Chevening Alumna Gosia Pearson is a Policy Advisor at the European Commission, working within the Directorate-General for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection. With the UK making a historic vote on its place within the European Union (EU), we share the perspective of a civil servant at its heart.
I have been interested in the European Union since high school, when I became a laureate in the national competition on international relations and contemporary history, which granted me access to any Polish university without having to take entry exams. I received a Chevening Scholarship in 2006 to do one year of PhD research in international relations at St. Antony’s College, Oxford University. I had just started a PhD at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland. I was at the same time exploring different professional options in the field of international relations following various sector related internships. I have worked at the EU since 2008, after finishing my PhD.
My day begins at 06:30. I have always been an early bird, who enjoys getting a lot of work done in the early hours before the day’s rush begins, the phone starts ringing, and meetings kick off. For the last three years, I do not even need an alarm clock – having a child who wakes up when it is still dark means that everyone else in the household has to get up as well. Mornings are family time: having breakfast together, getting ready, and a bit of play time with our daughter before we all set off. On the way to work, I go through news and emails.
The European Commission is the largest humanitarian donor in the world and a leading standard-setter in this field. Each year, the Commission assists approximately 120 million victims of natural and man-made disasters.
Just like the EU itself, my office is very diverse. My team consists of approximately 20 colleagues, including our representatives in the EU delegations in Geneva, Rome, and New York. We are from 13 different nationalities: Spanish, French, Greek, Hungarian, Austrian, Czech, Bulgarian, Romanian, Belgian, Portuguese, Swedish, German, and Polish.
My typical work day
My most recent task was to prepare the EU’s participation in the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit, which took place in May in Istanbul, and to also represent the EU at the summit. But it is the everyday small actions that can make big difference in the lives of others – all my colleagues are extremely committed to go an extra mile to help the most vulnerable people ones in other parts of the world. I am grateful to be able to contribute to these efforts.
I enjoy that we’re helping to find solutions to the most pressing challenges. We live in times of record-high humanitarian needs, when over 100 million people rely on assistance to survive and nearly 60 million people – half of them children – are displaced. I consider it a true privilege to be able to work for a leading humanitarian donor, who each year provides over EUR 1 billion to help around 120 million victims of natural and man-made disasters in over 80 countries worldwide; not only major crises that are high on the international agenda, but also those that escape media attention.
My perspective on the EU
There are many misconceptions about the EU, including the idea that the EU has an inflated bureaucracy. Currently, 33,000 people work for the European Commission, serving the entire continent. In comparison, France has over five million civil servants; Italy, Spain and Poland have over three million; and the UK has 2.75 million. In addition, in contrast to any of its members, the EU is reducing its staff numbers. A second misconception is that the EU is undemocratic. Actually, the EU has a better level of democratic scrutiny than any other international body. EU decisions are made by meetings of elected national governments and directly elected Members of the European Parliament. National parliaments receive all EU proposals in time to debate them before their minister goes to the European meeting to discuss. Each national government appoints its European Commissioner and the Commission then has to be approved by (and can be dismissed by) the elected European Parliament.
In recent years, Europe has experienced a series of crises: economic, refugee and security. It is normal that people feel anxiety when their region receives 1.8 million refugees in a short time while still coming out of economic crises and when being hit by terrorist attacks. But it is important not to forget how good Europe is: the most stable and prosperous region in the world, where people make solidarity work. The EU is still the most peaceful region in the world, and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012 for helping to promote peace and international cooperation. It is also the most prosperous economic area in the world. With 500 million people, it has 7.3% of the world’s population, but accounts for 23% of nominal global GDP. Free trade and removal of non-tariff barriers have helped reduce costs and prices for consumers. Universities across the EU receive millions in research funding and grants from the EU.
From the perspective of a Polish national, the benefits of the EU are obvious. My grandparents’ generation fought for freedom in World War II. My parents’ generation fought for democracy, human rights and the rule of law throughout communism. My generation did not have to fight for anything; we were given a very comfortable life in the EU. But we cannot become complacent, and we must remember how much effort it took to become part of the EU and how important it is to sustain it.
The EU is in a difficult time and needs to reform, regardless of whether the British people decide to remain or leave. At stake is the liberal-democratic order, along with a whole catalogue of values and principles, which have become the foundation of Western civilisation. Current threats are serious, but the most dangerous one is self-doubt and a lack of energy in the pro-European mainstream. Radical and violent political changes will lead us towards chaos, not towards a better order. The EU should focus on improving its practical aspects, such as completing the internal market, common approach to migration, closer cooperation on security and defence. Europe in its present shape deserves more patience.
Opportunities I’ve gained
Apart from enjoying what I do, I very much appreciate the opportunity for self-development at the EU. As well as benefitting from the various trainings that the Commission offers, I am also involved in the Talent Pool of the Women in Leadership Network, the German Marshall Fund’s young professional leaders programme, and the Women in International Security’s mentoring programme.
I try to be quite strict in applying the rule of leaving the office at a decent time to be able to spend the evening with my family. After work, we cook together, go for a walk, or read. Weekends are very precious and filled with various activities: sport, travelling, meeting friends, and volunteering work.
I have very fond memories of my stay in the UK: British history and cultural heritage, the sense of humour, cultural diversity, high-quality customer service, competitiveness and efficiency, art, fashion and music, just to name few. I come back to the UK at least once a year to visit friends. My Chevening experience also had a huge impact on my personal life as during my stay in Oxford, I met my husband.
What will the future hold?
The world is getting more interconnected and interdependent. A globalised world makes our lives quite effortless and convenient: travel is quick; we can easily communicate with someone in another time zone; media, entertainment, and business flourish and connect people more than ever before. With the continuous expansion of innovation, these trends will continue in future. At the same time, individuals face increasing challenges: unequal consumption of resources; environmental harm and climate change; regional conflict and terrorism that threaten to explode globally; proliferation of weapons; and the global spread of infections for which no cures exist. To survive in this new world, each and every one of us needs to move beyond nationalistic thinking to a substantially new kind of thinking—global thinking.
Nation states, including in Europe will need to forge stronger alliances, and find consensus and cohesion. To survive in this new world, each and every one of us needs to move beyond nationalistic thinking to a substantially new kind of thinking—global thinking.
Disclaimer: This article was written prior to the EU Referendum on 23 June. The opinions expressed are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the view of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) or the Chevening Secretariat.