Brussels Study Trip: Blog 5

**Note: Previous posts from our trip- 1) Blog 1; 2) Blog 2; 3) Blog 3; 4) Blog 4.  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.

This trip could not be going any better.  Every single speaker we’ve had has been informative, interesting, and patient with all of our questions.  I truly appreciate the time and effort each one has put into making this trip memorable for my students (and me).

Today we went to the European Committee of the Regions, where we talked about its role and functions, as well as why it is an important and necessary part of the EU.  We also got a chance to talk about SME’s with a staff member of the European Commission.

In the afternoon, we went to the European Parliament to talk with Jytte Guteland, an MEP for Sweden’s Social Democrats.   We talked about the “Swedish model,” Sweden in the EU, and Sweden’s feminist foreign policy.

Finally, one of the main themes from our visits has been the importance of compromise and consensus in the EU, as well as the idea of being united through diversity. In that spirit, I left it up to the students to decide what to do tonight for dinner- the only stipulation was that they all had to agree. We’ll see how it turns out (Editor’s Note: I put an update at the end of this post.)

Huge thanks to the following people who made this day memorable for my students and me: 1) European Committee of Regions- Klaus Hullmann and Andre Meyer; 2) European Parliament- Liz Gehrke and MEP Jytte Guteland.

Ali B.
We began our meetings today by visiting the European Committee of Regions. Although researching prior to coming on the trip, I was still curious to find out exactly how it worked with the other European Union institutes. As an example, the specific difference between the Parliaments job and the job of the Committee of Regions. I learned that this body works to truly reach “united in diversity”, a constant theme of the European Union, and as a classmate stated, it makes sure smaller regions do not go underrepresented”. As pointed in the presentation, the Committee of Regions has done a lot of work in Spain with goats to put a stagger to fires in the forest due to their diets of eating anything and everything.

Our afternoon meeting was with a MP of the Swedish Social Democrats. Here we were able to discus the Swedish model, specifically Feminist foreign policy, the labor market and the climate, which I’ve noticed are commonly high on the list of importance throughout the EU. The Swedish government encourages and assists with equal participation of female and male roles in society, meaning the men spend equal time with the children while the women work and vise versa. This has been proven to be effective for the society as older generations reflect on how they wish this was implemented in their younger days. I also found it interesting on how Sweden is investing in creating new jobs that are environmentally friendly. These new jobs will be top of the line and modern and also open to those who may be losing jobs due to the modernization of clean energy in Sweden. By using both the right and left political parties Sweden has compromised its way to favorable policy making.

Andy K.
Our trip continued today with a visit to the Committee of Regions, a body that gives local regions a voice in European politics. This greatly interested me due to the fact I feel like people are often unrepresentative in the European Union and this was a chance to understand exactly how much power is given to local election officials. Sadly I was disappointed when I learned the committee carries no actual legislative power (although it does significantly influence certain outcomes). I think it is crucial to have directly elected leaders make European laws and ensure that every type of region feels that they have a voice in law. I hope this body gains more power in the future and allows the average person to feel represented in the decision making process rather than just relying on the European Parliament to somehow overcome all other institutions and represent the people that can hold them accountable. I was very encouraged by ideas behind this committee however, and it made me happy to see the EU care about local voices in the legislative process.

After this we had an hour long discussion with a Swedish MEP from the Social Democrats. She fascinated me in terms of the knowledge she brought and interests (degree in economics and major influencer in climate policy). I loved how she spoke about the importance of gender equality and taking into account how it affects all groups in the equation. I may personally see everyone as an individual and not as a specific race or sex, but I believe this evaluation process is a significant step forward for all people and hope more countries recognize Sweden’s Feminist Foreign Policy. The most Interesting part for me was not in the group conversation, it was afterwards in a one on one conversation about minimum wage. Sweden does not have a minimum wage and instead focuses on the importance of agreements between employers and workers. This has been found to ensure that employers don’t have to cut jobs while ensuring that workers are paid higher wages. She stated that a minimum wage would actually hurt workers as it would allow businesses to keep wages at the minimum level. I found this truly fascinating. Today we took a little different approach to politics, however it was just as informative and personal as ever and I loved every bit of it.

