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Navigating Virtual Brussels

April 22, 2020, Politico

Sebastian Vos spoke with Politico about his experience working virtually in Brussels during the COVID-19 pandemic. He says in the early stages of the crisis, things were a bit chaotic and during this adjustment period, it was hard to figure out which files were moving and which weren’t. “It wasn’t that [the Commission] wasn’t well-organized, it was that we didn’t know how it was organized” that was the challenge, explains Mr. Vos.

He adds, “Work travel is zero, which means that actually it is a much better time to try and reach out to people and be in touch with people, because the chances you’ll be able to get a hold of them at some time on a particular day are much higher — particularly for more senior folks.”

He admits that it’s hard to replace in-person meetings. “If you, as a company impacted by Brexit, are figuring out what that impact is going to be and how you might explain that to officials in the U.K. or on the EU side … if you can do that in person — hand over a document, point to a graph — I think it’s easier.” But, he adds that “one way or another, we are going to have to make it work.”

As someone who knows Brussels well, Mr. Vos says there is “a longstanding tradition of national politicians blaming Brussels … I’m afraid that probably applies here,” referring to the criticism that the EU failed to adequately respond to the crisis. “But you have to assume that when there is a problem of this magnitude, being able to work together … is really the only way to do it. So you have to assume that we come out of this stronger.”

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