won't have much of a social life. During the weeks, when you are away from home, your best friends are your colleagues. Just believe that they really care for you, otherwise it is going to be lonely in Brussels! When you are at home, in your free time, your partner or friends may want to go out to a restaurant, but you will just want to stay at home after too many nights in restaurants already.

5. Draw up a financial code of conduct. You will receive ridiculous amounts of money for travel - you won't even spend half of it. The electorate rightly feels that parliamentarians are enriching themselves. Some people are doing everything to keep the gravy train going. Step off it. Make a code of conduct, under which you only accept reimbursement for money actually spent. This means that you will have to collect tickets for your expenses claims, but it will buy you the necessary credibility to function.

5b. Become a member of the Campaign for Parliamentary Reform. Reform the parliament from the inside out. Work for that aim, with reform-minded colleagues from other parties and from other countries. And believe that, despite the many setbacks you will encounter, eventually you will win.

William Abitbol (France)

Don't hesitate to offer champagne to the drivers
1. Fight for your language and do not fall into the habit of using English, whatever the circumstances, and fight for all documents to be translated into your own language. Otherwise we end up speaking a kind of pidgin English with some 200-300 words, which is meaningless.

2. Choose a political group which includes Latin countries; this way you will travel to Mediterranean countries every three months for regular meetings.

3. Don't hesitate to offer champagne to the drivers, your car will arrive more quickly.

4. Use a matchstick when voting in parliament. I usually vote against most texts, so I find it handy to stick a matchstick into the No button so I don't have to keep pressing it.

5. Choose nice assistants, it makes life more pleasant.

6. On the eve of the session's last day in Strasbourg (Wednesdays), go to the Bar des Aviateurs for a good dance and a gossip.




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