With their black tails and silver chains, ushers are hard to miss during plenary sessions at the European Parliament. They know all 754 MEPs by heart, but their tasks are far more varied than simply remembering names and announcing the entrance of the president into the hemicycle at the opening of a plenary session. Find out more about the vital job they carry out.
Ushers, who are members of the EP staff, are responsible for assisting MEPs, for example by providing them with documents during plenary and committee meetings. They also check who enters the hemicycle and maintain order during plenary sessions when instructed to do so by the president.
There are about 140 of them, with 60 of them working in the meeting rooms and 80 distributing mail in all Parliamentary buildings.
Although there are no national quotas, the Parliament strives to hire ushers from as many different member states as possible.
EP president Martin Schulz has his own personal usher as well as two other ushers in the cabinet. They assist him when he receives official guests, brief him on the day ahead and are ready to help him any time when needed. Presidents can choose their ushers themselves.
Feats of memory
Ushers are expected to know all MEPs by name and by face. However, Spanish usher Juan Carlos Arellano admitted this was not so easy: "At the beginning of a new parliamentary term, when several hundred new MEPs may arrive, it may take months to learn and remember the faces and names."
Discretion and flexibility
In addition to having an incredible memory, ushers also need to be flexible, know protocol thoroughly and act discreetly as they are often present at meetings that are broadcast live.
Finnish usher Tuukka Hiiri added that knowing how to deal with cultural differences is also indispensable in a multicultural environment like the European Parliament.
Dealing with media attention
Although ushers normally try to remain in the background, it can happen that they attract media attention. In December 2011, newspapers published photos of an usher who seemed to be hushing a French MEP. Patrick Vandenhoven, the Belgian usher who was featured in the pictures, explained: "The photo had nothing to do with what really happened. The MEP made a mistake during the vote and asked me for help. As I approached her, one of my gestures from the gallery, where the photographer was sitting, looked as if I was hushing her. I wasn't, since she didn't do anything wrong."