For half of the working group, the EU in Focus trip to Brussels began with a 5:00 am meeting time at the Florence airport. Once we arrived in Brussels we were given the opportunity to explore the city for the remainder of the Saturday, making the early morning flight seem inconsequential. The city was as lively as expected, especially for a weekend. After spending an entire day roaming around downtown and enjoying all the Belgian waffles and fries that Brussels could offer us, we reconvened at the hotel for dinner as a group and were able to listen to two guest speakers from the EU, one of them an NYU alumna. Our hotel was located in the government sector of the city, which meant that on the weekend there was little traffic on the roads and very few pedestrians. This completely changed on Monday when each establishment reawoke to keep the European continent fully functioning, until the next Saturday came around five days later.
The next day, the group arrived at the institution of the European Parliament and partook in a fun and interactive role play activity where each student was a member of the European Parliament. We were each assigned a country and a political party affiliation such as the Ecology party group or the Liberty party group. In this activity, we had to work to pass two bills based on the platform of our group through compromise, revision, and negotiation. The first bill focused on updating and renovating the EU’s existing water distribution system as well as the committee that deals with water solidarity. The second was the more controversial issue of implanting microchips in EU citizens. The bill did not decide whether or not to microchip, but rather which age group would be implanted (over or under 18), who would decide (the individual or the government), and what would be the purposes of the implant (commercial, security, or health). The activity involved running around to different stations, answering phone calls and emails, giving press conferences, having debates, listening to constituents, and negotiating with other party groups, all in an attempt to gain information to make the best possible decisions as lawmakers and politicians.
Our third day in Brussels was spent delving into the two policy focus areas of the EU in Focus series that we have studying over the course of the semester: immigration and sustainability in food/the environment. During the first half of the day, we were given the opportunity to visit the EU Council to receive a briefing on the current immigration situation in the EU, as well as to take part in a discussion on the topic. The second half of the day, we made our way to the European Commission to even further explore the two policy fields. We ended the day with a dinner and conversation with two speakers Dave Keating, an NYU alum and writer and Hannah Oosterbaan, a policy advisor.
The entire trip, although exhausting, was informative, interactive, and entertaining. Between museum exhibits, guest speakers, discussions, role-playing activities, there never was a dull moment in Brussels. Before the trip, very few, if any, of the students could explain the structure and function of the European Union. Now, each student could answer a multitude of questions pertaining to the EU. The EU in Focus trip allowed our group to bond and become like a family. The EU in Focus trip was a fantastic experience that I would happily repeat next semester.