Irene Kyriacou Haller EU Back to School
“EU Back to School” is an inter-institutional initiative whereby European Union officials go back to their former secondary school in their hometown, and discuss their work and Experiences in the EU.
Ms Irene Kyriacou Haller visited her old school on April 17, 2018. She presented her work during the Year 3 assembly and then had an interview with Year 3 students Irene Eleni Constantinou, Giorgos Christofi, Chara Efstathiou and Andreas Theodotou.
Short Bio of Ms Haller
Irini Haller is an old girl of the English School, having graduated in 2003. She works as an internal auditor at the European Commission in Brussels. She has worked on audits in areas of high spending and public scrutiny. She loves working in a diverse organisation with colleagues from all over Europe in the service of EU citizens. Before moving to Brussels she studied and worked in London for 10 years. First graduating from Imperial College with a degree in Chemistry, and then training with PwC London as a Chartered Accountant. In her free time she loves to cook for family and friends, practices yoga, and explores the beauty of different cultures across Europe. She is also an aspiring alpine skier with, so far, mixed success!
To start, can you tell us how is Cyprus represented in Europe?
Cyprus is represented in all the EU institutions; the main ones being the Council, the European Parliament and the European Commission. The highest setting of the Council is the European Council where Heads of States discuss major political decisions that will shape the EU. Cyprus is represented at European Council meetings by our president. For specific decisions, the Council meets at minister level (e.g. Minister of Economy, Interior etc.) with their respective counterparts from other EU member states. These Council meetings are called Council of the European Union. In these meetings ministers discuss matters relevant to their portfolios; for example the environment ministers will meet to discuss matters specific to the environment. Then there is the European Parliament, where Cyprus is represented by six Parliamentarians, known as Members of the European Parliament or in short “MEPs”, who are directly elected by us every 5 years. The next European election will be held in 2019. The Parliament and the Council decide together on new EU legislation at the initiative of the European Commission. The European Commission is essentially the administrative part of the European Union and it is also where I work. What we do at the European Commission is to support the College of Commissioners who are the individual representatives of all 28 Member States, each being responsible for their own portfolio. Commissioners are the equivalent of national ministers but at a European level. The Cypriot Commissioner, Mr Christos Stylianides, is responsible for Humanitarian support and crisis management. The Commission supports the Commissioners in their day to day role, and also proposes legislation which is then discussed and eventually adopted by the legislative bodies, Parliament and Council.
What positive changes has the EU membership brought to Cyprus?
I believe it has brought a lot of changes in our day to day lives. Apart from the more general things, like the introduction of the Euro which along with the absence of import and export tariffs for goods traded with other EU countries has made certain consumer goods cheaper. I also see consumer protection which is safeguarded by EU rules as being very important for the daily lives of Cypriots, along with things like environmental protection. Also key, is the funding of specific projects through EU structural funds, and the technical assistance provided by the European Commission for structural change support in areas such as energy infrastructure.
Have you always wanted to work in the EU?
It was not my childhood dream, but I am very happy to be working at the European Commission and work in the interest of all European citizens. Something that motivates me every day at work is one piece of statistics which resonates with me; almost 1 out of 4 people in the EU experience a form of poverty and social exclusion. Eliminating this is a Europe 2020 strategy target. So, whenever I am in the office and thinking that maybe my work does not make that much of a difference I think back to this piece of statistic and "roll-up my sleeves". I remind myself that job plays a part in ensuring that the Commission is an efficient, effective and economic organisation and is well placed to work with EU Member States and to meet these strategic targets.
What studies do you need to pursue to work in the European Union?
The European Union, and more specifically the European Commission, is a service of experts. We have colleagues from different backgrounds working in their respective fields. There are colleagues with studies in Law, Economics, Forensic Science, Cyber Security, Science etc. The European Union and all of its institutions make for a very big and diverse organisation. There is a need for a number of different skill sets, and encouraging diversity is at the heart of how the organisation works. I believe the most important thing anyone who is thinking of pursuing a career in the EU institutions is to be convinced about the European Project and to be open to the opportunity of working with people from different EU Member States.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
As an internal auditor, I help colleagues from other departments to improve the way they carry out their work by analysing information in a structured way, identifying issues and weaknesses and making recommendations of what can be improved. Essentially, I help colleagues to do their job better. Through my work I meet colleagues at all levels of the organisation and have a real sense of their priorities, challenges, and opportunities. I also enjoy drafting reports, which is a big part of the work of an internal auditor. It's an intense process, where we have to distil all the key information we have accumulated over a certain period of time and make useful recommendations for our auditees.
Would you encourage a young person to pursue a job in the European Union?
Absolutely, with no hesitation! I think the students at the English School are very well placed for a career in the EU institutions. As students of the English School you are already in a multicultural environment, and you are already working in different languages for most of your lessons. Furthermore, the experiences and opportunities that you get from The English School make for a unique school "career". I feel that I've benefited a lot from my time at the School, not only from an academic point of view, but also from a general culture perspective. When I think back to my time here, after each passing year, I appreciate something new. Not least my French classes, as French is one of the languages spoken in Brussels where most EU Institutions are based and where my work is. Also, two years ago I went through an Opera-loving phase, and I had to think back to my music classes here at the School. Even though I was never particularly gifted music