June 20th, the day had finally come! We were finally able to get an official viewing of the EU parliament, along with a very detailed information session. We met our guide in the waiting area outside our info session room, and the first thing she pointed out was the large sculpture in the middle of the Parliament The sculpture was multiple stories high and was more than just a simple piece of art. The sculpture was called “Confluences” and was created by Olivier Strebelle. It was meant to symbolize the interdependency all the member countries have on each other and the relationship they all possess. The bottom of the sculpture resembled a tree trunk, meaning member countries all stem from the same goals while continuing to grow as one. This was a very insightful first introduction into the EU Parliament building. Then we were all led into the information session room and our guide began her lecture. The first couple of slides she quizzed on some information to see how knowledgeable we all were. After that, we began to cover specifics. First, she discussed the number of member states (28), candidates (5) and the potential candidates of the EU (2). That transitioned into a conversation about the issues some of those countries had that would prevent them from joining the EU. For example, Turkey was mentioned since it has always been a highly disputed country in regards to becoming a member of the EU. The 2016 coup attempt portrayed Turkey as a struggling country that may not be ready for democracy. Along with certain freedoms, such as press and media being extremely oppressed many Europeans are not enthusiastic about Turkey becoming a part of the EU. The next topic of discussion surrounded the UK withdrawal from the European Union and how that process might look in the next year or two. On March 29th, the UK gave the notification to the EU that they were planning on leaving. Then starting on April 29th through March 2019 the European Commission, Council and MEP’s will be meeting to support a healthy and fluid retraction of the UK from the EU. After discussing the UK, we jumped right into the specific policy challenges the EU faces in 2017. Our guide listed topics such as migration, Syria, Turkey, tax fraud and evasion, energy, Brexit, security and many more. Then we moved onto the key institutions of the EU. The first institution we discussed was the European Parliament. The Parliament represents the European citizens and has 751 members. It is the only directly elected EU institution and was the first international body directly elected by universal suffrage. The European Commission represents the EU interest and has 28 commissioners, so one from every member country. Finally, we discussed the Council of the European Union which represents the member states and has 28 ministers, so also one from every member country. Our guide then shifted the focus to the ordinary legislative procedure in the EU. First it begins with readings of the proposed law and then it is put in a conciliation committee. From there it goes into initiative control and is dispersed into the European Parliament and Council of the European Union for final decision. Finally, we finished off the lecture talking about directives and regulations. A directive binds any member state to its results but allows the national authorities to implement it in a way they see most fit. A regulation has a general scope, and is binding in all its elements. We specifically talked about the tobacco products directive in the EU. The directive made new laws concerning cigarette containers and the way they look and are marketed. For example, the text warning must take up more room on the package while the brand name is reduced in size and color significantly. These are just some examples of what directives can be in the EU. After we had our information session we were able to see the actual parliament room where all the action happens!
My second activity assigned for this blog was the House of European History. This was by far one of my favorite museums we have visited during our time abroad. This museum showed how history has shaped a sense of European memory instead of through each country individually. There were 6 floors of this museum and we had a limited amount of time so I was only able to get to the first three floors. The first floor explained a lot of the mythology behind European history and the meaning behind a lot of the legends. For example, Europa supposedly took its name from an Asian princess which showed the interconnectedness of the regions. The myth goes that Zeus was so taken over by this Phoenician princess that he changed himself into a white bull. Europa was more attracted to this majestic animal than Zeus in human form and together they had three children, Minos, Rhadamanthus, and Sarpedon. The exhibit also went further into different interpretations and representations of these myths throughout the ages. During the Middle Ages the majority of myths changed origin form Greek Mythology to Christianity. Besides myth, many other aspects of life began to become extremely influenced by Christianity. For example, maps were often drawn less based on accuracy but instead to represent Christian symbols. Then, the next exhibit went on to portray Memory and European Heritage. These exhibits showed a lot of Aristotle and the idea of philosophy, as well as law, and the role it took in European History. As democracy was established so were the notions of justice and the rule of law. I found this exhibit particularly interesting because to demonstrate this idea they showed a more recent idea of this which were examples of state terror picturing a French guillotine blade and picture of statue called “state torture reimagined” of water boarding, the slave trade, colonialism, and humanism. After this I moved onto the third floor of the museum. The third floor focused a lot on different revolutions and nationalism. It also explored the Karl Marx idea of a classless and a communist society. This was the notion that since society emerged it has remained divided between classes who fight in the pursuit of class interests. This also concerned the of rise of industrialization and workers’ rights, including the development of worker’s cooperatives. Although, with the rise of nationalism comes the increase in warfare. This exhibit soon went into WWI and how during times of emerging nationalistic societies, war began to dehumanize people with the use of gas masks which were meant to break the deadlock of trench warfare. It went on to show walls of mass graves with the idea of the “unknown solider”. It demonstrated the terrors and terrible consequences of war during this time of European history. Overall, I thought the perspective that the House of European History put on the formation of modern Europe was extremely versatile and eye-opening. It demonstrated the reality of this continent’s history, in all its glory and gore.