Bailey A.
Today I got a much better understanding of what the Committee of Regions is and what it does. From my understanding of it, pre trip, the committee of regions was something that helped to make the EU more understandable for citizens. After visiting them, I was very interested to learn that part of what they do is assess the effect of legislation on the regions as well as present parliament with evidence supporting certain legislation. They also make sure that there is inter regional support across borders to make sure that the open border system is as effective and sensible as possible, something we don’t really have to worry about in the United States where we have always had good relations with our neighbors.

In the afternoon we had a fascinating discussion with one of Sweden’s members of Parliament from the Social and Democratic Party. It was really interesting to learn about the Swedish model and how it works, both in Sweden and in the EU. Sweden’s feminist foreign policy was a big topic at our meeting, it was so nice to hear about how women and children are being brought into the high level government decisions. One of the things that interested me most was that they have made sure sick days are fairer especially for women, because they know that when you are stressed it can sometimes manifest into sickness. When you are stressed and you have to take sick days that adds even more stress, which is why they are making the sick days much fairer, so that you won’t be punished at all. It was also interesting to learn more about the dynamic between and within party groups from an actual parliamentarian.

One of the biggest things I have found strange about the trip so far is definitely how casual everyone is that there are self proclaimed Nazis elected to the Parliament. I would have thought that there would be a bit more hesitancy to elect an official based on the name alone because of the associations it brings up. All in all it has been a really interesting day.

Cat G.
Bonjour!  Today was another fantastic day!  It started pretty early, 6:25 to be exact.  We had another round of hotel breakfast, and then hit the streets to get to the Committee of Regions.  We ended up talking to two people there, which was just a truly wonderful opportunity.  The first man was very funny, and he talked a lot about what the Committee of Regions actually does.  I think it’s actually very cool, because most of the organizations and institutions we’ve visited so far have been operating on a larger scale.  This body focuses on a smaller, more local scale, which is something I really appreciate and value.  I also really enjoyed talking to the second man as well, because towards the end of the conversation he presented us with two questions.  The first one asked what the EU was doing well.  The second one was what we thought the EU needed to improve on.  This opened a really interesting debate that let us talk about both the good and the bad that comes with such a globally and culturally diverse union.  

Once we were done with that we stopped by the InfoPoint and I may or may not have grabbed quite a few maps and everything they had on languages.  Lunch was next, and we actually ended up going to the same local grocery store we had went to on our second day in Brussels.  After lunch we walked over to the European Parliament, but there was a slight communication mishap so we ended up arriving forty five minutes early.  Being the resourceful individuals that we are, our group just ended up going to a nearby Italian coffee shop.  Not going to lie, I kind of walked in blind when it came to taste testing espresso so that was definitely a little bit of a surprise to say the least.  

Our actual meeting with the Swedish Social Democrats was really fascinating.  It was really awesome to hear about their Feminist Foreign Policy and how it’s impacted both their international relations and their domestic affairs.  In just a little, our group will be going to dinner.  We haven’t decided where yet because Mr. Knoll said it was up to us and that we need to reach a consensus just like the EU, so this should be interesting.  Bonsoir from Brussels! -Cat

Greta S.
At the committee of the regions the sentiment of the EU being united in diversity was central. The institution is unique because it’s members often stay in their own cities, but I like that it was said that they are still different than everyone else in their cities, so there is still a disconnect between leader and citizen. One of the things that has been done that I found particularly interesting was Alcolocks which make truck drivers take a breathalyzer test before the vehicle can start, and if they fail it, the car does not begin. It’s so simple and yet so effective at stopping drunk driving. I liked how the second part of the meeting was held with the speaker asking us what we thought was wrong and right with the EU and then explaining what the EU does for those problems we thought of. This made the session very specific so I learned things that I otherwise would not have learned.

After that, we went to the free publication store for the EU, Infopoint.  At Infopoint, I was very excited and grabbed so many awesome pamphlets and reports and maps, and I’m very happy about every single one of them.

In the afternoon, we met with one of the Social Democrat MEPs for Sweden and she explained how the feminist foreign policy is streamlined into EU legislation as well as her work on the environment and political changes in Europe and the world. I was very interested by the law that makes buying prostitution illegal but offering it not illegal. Before she explained this it didn’t quite make sense, but when she explained that it allows people to report assault without fear of prosecution, it was genius. I found fascinating how both gender perspectives are investigated when creating legislation, and how a certain level of carbon emissions can be bought, therefore reducing how much people emit carbon because they have to pay for more of it. Finally, I loved how she explained the rise of populism as after the 2008 financial crisis, groups did not blame the past actions that caused the crisis, but rather the social progress like immigrants rights.

