Brussels Study Trip: Blog 4

**Note: Previous posts from our trip- 1) Blog 1; 2) Blog 2; 3) Blog 3.  I am writing as little as possible on each blog post because I want my students’ voices to really tell our story.  For the most part, my thoughts on a lot of the topics we’re learning about can be found elsewhere on my blog.

Another great day for our trip.  We had two visits today- the EEAS and the European Parliament.  At the EEAS we got a chance to talk with two officials (who shall remain unnamed) about the EU Global Strategy and EU-US relations.  The EUGS has already been in place for one year, and you can read the EEAS’ report on developments here.  I actually think that the EU has an opportunity to take on more of a leadership role in global issues in the next few years.  As for EU-US relations, the students got a chance to learn about the two traditional pillars- security and trade.  Even Wisconsin (our home state) trades with the EU.

In the afternoon we went to the European Parliament, where had an excellent discussion about the role and competences of the EP, how it works with the other EU institutions, the party groups, and we got to see the plenary chamber.

We finished our day at Cafe Maxburg for an excellent German meal, and we were quite fortunate to have been joined by Chris Kendall.  Chris and I have been talking about UK and EU politics over Twitter the past few years, and it was great to finally meet him in person.  In fact, this trip was pretty much made possible through relationships I’ve established via Twitter (but I’ll save that for a later date).

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I have been so pleased with my students so far.  They are asking great questions, listening intently, and they are even trying out their language skills.  I was really proud when Julia used her Spanish to ask one of our presenters about his language skills, and Cat took a chance using her French to ask for a fork in the market.

Huge thanks to the following people who made this day memorable for my students and me: 1) EEAS- Our two unnamed presenters; 2) European Parliament- Kirsten Jongberg.

Ali B.
Today we began our day by visiting the European External Action Service. This meeting I found especially interesting due to the fact that most of the discussion was framed around foreign policy and United States/European Union relations, two topics I find fascinating to learn about. I found that the EU’s Global Strategy, newly implemented last year, centered on predictability, balance, a combination of internal and external policies, effectiveness, and promotion of peace, is a long term plan for tranquil relations. My initial reaction to this proposal is that it will be extremely beneficial to not only internal Europe, but external as well.  We also learned about how beneficial the European Union is to the United States and how the United States is beneficial to the European Union.

Our second meeting was with the European Union Parliament. At this meeting it finally clicked for me how each of the institutions work in unison to create the European Union as a whole. Not only did I learn a lot during this meeting, but we were also given the opportunity to tour the building and the area where the plenary sessions occur. I found it interesting how each of the political groups sat with their respective members. During each of the meetings I was able to thoroughly expand my previous knowledge into new thoughts and ideas on the EU.

Andy K.
So far my trip was full of fascinating institutions and this trend continued. After a few bumps to start the day, we traveled to the European External Action Service. Although we did little in terms of actually seeing around the place, we spent over 2 hours discussing Europe’s Global Strategy with two fascinating and knowledgeable individuals. Some of the highlights that I took from this were the importance of bilateral cooperations between the United Nations and the European Union. Neither organization can truly achieve their goals without each other. The future of Europe, and the rest of the world, in terms of issues such as terrorism, food security, sustainability, and development rest of the success of this crucial relationship. In addition to this we discussed a number of issues involving trade, (even getting as specific on how EU countries and Wisconsin benefit from mutual investment) and the geopolitical challenges from Russia in terms of cyber security and energy. Both people we talked to shared the same love for politics as I do, and this kept me immensely engaged the entire time.

After this we traveled back to the hotel and then to a local market where we picked out food and then preceded to enjoy it behind our next destination, the beautiful European Parliament. The European Parliament is by far my favorite institution due to its democratic nature with the direct election of politicians by the general public. Here we explored the current state of the European Union and how it operates in terms of budgetary matters. Sadly we spent little time on revenues which is an area I wanted to badly learn about. Despite this disappointment, I still found the presentation highly engaging and informative. After this I encountered (in my opinion) the most prestigious area, the parliament floor itself. As someone who dreams about speaking on such a floor I was just awestruck by the sheer awesomeness the hall possessed along with the immensely challenging work done by the translators. I can barely learn a second language, nevermind five or six! Overall this day has just continued to improve an already amazing trip and continues to equip me with new knowledge for the future.

Bailey A.
Today we visited the European External action service and learned about what it does and cannot do. It was another interesting morning to learn about some reasons behind voting for Brexit. It was really interesting to learn about the interconnectedness of countries both inside and outside the EU and how action externally is gradually becoming internal action as well. All of the advances that the EEAS has made in the past few years was really admirable especially given their limited ability on behalf of the member states.

In the afternoon we got a very interesting and very human explanation of the European Parliament, and at the end we got to go into a plenary chamber. It was so interesting to learn about all of the afterthoughts added in the past few years, such as rules on leaving the EU, and though it hasn’t been added yet, how countries could be “kicked out”. I always assumed that Switzerland wasn’t a part of the EU because of their reputation as being neutral all the time, so it was really interesting to learn that it isn’t just neutrality that is getting in the way, but the way their government is set up and their identity. We also got to see an approximate comparison between the US government and the EU government, which really helps to explain what role everyone has and what they do. After our conversation we were able to go into the plenary chamber and learn about how the interpreters work and what that means for the MEP’s. Another very interesting day.

