Every day, I took the metro from the Fish Market to Jette. Key to Europe did not have the budget for an office in the expensive European neighbourhood. The internship was all right, but my heart was somewhere else: in that very same European district. If I had a chance, I would walk around there. I would sniff the atmosphere and visit a friend who worked in the Parliament. HE did. Sometimes he would let me in and we would have lunch. This was MY future and I was not going to give up on it.
I bombarded the Secretary General of the ELDR with letters and emails. I insistently told him I was in Brussels and asked whether he would not reconsider his rejection and if he would have time for coffee. His German secretary must have gone bananas, there was that “blöde Holländer” again. Merely to get rid of my stalking, the impossible happened: they offered me an internship with the group. The Netherlands was at a pleasant distance and I was finally inside the Holy House. Dreams do not always turn out to be illusions after all.
I do not remember much of my internship. Except for that one week. The week of my breakthrough. It did not look like it at first. It happened on a Monday. Hangover and totally wasted, I did not feel like anything. The German secretary called. I urgently had to come to the Secretary General’s office. This had to be bad news. There was an emergency.
The President Willy De Clercq, had to cover for the Belgian Prime Minister for a state visit to Belgrade. He would leave the next day and had to deliver a speech to a thousand notables, which would be broadcasted live on Serbian television. He wanted an extensive speech and a complete file with all the necessary background information. The deadline was the next morning at 9:00 am, meaning it had to be flawless the first time because there was no time for revisions.
The Secretary General was swamped with work and had no one else available. He asked me whether I dared to take this one on. “Does it look like I would not dare?” I asked. He did not really have a choice and neither did I. This was one of those moments; it had to happen now. Make it or break it. I returned to my slave basement and started working.
Twenty-four hours non-stop. I did not go home and may have slept for half an hour only. Cheese sandwiches and coffee. Lots of coffee. And typing. Typing like my life depended on it. That Tuesday, I staggered to the Secretary General’s at exactly 9:00 am. Everything was gently placed in separate files. Speech, notes. Economy, history, politics, the whole shebang.
The Secretary General glanced at it quickly. He did not have any time; the President was waiting on the fourteenth floor in the President’s Room.
Heavy headed, I saw the Secretary General taking the elevator. He had little faith in the whole affair. I went home to get some sleep. I was dead tired. That Thursday afternoon, the Secretary General called me himself. This had never happened. He asked whether I could come right away. The President wanted to see me; I could hardly believe it. The Secretary General looked worried. This could be the last working day for both of us. Now it was my turn to, heavy headed, take the elevator.
“Entrez!”, a voice called. I was at the fourteenth floor, a place I had never been before. There was extra security and my badge was checked three times. I walked in. What an office! And that roof terrace! The President was peering out over Brussels with his back turned to me. “Have a seat,” said the man whom I only knew from television and newspapers. I saw his grey curly hair and my files were spread out on his mahogany desk. I was shaking.
Career stranded at such a young age. De Clercq turned around and sat down. His face was emotionless. A blue bow tie. I was sitting in front of the Master himself. “Young man”, he said, “I have been told that you are responsible for that speech in Belgrade, is that correct?” “No!” I wanted to scream, “it was that filthy German!” But there was no way back.
Softly, I murmured: “Yes Excellency, that is correct”. He looked at me extensively and, all of a sudden, started to smile. “Congratulations young man, let me put it this way, if I had as much success in Belgium as in Serbia I would have been Prime Minister already. A seven-minute standing ovation and the opening of all newsreels. Thanks kid!”
I was dumbstruck. The penthouse thanking the basement? This was a dream come true. But he said even more. “If you are ever looking for a job, do not hesitate to get in touch with me”. The Big Leader gave me his business card. Lots of gold and titles. That all of this fitted on such a small card. “Minister, I do not have business cards myself yet, but as soon as I do I will let you know” I replied. He roared with laughter, “those funny Dutch! Thank you and get out of here, I have work to do.”
I have rarely felt happier in my life than at that very moment. I almost danced towards the elevator, back to my basement. “What did the boss say?” lisped the Secretary General… I showed him the business card. A sigh of relief followed. I reminded Mr De Clercq of his offer two years later (see 2.5). If this were called lobbying, I would say: mission accomplished, but it was more, much more than that. This was my dream coming true.