Serving the public servant

In her column this week, Gemma Good is feeling decidedly European...

Last Wednesday the State of the Union (SOTU) address took place. President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen updated the parliament and citizens of Europe on the milestones reached in the past year and the priorities for the year ahead. The German woman spoke with such dignity and authority, laced with enough passion to cause those listening to burst into applause frequently.

Listening to her, it was easy to see how she came to be in her current position. She donned a yellow jacket and blue blouse during the event in support of the Ukrainian war effort, which much of her speech addressed. Europe will stand by Ukraine with promises of money to rebuild, unwavering sanctions against Russia and prospects of Ukraine joining the EU single market.

Also brought up was the energy crisis which is gripping Europe, the climate crisis, a new initiative to tackle the mental health crisis and labour shortages. Interestingly, Europe is also facing record levels of unfilled job vacancies. I thought this was unusual.

How are businesses crying out for workers while at the same time people can’t seem to find work? Based on this, it has been decided that this will be the ‘European Year of Skills’ with the intent of training and upskilling people to qualify them to fill current vacancies. A great solution, train people and allow them to walk into their profession with confidence that they are capable. On paper, it’s perfect but of course practice and theory are always two very different things.

Forgive me for always going on about the pub recently but in my opinion they are one of the best places for news. Last Tuesday I walked in just before six to start my shift. There were reserved signs on the tables. Strange, I thought, considering we don’t normally take reservations. A few minutes later the click of heels, the scent of expensive cologne and the airs and graces of people whom these things belonged to confirmed my suspicions. Some people who worked for the commission would be joining us for the evening. Public servants if I may. Champagne and gin flowed for the evening, and no it wasn’t Gordons.

I felt about two foot tall among these people. The treatment the bar staff received was appalling. Drinks were expected to be served at the click of a finger, before any other customer was served. At one stage I was coming with a mountain of glasses in my arms and my path was completely blocked by people chatting. Despite the treatment we were receiving, I remained professional - I ignored it as much as possible. Until now. One man in particular was blocking my access to the bar.

“Excuse me sir, can I get past you to bring these into the bar,” I asked, pointing with my eyes at the lunder of glasses in my hands.

He looked at me as if I asked him to do a quick run around for the empties himself. I gave him the benefit of the doubt, opting to believe he didn’t hear me.

“Sorry sir, can I ask you to move to the side for a minute?”

He laughed. He actually laughed at me and continued with his conversation.

“You are unbelievable,” I spat out in utter disbelief. I know he heard me, but he was too deep in conversation about himself to notice.

I listened to the SOTU the next day while I was working. When I heard Ursula speak of high job vacancies and unemployment I couldn’t make sense of it. In these situations I try to think of examples of these things in my own life. I thought of the man in the suit the night before and in an instant I understood. It hit me with such clarity, why would anybody want to subject themselves to such disrespect? These people, who spoke about making a Europe for the next generation look down upon the people they are shaping the union for. I thought of how this is the kind who is responsible for making decisions which will affect my life, the lives of people before me and after me and I worried for us all.

Thankfully, there are many other good Samaritans in the form of customers who keep you sane, who would bend over backwards to help you out and who would wait all night before demanding to be served.

I am not looking to stigmatise anybody. I know that not everybody who works for the European Commission behaves like this in public. I know there are genuine people who want to create a brighter future for everybody. In saying this, you are only as strong as your weakest link.

* Gemma Good is from Killeshandra and a third year journalism student in University of Limerick


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