The secretary-general of Eurodiaconia discusses Europe's social situation with an EU commissioner, talks about the role of Christian organisations in political advocacy, and heads to Cyprus for meetings on Europe 2020 Monday
It is an early start to the week after a busy weekend, as builders arrive at my home to put in a new bathroom – they should be finished by Friday. When I get to the office I spend some time with various members of our team to catch up with what is happening on various policy issues. We follow issues such as child poverty, homelessness and destitution, migration, Roma and social services of general interest. Our members are church related and Christian-based providers of social services, what we call Diaconia, so they know the reality of the social and economic situation of people in Europe and have a real passion for their work. Our job is to support them in their day to day work and also advocate with them or on their behalf towards the European institutions. I am convinced about the need for Christians and all people of faith to work for social justice and am very fortunate to have a job that allows me to pursue this with a great team that shares the same passion. It makes for very motivating and dynamic work days.
I deal with some management issues and do some preparation for later in the week. I then have a meeting with colleagues from Social Services Europe, a new organisation Eurodiaconia founded with six other not for profit social services organisations, and we work on an event we are planning in the European Parliament in the autumn. After that it is home to see how the builders have got on in the bathroom today. They have done a lot in one day and the mess is not too bad. I am hopeful it will all be finished on time.
I head to the gym first thing but unfortunately I arrive before it has actually opened so I have to wait in the rain. After getting to the office and attacking my emails, I meet with representatives from a university in Germany who are interested in co-operating with us in a very interesting international programme on Diaconia. We will meet again at a research conference in September and see what is feasible.
As a vice president of Social Platform I am going to the informal Economic and Social Affairs Council taking place later this week in Cyprus so I have a meeting with the rest of the delegation to prepare our intervention. It is then on to the European Commission where social non-governmental organisations have a round table discussion with commissioner László Andor on the current social situation in Europe. I ask about greater investment in social services and the Food Aid Programme for the Most Deprived Persons – two topics that are key for Eurodiaconia at the moment. After this we have an informal board meeting for Social Services Europe. Included in the agenda is the possibility of forming a consortium to undertake a large scale project on social innovation. A colleague and I agree to develop a concept note around this and come back to the group in September. By 7pm it is time to head home and pack for the rest of the week, which proves to be difficult as there is bathroom stuff everywhere.
Another early start as I meet a friend at the main railway station to hand over my one Olympics ticket. It is not worth it to go from Brussels to London for one hour at the Olympics so my friend's mum will use the ticket instead. I am then off to Leuven, just outside Brussels, to be a guest speaker at a summer university. I speak about why Christian organisations like ours cannot be content with just performing charitable acts but must be engaged in political advocacy as well. I enthusiastically tell them we have to deliver services, develop new innovative approaches to old problems and demand political and structural change. After this I am able to take a couple of hours off and meet up with a good friend for a coffee before heading off to the airport for the late flight to Cyprus. The flight is full of people going to the same meeting. Unfortunately once we arrive in Cyprus we hit a few snags with our transportation and do not get to our hotel until 2.30am.
After a very short night I have a quick breakfast meeting on our interventions today. We start with the presidency trio – Cyprus, Ireland and Lithuania – and present our views on how NGOs can contribute to the realisation of the Europe 2020 strategy. We meet commissioner Andor again and he refers to many of the points that were brought up in the meeting on Tuesday which is encouraging. I am also able to have a catch up with one of his cabinet on Food Aid as we will hopefully have a meeting with Herman van Rompuy's cabinet on this soon and it is good to know where the commission are in the negotiations. It is then back to the plenary where we are given five minutes to address ministers from all 27 member states with our key messages. It is a good exercise in being concise and to the point. We hope that as the ministers continue with their debate on engaging with social NGOs they will remember what we have said. It is then back to the airport for a long flight home via Athens. I get home at midnight and discover, surprise surprise, that the bathroom will not be finished by Friday.
I am promised that the bathroom will be finished by Saturday. I am going away for the weekend so it is fine. I get to the office and have a catch up with my team on what has been happening this week, particularly meetings we have all been at. The rest of the day is spent in the office catching up on emails and reviewing various documents including a very interesting proposal two of the team have been working on for a campaign we want to launch next year on economic and social justice. We are in the early stages but it looks quite inspiring. I leave a bit earlier today to get the Eurostar to visit friends in the United Kingdom. I meet their new beautiful baby girl for the first time and she is just like her mum. We have a great evening of catching up, good food and wine.
After a relaxed morning we head off to the village of Turville in the Chiltern Hills – and location for the BBC
series The Vicar of Dibley and the film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, so I am very excited. Turville is a classic English village and very different from where I grew up in the north of Scotland. We enjoy lunch in the local pub, a short walk around the village and then eventually head off for some shopping. I have become quite interested in the Myers Brigg personality types recently so in the evening we all decide to do the test – the results are pretty accurate and also amusing so dinner is spent talking about this as well as possible plans for meeting up with other friends in the autumn.
I say goodbye mid-morning and head back to Brussels but not before some last minute shopping and picking up the Sunday papers. I am a bit of news junkie and I love leafing through real newspapers. When I get home the bathroom is still not finished but apparently will be by Tuesday. The rest of the day is spent looking at some teaching and sermons I need to prepare for the church I am involved with, Holy Trinity Brussels, unpacking the the various bags from the past week and watching some TV. Surprisingly, after such a busy seven days I feel really relaxed and energised – clearly a weekend away was just what I needed before starting another week, even if I still do not have a finished bathroom.Heather Roy is secretary-general at Eurodiaconia, a community of Christian organisations and diaconal actors in Europe, based in Brussels