Day 1: The Value of Compromise: A Visit to the Parlamentarium
Fresh-faced and eager—not exactly the best way to describe the EU working group students at 4:00 a.m. on the way to the airport, ready for our flight to Brussels. However, as the day progressed, that would soon change. After one transfer in Munich and, for those of us less comfortable flying, a somewhat hair-raising flight through heavy turbulence to Brussels, we arrived at our hotel at midday. We had a couple of hours to settle ourselves before a short walk to the EU Parlamentarium, where we participated in a role-playing game on the legislative process of the EU Parliament. Our group was divided into four parties across the political spectrum, ranging from environmentally conscious greens to more conservative traditionals, and tasked with coming up with legislation on distribution and access to water as well as on regulating microchip implants in people.
Each party had a specific agenda, and the goal was to get as much of that agenda passed on each policy area. However, it soon became clear to us that a party couldn’t get what it wanted if it was not willing to give something up, and thus we had to meet somewhere in the middle. The discussions were lengthy and intense, but after a couple of hours, we had successfully compromised to come up with legislation on both topics. The exercises in legislating and political compromise were excellent in helping us develop a better understanding of the EU parliamentary process and the importance of finding common ground in a political system as complex and intricate as the European Union. After this, we went off to dinner at our hotel, exhausted but happy and excited from a long day of travel and politicking.
Day 2: A Quick History of the European Union, and then a quick look at Time in Motion
We awoke early, grabbing a quick breakfast in the hotel canteen before walking to the EU Parlamentarium again. However, instead of participating in the role-playing game, we visited the museum of the European Union, which examined the history of the European Union from the Treaty of Rome until today. The museum tour was a fascinating interactive walk through a contemporary history of Europe, its creation as well as the trials and tribulations faced by both the Union and its members in the following 60 years. The exhibit also, indirectly, showcased the democratizing effect the EU could have: how it slowly influenced autocratic countries to take democratic turns throughout Europe if they wished to join the Union and access its market and to benefit from its political and economic clout. We then went off for lunch in the Parlamentarium cafeteria before going to an exhibit by the artist Pol Bury called Time in Motion.
The installation was primarily focused on engaging its audience, and making them take their time to truly examine and understand a piece of art. This was accomplished by moving small parts of each art piece with a series of motors. However, the movements were slight and at times quite hard to discern. This meant that we had to take our time at each piece, and examine it closely to figure out which part of the piece was moving, and exactly how fast or frequently it was moving. After the exhibit, we took some time to walk around Brussels by ourselves before returning to meet up at the gallery and go off to dinner, after which we returned to our hotel.
Day 3: A Day of Meetings
Our third and final full day in Brussels was a day of meetings. In the morning, after breakfast at our hotel, we went off to the Council of the EU, where Ms. Susanne Nielsen, of the Directorate General of Justice and Home Affairs, gave us a presentation on the challenges faced by the EU in dealing with the influx of migrants. She discussed various tactics that had been used in both blocking the inflow as well as managing those migrants already in the EU. Ms. Nielsen then answered our questions relating to her presentation. After that, we walked over to the United States Mission to the EU to meet with Amy Wilson, who discussed how the US has been contributing to the EU effort to deal with the high levels of migrants it was taking in. Part of this involved the US itself accepting some of the migrants that came into the EU.
We then went for lunch at the EU Commission building, after which we met with Martin Hetherington, Policy Officer working with the Directorate-General for Neighborhood and Enlargement Negotiations. Mr. Hetherington discussed EU relations with its neighbouring countries, especially those in North Africa as well as Turkey, and what the EU was doing to help those countries strengthen stability and encourage prosperity. The meeting with Martin Hetherington was followed by a presentation by Ms. Esther Pozo Vera, Policy Officer on asylum. Ms. Pozo Vera discussed what the EU Commission has been trying to do with regards to the migration crisis in recent years. She discussed the difficulties faced by the Commission in trying to compromise with various parties throughout the EU and in dealing with both the wishes of the various political entities within Parliament as well as in the Council of the EU and the Commission. After Ms. Pozo Vera’s presentation, we went off to dinner, and that marked the end of the EU in Focus trip.
The trip, overall, was wonderful. Throughout my time in Brussels, I learned a lot not only about the political process that drives the EU’s governance, but also the patience required throughout the undertaking. In a sense, we lived a day in the life of an EU politician, and the patience required to deal with the countless dead-ends and long hours spent searching for a compromise were already taxing for us, where we only spent a day or two doing it. It is intense to think about how much patience an EU politician must have to exercise every day in attempting to search for the necessary compromise to pass even a small piece of legislation. Ultimately, the trip helped us develop not only an appreciation for the inner trappings of EU government, but also for those who work in it and make sure it keeps moving along from one day to the next.