The 53-year-old Carlos Duarte Vila Flor was born in Belgium and has lived in Brussels all his life. He has been a conference usher in the European Parliament for four years. Many people, including myself, cannot initially imagine what this job position entails. Therefore, I found the interview with Carlos all the more exciting as he passionately told me about his workplace and tasks in the European Parliament.

Before joining the EU Parliaments usher unit, Carlos worked for the European Commission as an usher for a period of one year. Here he gained an insight into how a European institution works and gathered experiences in a multicultural working atmosphere. He really enjoyed working with people from different countries. Moreover, the variety of languages was particularly exciting for him.

After working for the European Commission, he started working in the private sector event area. He stayed in this sector for a total of 12 years and gained much expertise in event planning. Nevertheless, he decided to look for another job that would give him a more pleasant work rhythm. Hence, he returned to the EU working field on the recommendation of a friend. He himself considered this decision to change his workplace as good timing because the event industry was impacted very hard by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The conference ushers play a seemingly hidden but important role. They are not always visible to everyone, but they are responsible for ensuring that the plenary sessions in Brussels and Strasbourg as well as all day-to-day and extraordinary meetings (i.e., committee meetings, political group meetings, European Commission meetings, the Conference of the Presidents and trilogues) run smoothly. This means that they organize up to 400 meetings a week and arrange the hemicycle for the Members of European Parliament (MEPs) and other guests (i. e., by setting up name tags). They also assist the MEPs by making sure they have everything they need for the session and that there are no disruptions. Conference ushers are one of the few people who have access to the hemicycle during all meetings and are also responsible for the safety of guests. Their tasks include assisting the staff of the presidency with organizational activities, assigning seats to MEPs and guests, and passing on files or messages to MEPs. Since they are present during plenary sessions, the conference ushers must be discreet and confidential with the information and details of the sessions.

Carlos also explained to me that conference ushers often wear a special, elegant suit with a bowtie and an accessory, a silver chain with a coin. The special suit and chain originate from the French Revolution. During the French Revolution, the doors to the French National Assembly hall were destroyed. As a result, so-called huissier (French for Usher) were given the task of blocking the doorframes with a silver chain. Nowadays these chains are worn as a means of honour during plenary sessions and to welcome high-ranking guests such as kings, ministers or ambassadors who are visiting the parliament. The coin attached to the chain contains the 12 stars of the European flag and thus symbolizes the European community.

When asked what Carlos values most about his job, he replied that, “he is delighted to be able to offer his service to so many different guests and to assist them”. In addition, he is always delighted when meetings go as planned and the guests are satisfied. He sees his work and work unit as a “small wheel in the mechanics of the European Parliament”. The responsibility and the feeling of being “part of something bigger” also make this job so gripping and exciting for Carlos. The multiculturalism and diversity of the EU Parliament motivated him to apply to the Parliament. He likes his work because it never gets boring or monotonous since something new happens every day and he has the opportunity to work with many different people.

Teamwork and that the entire work unit of the ushers is “on board” is important in order for everything to run trouble-free. For Carlos, his team is like a “small representation of the EU” because everyone comes from different countries with different languages and cultures. He feels very comfortable in his work environment because everyone is committed and shows much team spirit.

The work of the ushers during meetings can also be very stressful at times because they must guarantee order and security. “The trick is not to show the guests that you are stressed or that something is going wrong”, Carlos told me. “It is important,” continues Carlos, “to remain calm and relaxed, even if something does not go according to plan”. This conduct is necessary to ensure that the guests have a pleasant meeting without stressful situations or chaos.

Covid-19 crisis

At the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, Carlos and his work unit helped with the implementation of new digital formats, particularly the hybrid mode, for all meetings during the home-office periods. Their work was particularly important during these times to ensure that the EU Parliament could continue to operate effectively.

Thank you for your time and the exciting interview!

Leyla Zarringhalami, Brussels, November 2021