Cat G.
Bonjour! Today has been another very exciting day in Brussels.  The jet lag officially set in, but at least I’m exhausted and sleep deprived in a beautiful European country.  We started out at the EEAS, which was a little intimidating because there were TV screens on the walls that announced important events coming up, and one of them just so happened to be a G5 summit — and here was our little student group fortunate enough to get a tour.  The first man we talked to was very nice.  He talked a lot about what the EU’s purpose was, and why it was important.  The actual European Union has had major impacts on both a global and regional scale as far as keeping peace in Europe and providing humanitarian aid. The second man was also very kind and he talked to us more specifically about what EU-US relations implied, and how the partnership between our countries is beneficial to all parties involved.  He even did a little bit of research on Wisconsin itself, linking statistics about our state’s exports to the conversation at hand.  We told him to feel free to come by and try some cheese curds if he ever had the chance to visit.  

After that we got lunch at a local grocery store, this one was different then the one we visited on Monday and full of little victories (I managed to ask for a fork in French!!).  Once everything was purchased we ate our food at the park across the street, which was actually quite beautiful and home to another architecturally stunning building and a bunch of quaint little white flowers.  

Once lunch was done we went to the European Parliament which was actually really cool.  We talked with our guide for quite some time about EU logistics and what role the parliament plays in law making.  Our group was even fortunate enough to see one of the conference rooms, with all of it’s translator booths.  Not going to lie, me and Julia geeked out about the languages for a little while, especially when our guide mentioned that she had a friend who knew (from complete fluency, to basic translations) forty two languages!  Forty two!! How wild is that?!  Like right now I’m struggling to learn two, and her friend just casually knows forty two!  Overall that trip was overall very informational and inspiring.

Dinner was pretty cool, we ate at a more local German restaurant and it was cool to try some new foods.  I’m really looking forward to tomorrow and all the cool activities we have lined up, I am especially interested in talking to the Swedish representatives tomorrow and getting more of an insight on their feminist foreign policy.  Bonsoir from Brussels!  -Cat

Greta S.
The EEAS was very enlightening, and I felt like the policy areas discussed by the first speaker were articulated so well and with great depth of human understanding of the policy. I felt that he was really honest and had very insightful things to say on a variety of matters, and it reminded me why I am interested in politics. With the second speaker, I appreciated the research he did on Wisconsin before talking to us, and I liked that he tied it into what he was talking to us about. Having that personal connection is  always appreciated by me and reinforces my learning a lot.

At European Parliament, I learned a lot about candidate countries and the process of entering the EU which was something I never new I wanted to know about, but I now find it really interesting. We also talked about language and interpretation and I just find it so cool how people can interpret in so many languages. In general I’ve been finding people’s personal stories about how they got their jobs and what they think of their work to be interesting.

Joe G.
We began the day by visiting the European External Action Service. We first got to listen to a presentation on the European Union Global Strategy, which I found very interesting and informative. This branch of the EU makes it even more clear that the European Union is political in nature, that is an organization that is based on and strives for principles of peace, despite sometimes being mistakenly thought of as being majorly based on trade. The strategy is largely based on the trait of resilience after conflicts and crises as this is the key to prosperity for any society. The strategy also focuses largely on the role of social protection in the success of the business and economy. We also talked about US-EU relations and their necessity for both governments.

After that we went to the European Parliament where we listened to a presentation on the structure of the EU and also specifically the structure of the Parliament. I thought it was very interesting to learn more about the political coalitions in the Parliament and also about the vast complications often surrounding the job of interpreting, with it often being necessary to use a pivot language. It was a day filled with interesting information and fun.

Julia P.
Ciao! The main theme running through today for me has been absolute awe at the plethora of languages people know here- which motivates me to try to pick up more than just English and some Spanish. This morning after breakfast we visited the EEAS, which was just absolutely fascinating. We were honored by two officials speaking to us, one focused more globally and one focused more on EU-US relations. I hope I didn’t bother them with all my questions, but this was definitely the place and time to ask! One of my questions I asked in Spanish, and it was just so awesome to be able to speak, to be understood, and then to understand.

After this we grabbed lunch from another little grocery store, and then headed to a park right next to our next meeting (European Parliament). The woman who met with us for that meeting was so nice and friendly but also extremely knowledgeable. We saw the breakdown the the EU’s process for admitting countries as well as the budget, which was super interesting. Following that, we were able to see the room parliament meets in for their Brussels location, and Cat and I were fascinated about that language translation and the fact that our guide’s friend spoke (more or less) forty two languages!!! In addition, the building itself was beautiful, and I loved that the country in presidency decorated the space with a mix of their artwork and art from the EU in general.

Then we came back for a much appreciated nap, and after that headed off to dinner. I was feeling tired, and in turn not that hungry, but once I stepped in that quaint, lively German restaurant that completely changed. My food was so good, and talking with Mr. Kendall was so captivating- their viewpoint on popular topics of debate was so interesting to hear and think about. The whole dinner was wonderful- good food and good company made for a great night! I’m looking forward to the Swedish representatives tomorrow- hopefully I can ask them about their Feminist Foreign Policy! Arrivederci!

Katie B.
We began the day at the European External Action Service where we learned a lot about the EU’s Global Strategy as well as EU-US relations. The EU Global Strategy is interesting because it focuses on advancing prosperity, promoting peace and guaranteeing security, fostering resilience of democracies, and championing a rules-based global order. I really appreciated learning about how the EU attempts to effectively approach crises that are to some seemingly unresolvable. Their preemptive approach focused on how important resilience is in order for nations to react well and quickly to any scenario. It was also great to hear about EU-US relations from the other side of the relationship. I especially enjoyed hearing about the value of mutual investment, as well as the many ways we do invest in one another’s nations. It was so cool to see all of the car companies, health services, and food production that is intertwined between the US and the EU.

Then we went to the EU Parliament. One thing I found really interesting was how everything is connected and overlapping, institution wise but also country wise. Seeing all of the 24 languages of the European Union able to be interpreted so that all members can use their language of origin was amazing.

Thanks for reading.

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Inside the European Parliament
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