Located at 77 Rue du Lombard, the Parliament of the Brussels-Capital Region serves as the governing body for the Brussels area, one of three regions that make up Belgium. The parliament is housed by two beautiful buildings of contrasting nature.
The older of the two buildings was the former Governor’s Palace. Entering the building off of a street inspired by the work of Haussmann in Paris, we were greeted by a historic marble entrance hall where we met the President of the Parliament and Host Mother to one of our students, Julie de Groote. To begin the visit, she took us on a short, informative tour of the building. She showed many different rooms, a dining room where she has hosted heads of states, one called “little Versailles”, and pieces of art all along the way.
Next, we proceeded to the newer Parliament building. When the building was under construction, a modern style was chosen to represent the evolving nature of democracy. The contrasting extravagant, gold plated design of the old building with the sleek, clean design of the new building is meant to represent the ever-changing work that the parliament does every day. Additionally, there was a large shift in the decoration of this building. Mrs. de Groote told us that when decorating the building, local artists were asked to “occupy” each room. This lead to some thought- provoking designs. For example, in one of the commission rooms, there was a modern depiction of the famous Manneken Pis standing next to Erasmus, the founder of humanism, representing various elements of the common Brussels spirit. Also, in the center of the room, a large concrete block hangs from a thread. This is meant to convey that the heavy, difficult process of democracy is often only held together by a small thread. In addition to the prominent symbolism at every corner of the building, it is sustainably constructed, using rainwater to power various functions throughout the building and lacking any central heating system.
After climbing a winding staircase to the top floor of the building, we arrived in the hemicycle of the parliament. Here Mrs. de Groote opened up the floor to questions that we may have had for her. Students from our group asked her a wide variety of questions, ranging from tensions between urban and rural Brussels to women in politics. In my opinion, the answers that Mrs, de Groote gave were detailed and informative. Once all questions were answered, she turned the tables and posed 3 different questions for us to think about. First, is it beneficial to have an obligatory vote? Second, she asked us to think about President Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again” and what “Great Again” actually means for the future of the United States. She ended the tour with one final question, is it possible to speak about civil liberties in a world where social media is so prevalent? We were not required to answer any of the questions right then, but just to think about them and determine what our personal responses would be.
Overall, I found this site visit to be extremely interesting and unique. It was such a privilege to be shown around by the President herself and it offered a perspective that we could not have gained from anyone else. As a host parent for the program, the tour felt even more personal due to this unique connection. This program focuses mainly on supranational European Union institutions, so it was nice to visit a regional government to see how the EU Member States are run on a more intimate level. Consequently, I think that understanding this concept will help us better visualize the true magnitude of the EU’s work.