Exploring Innovation Inside the Eurobubble

On the first Sunday of August I stepped out of the Eurobubble. From March to July I worked for the European Commission as a Blue Book Trainee. Life inside the European institutions, inside the Eurobubble, is like a small village, a university campus inside the bigger city of Brussels, where you run into people you know, wherever you go. Especially as a trainee, where you are part of a very close-knit group of more than 600 people.

The trainee-life is incredibly rich and intense and it became even more demanding when I joined the Comité des Stagiaires, which represents the trainees of the Commission. As such, I became part of one of the largest, most active and most integrated groups you will find inside any organisation. It is highly diverse, but everyone speaks a common language called ‘Commission’.

While people at the Commission work hard, at the same time it is undeniably a bureaucracy. I felt that the work is very procedural and hierarchical, and at some stages it is out-of-date. In a legal unit, such as the one where I worked, this is probably most evident. To my delight, however, I ended up in a department of the Commission where they were trying to simplify and modernise their bureaucracy.

This is where my experience from HiiL came in. My role in the team at the Commission was to bridge the gap between law and technology. We brainstormed how to redesign the intranet and how to simplify legal procedures for both beneficiaries and staff. We started work on digitising application procedures, doing away with paper entirely. A long-time dream of many, but one that had always proven impossible to implement.

Reform happens outside the Commission’s office walls as well. This is where those with social and entrepreneurial minds could potentially step in. Indeed, innovation and entrepreneurship are hot in Brussels, especially young entrepreneurship. I joined the European Young Entrepreneurs and was happy to discover the entrepreneurial spirit inside public institutions. Social innovation in particular appears popular among ambitious young Europeans, which gives high hopes also for innovation in the justice sector.

I now realise how much I have learned at HiiL over the past year. Very generously, I was allowed to go to Brussels for five months, develop myself, learn about the innovation environment there, and come back to The Hague afterwards. Now that I am back, I join the team for the Innovating Justice Hub. I will continue some of my research into legal aid, but my main responsibilities in my new function as Innovating Justice Agent will be to scout innovations worldwide, connect them with investors and other useful projects and help to accelerate them in getting projects of the ground.

Our first big goal is to make the Innovating Justice Awards in November a success. As we are currently evaluating this year’s set of innovations, I am looking forward to learn more about all the worldwide innovations and meet the people behind the ideas.