GT in the EU

An extraordinary education

Author: Rachel Soper

House of Parliament and History!

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!

EU Parliament


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.

Mass Graves

Gas Masks

Our First Day in Brussels

June 19th was our first official day in Brussels and it was a great one to say the least! We all settled in with our host families the night before and a got a good night’s sleep for our first big day in the city. The first item on the checklist was making sure we all had a metro pass for the next three weeks. The metro system in Brussels is extremely convenient and user friendly so no one had any qualms about using it as our main source of transportation. After everyone got a pass for the metro we started our short walk through the city to find a place to eat lunch. We eventually stopped at a perfect organic restaurant called Le Pain Quotidien. It had a huge selection of farm to table foods while satisfying the vegetarians and vegans of the group! After lunch we were on our way to taste some of belgium’s famous chocolates! Dr. Birchfield bought us all a variety of chocolates from two different stores. The first store we got a selection of milk and dark chocolate. The second store we had special heart shaped chocolate with raspberry filling. Overall I think everyone fell in love with the sweet side of Brussels that day!

After everyone got their fill of lunch and chocolate, Dr. Birchfield had to take a student to the doctor, and Emma took us on a little tour of Brussels. We walked through the city while she pointed out some main historical attractions. For example, the first attraction that we stopped by was the Royal Palace. The Royal Palace was first constructed between the second half of the 11th and first half of the 12th century but the building that stands today wasn’t built until after 1900 by King Leopold II. The Palace still functions as the residence of Belgium’s Royal Family today.

Another famous landmark is The Grand Place. The Grand Place was originally used in the 12th century as a busy trade center. Although, it is also surrounded by other important spots like the King’s House and the original Town Hall dating all the way back to the 15th century.

Another important location we visited in Brussels was the Cinquantenaire. The Arch was originally planned for the world exhibition of 1880 and was meant to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the independence of Belgium. However today, the various buildings of the Cinquantenaire are home to three museums and one mosque.The surrounding park is used for differing purposes like concerts, festivals and parades.

Martyrs’ Square is also a very important location of Brussels. The Place des Martyrs is a public square with different cabinet offices of the Flemish Government, built around the 18th century. More than just being a lovely town square it is also the it’s the burial site of many Belgians that died during the Revolution.

Finally, a more comical star attraction of this city is the famous little statue Manneken Pis. This tiny fountain statue is commonly referred to as the face of Brussels. There are many legends to why this statue is so famous and many question the origin of the art but to most it is a silly tourist attraction!

Overall, the first day of being in Brussels was about getting a good feel for the city and learning our way around. We were able to do this by having a nice morning with our host families and going out to lunch with our group. After walking around and eating lots of chocolate we were able to decide what we wanted to see in the city. Emma explained some of the major sites while the rest was up to us. A great first day!

The Royal Palace



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