Joe G.
After breakfast this morning we went to the Committee of the Regions. It was a very engaging and interesting presentation and discussion about the role of this branch of the EU and its powers and rights. We learned that though the Committee of the Regions has no legislative power, they do have a right to be heard by the legislative bodies on a wide majority of decisions. Personally, I believe that the Committee should have legislative powers as it may be the most accurate representation of the people’s interests since it is focused so specifically on the regions of each member state. I enjoyed hearing of various common action plans between regions bordering each other in different countries and how they were able to use this platform to establish shared public services, etc. to make life easier and more prosperous in many aspects.

We then met with a Swedish Social Democrat MEP and talked about many of their foreign and domestic policies. I have always admired Sweden’s feminist focused foreign policy, and think it would benefit all members of society if every country was to echo that sentiment, even if that isn’t realistic in today’s world. I also enjoyed talking about environmental policies including their carbon tax and the EU’s carbon markets. Overall today was very impressive and informative, I learned a great deal about both the Committee of the Regions and about the Sweden model.

Julia P.
Buonasera! Today we started our day with the usual classic hotel breakfast- I would very much recommend the strawberry jam and honey to put on the fresh-cut bread, it’s spectacular! After breakfast we made our way to the Committee of Regions. The speakers we had there were fantastic, personable, and extremely knowledgeable, I’m so glad we went! I thought it was especially fascinating to see a body like this, one that represents the needs of counties, cities, and regions rather than just the nation as a whole. It was also very interesting to hear about the Commission first hand, and about what that job entails. I really liked debating the successes and areas for improvement for the EU!

Following that, we went to the InfoPoint and picked up some booklets and maps, and I really enjoyed the material and linguistic policy and languages in general. Then we got lunch from a little store, and made our way over to the European Parliament, where it started pouring. Luckily, I’d remembered my umbrella! We had accidentally gotten there 45 minutes early, so we made a quick trip to a little Italian coffee shop that was a nice relief from the rain and so cute & cozy.

Then it was time for our visit with members of the Swedish Social Democrats. Both of the Social Democrats we met were so professional yet amenable, and very knowledgeable. We all very much appreciated their patience with all of our questions about the Feminist Foreign Policy!! We’re about to go to dinner now, and then tomorrow we meet with Deutsche Welle, which will be really interesting since that’s a different kind of public service than we have seen previously this week. Ciao da Belgio!

Katie B.
Today we started off the day with our meeting at the European Committee of Regions. This body is important and incredibly interesting to me because it amplifies the voice of 90,000 communities and makes sure no one is underrepresented or misrepresented. Our speaker pointed out that it brings the EU closer to citizens and encourages a culture of subsidiarity which I think is vital to a stronger and more supported European Union. Our second speaker, who was actually a member of the European Commission, was also really great. They spoke a lot about compromise and small to medium enterprises, and even asked our opinion on what the EU could change or do better. In response to this I said that because members sit by party and only have at most 9 to choose from, despite there being many more political parties, might make it difficult to come to a clear consensus or have everyone’s ideas represented. I also thought that many EU citizens may find the organization too complicated to understand and therefore care about, so showing why the EU is important in simple language and graphics would be very beneficial.

Next we met with a MEP of the Swedish Social Democrats. This was probably one of my favorite things we have done over the course of the trip because feminism and societal improvement are among my favorite topics to learn and talk about so talking about the Swedish model and feminist foreign policy was amazing. I loved hearing about how they plan to avoid the race to the bottom and how their feminist policies helped make their society stronger.

Update on the restaurant: The students picked out a restaurant at the end of the block that served a combo of European and African food- De Bruxelles et d’Ailleurs.  The guys running the place were super nice, especially Cas (sp?).  They went so far as to move a table from the inside to the outside so we could take advantage of the rare sun shining in Brussels.  Cas was patient, answering the students’ questions about the menu.  To top it off, the food was excellent (I had the Mafe avec Poulet).

Thanks for reading.


2 thoughts on “Brussels Study Trip: Blog 5

  1. It is great to see the pictures and read about all the interesting experiences that the group is having – what wonderful trip ! 🙂

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