Flash interview with alumna and European Commission lawyer Helena Loutas-Paraskeva
Following our Leiden Brussels Alumni Event, I (external officer M. Blaauw, ed.) met our very own Leiden Law alumna Helena-Loutas Paraskeva. An Australian who works for the European Commission. Interesting, how did she get this job, what does she do and how did her Master in Leiden affect or influence her choices?
Why did you choose Leiden. Have your expectations been met?
Leiden University was not my first choice. Coming from Australia, I chose to study in the UK, at Oxford University, where I did my general Bachelor in Law. After Oxford I moved to London, where I did a Master in Business and Management Law. I had always known however, that I wanted to do international law, so I asked my professor for advice. He told me that without a doubt, I should go to Leiden, as Leiden was the place to be for International Law. He told me that I could choose to do the same Master in London, but that would be more of the same. Leiden, he said, was where it was happening and the center of it all (International Law). And yes, my expectations have been met. I may have never been to proper university in London, but in a bigger city it is easy to get lost. Leiden is a bit like a fairytale city, so picturesque. More importantly, the professors are not only academic experts but also practitioners in the field! They not only taught us the theory of international law, but could also always refer to their own experience, as they had worked at a specific court on a specific case or worked at an international organisation. In Australia and even in the UK International Law had always seem to be abstract. In Leiden International Law became tangible and more plausible and possible.
How has your period in Leiden shaped you and contributed to what you know and how you handle things?
The Master in Leiden changed my perspective a lot. Its professors and the place are unique, nowhere else you’ll be so exposed to these kind of opportunities. I chose to actively participate in the Moot Court competition. It was so super rewarding. It was a lot of work, a bit like writing a 2nd or 3rd thesis, so it shouldn’t be taken lightly. But it was a great opportunity, it broadened my whole experience. I seriously would have had a less enriching experience without it. It provided me the opportunity to speak to and with other experts, professors from different courses and judges who’d sit in Moot Court for example. Another opportunity I accepted was becoming an editor of the International Organisations Law Review. My Moot Court coach happened to be managing editor of that journal. He told me they needed editors, I spoke good English and had proven that I was a fast editor. I first got involved as copy editor (editing foot notes, checking English), and currently am still involved as managing editor.
What occupation are you in at the moment? Has your Master helped you in obtaining this job?
I first went back to London, where I obtained my first real job as legal editor for Thomson Reuters. I worked there for 18 months. It was a great place to be and a very nice first job. But the fact that I did not make adequate use of my knowledge gained during my master, gnawed on my conscience and I started to feel more and more that I did it all for nothing. So when I saw a paid traineeship at the European Commission, I immediately applied for it. And yes, my Master did certainly help me get this job! I did my thesis on UN sanctions against terrorist organisations such as Al Qaida and ISIS, also on how these sanctions affected the EU. I loved it, thought it was the most interesting topic I had ever delved into. The EC traineeship was within the Sanctions department, so I was of course a very fitting candidate. Beside my thesis and the fact that Sanctions is quite a niche to apply for and not so well known, having done my Master in Leiden also helped obtaining this traineeship. Leiden has a very good name and reputation here. In my current team of six people, there is another girl who did PIL in Leiden, perhaps not a coincidence.
My current job is not in the Sanctions department anymore. I do get the feeling that having done a traineeship at the EC, has helped me grasp a better understanding of how EC procedures work and how and where to find the openings. Job adverts also became less intimidating as I could more or less ‘decode’ the words used in the adverts. This, and hard work and a bit of luck, has helped me getting my current job as legal advisor of the Neighborhood and Enlargement department of the EC. I find this work very rewarding. In the wider department every neighbouring country in our scope has a specific team working for/on it. For example countries like Syria and Ukraine. These teams work closely with the delegations and whenever a problem or an issue arises that requires closer legal attention, they bring it to the legal team. We check whether projects, issues or whatever is required/asked for is within the EU legislation or rules. We do most of our work in collaboration with partners, such as the World Bank, EIB, UN, etc.
Seems like you have built your career, with one small sidestep, towards where you are now. Did you have time at all for a social life in Leiden?
PIL was a huge program, it was impossible to meet everyone, let alone become friends with everyone. I have absolutely kept in contact with the friends I have made though. For sure I had a social life in Leiden. It is a small town, which was nice as as you could easily create your favourite hangout. Every Friday we went to the same bar. I really appreciated the Dutch beer and snack culture. Or, when the sun would shine, just to sit by the Canals and simply enjoy an ice cream…..
Last night I met you at our Brussels Alumni Event (March 31st). I’m just curious, why did you go and what did you think of it?
Leiden was a very pivotal year for me. I believe going to Leiden was one of the best decisions I have ever made. It was such a lovely place, I still have warm feelings for Leiden and my time there, so I want to be affiliated with it, connected with it. That’s why I went. I thought it was great to be part of this community. Perhaps next time we could start a bit later though, now I have missed the debate on the values of the European Union, which I would have loved to participate in! (red: duly noted) An active community of Leiden alumni would be good I think. College of Europe seems to be a very active network, they seem to steal the show. Leiden has at least a comparative number of students here, we should be active as well. I think it’s a great idea to have these alumni events in the bigger cities where you know there’s a large contingent of alumni.
Last but not least, just to get to know you a little better: what is your guilty pleasure?
I love reality tv……At the end of the day I just want to sit down and switch off…..