The second week of the program has opened us the doors of one of the three main European Union Institutions: the European Parliament. We have spent a considerable amount of time there, and it has proved to be a useful and eye-opening experience. Eye-opening in different senses: firstly because of the immensity of the modern infrastructure that it is, and thanks to the internal visits of the infrastructure, especially the hemicycle, that we had the privilege to see with our own eyes. In fact, I have been very impressed by the hemicycle, since it is something that I have seen quite often on television, on the news, so being there myself was simply sensational. Secondly it was eye-opening thanks to all the knowledge that we acquired during those visits. In fact, not only did we visit the empty hemicycle of the European Parliament, but we also had the opportunity to witness a Parliamentary Committee Hearings live, on Wednesday afternoon. This, coupled with the explanations that we had received the day before by a Portuguese delegate on the functioning of the European Parliament, proved to be a major source of learning and an interesting experience. For instance, we were taught, during the visit of the Parliament, how, in the Parliamentary Committees, speakers had a limited amount of time to make a point for the chairman on an EU issue; then, it was possible for other MEPs present in the Hemicycle, to raise a blue card in order to ask a question to the other MEP who had just made the point. I had the chance to witness this process in action in the Parliamentary Committee on Wednesday.
Moreover, I realized how challenging it is, really, for the MEPs and the chair to deal with European policy, since there is an incredible amount of subjects they have to manage all at the same time. I have heard many deputies talking about the situation of Greece in the EU today, and in that same Committee I remember two interventions by members of diverging parties, with totally different opinions on the question: one believed that Greece had no choice but to re-adopt the Drachma, and leave the Eurozone, while the other deputy argued in favor of its staying in the Euro. I believe that this little exchange summarizes very well how complex and problematic the issue of Greece is today for the EU.
Furthermore, many other subjects were evoked by the different MEPs, such as Security issues, with immigration and the Ukraine crisis especially, but also drastically different topics such as the energy crisis and the questions of EU policy on climate change. I am convinced that the time spent at the Parliamentary Committee has represented an exceptional demonstration of how the Parliament works on a daily basis, as well as what kind of role the MEPs have in the debates and how those are formulated.
What helped us a lot, I believe, to be able to follow those Committee Hearings and understand the requests and declarations made by the MEPs were the guest lectures that we had during the week. Firstly, Dr Knox-Hayes’ lecture on Climate Policy and Climate Change, pointed out how the Climate change, closely related to the greenhouse effect and the global warming because of human activity, is a global governance issue. It has only been since the 1990s that governments of countries of the world have gathered and tried to take common decisions to reduce their greenhouse gases emissions. This makes us understand how closely related are climate change and energy policy. This lecture underlined that there could be many solutions to deal with this climate/energy problem, and one of them is to create a market around energy, fossil energies: with Emission Offsets and Emission Allowances. Along with that, the Conference of Parties tries to elaborate Protocols, at least every decade, to set legally binding commitments to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases to the countries signing the protocol. However, it is very difficult to find common agreements, because of the economic interests that many countries have in oil and gas especially. I find this theme very interesting, and very topical too. I understand it is a huge problematic, since on the one hand there are the financial interests and potential gains of transnational firms, which are extremely powerful, and on the other side many NGOs and governments who set the climate change issue as a primary interest and understand how serious the issue is, and how quickly we need to change. During the Parliamentary Hearing, I have witnessed an MEP raising the issue to the Chair: this shows that Climate Change is also trying to be managed by the EU.
Even more interesting, in my opinion, was the guest lecture on the monetary and financial history of the EU. I have learnt the history that preceded the reaching of a common currency, known as the Euro. I learnt about the European Monetary System, which I had no knowledge about, but also and mostly about the person who launched the idea of a common currency in the EU, economist Robert Mundell. Those are important elements of culture for me, as an EU citizen. Moreover, having the opportunity to ask questions to this guest lecturer – who works in the Committee of Regions of the EU – was enlightening. We are used to listening to what the media says about the two topical issues nowadays concerning the EU – Greece and the UK – so having an employee of the EU answering our questions about it represented a very enriching opportunity. I look forward to seeing his second lecture next week.
Talking about the EU, this week we have received presentations to introduce all the member states. It was entertaining exercise that illustrated perfectly the outstanding diversity that exists n the European Union. This exercise was a good way to sensitize us to the member states of the EU, discover their main forces and culture, which many of us ignored, especially for the small EU countries.
Finally, I visited four different museums this week. Since Thursday afternoon was free, we decided to go and visit the Museum of Musical Instruments. As a musician and jazz lover, I found that this was a good opportunity to feed my curiosity and culture. Since I love history, the visits of the Parliamentarium and the Sultan’s World exposition have been captivating for me. A good basis for discussions of topicality is given by history: it tells us where we come from, why certain things are still tricky or challenging today. For instance, the Parlamentarium with the history of the nineteenth century, showed how challenging it was for a fragmented Europe to unite in a single Union. The expo at Bozar – an EU initiative – with the current issue of the Turks who want to join the EU: this historical exposition reminds us of the past of war and clash of religion between the European countries and the Turk Ottomans. This diverging culture and animosity that has existed since the 1400s is still one of the important reasons of the blocking of Turkish entrance inn the EU.
François also brought us to a beer museum in Schaerbeek, which I believe is located next to Aarij host family… Here is a glimpse of it !