GT in the EU

An extraordinary education

Author: Savannah Horner

A Day in the Life of a MEP

It was a toasty day in Brussels, odd for the city, but we were all grateful for it nonetheless. We approached the Parliamentarium with eager hearts. Walking into the building, it was incredible that such an amazing museum would be free to the public. It truly showed how much the European Parliament cares for educating the people of the European Union.

The museum is extremely interactive and narrated entirely by an audio guide. You are able to walk up to pictures and artifacts and understand the complete history behind them. Initially, you are introduced to the concept of European integration, and then the topic is expounded upon as you venture further into the museum. We were able to see the parties that the European Parliament is comprised of (which would be helpful later in our visit).


The museum finished with people being able to type their hopes for the future of the European Union, which I found to be an uplifting note to end on.


The museum was just the start of our visit to the Parliamentarium. The group meet up again in anticipation of our role-playing game. This section of our visit began with us entering into a room with four televisions and stadium seating. It was here we were informed of our new roles as MEPs (Members of the European Parliament). We were each assigned a political group that we would be apart of; Ecology, Liberty, Solidarity, and Traditional. These groups seemed to be generalizations of current political parties in the Parliament.

Learning our future as MEPS

The two directives we would be dealing with were the Water Solidarity Directive and Personal Identification Directive. When we were released to our parties, I was put on the Personal Identification working group. We were sent to “talk” to citizens, researchers, and NGOs, as well as, left to handle the office. The office portion was wild to participate in because of how busy it got. There would be calls and emails coming in constantly.

Working hard

Finally, once they decided we had accumulated enough information, we were sent into a debate. Each party was asked questions directed at their viewpoints and given 15 seconds to respond. After this whirlwind debate ceased, we were sent to our working groups to discuss amendments on the directives that would allow them to pass in the Parliament. Each party had objectives they would not budge on, one of ours being the stance against using chip implantations for security reasons.

Debate time

Once amendments were agreed upon, we went back to the full parliament to vote on the amendments. We voted to pass the amendments, which was a feat with our strong differences on position. The problem arose when the Council gave their opinion on the amendments. They did not support our decisions. In fact, they seemed to want entirely different things, so we were sent back to research more. Suddenly, we got news that a tragedy had occurred. There had been an earthquake that had devasted an entire region. They news reported on the fact that the trans-European water pipeline had indeed survived, so the people were not without water. We were also informed that those who had been implanted with chips were easily found in the wreckage. What a coincidence this would happen right in the middle of our negotiations?!


Going back to the working group, the Council was willing to negotiate with us. I think we were all willing to give on some things because of the disaster we had just witnessed and the effects the chips had had on the situation. The final amendments our group agreed on left each of us with a sour taste in our mouths because we had given up some of our core objectives, but alas we returned again to vote on the directives. Both were passed with a minimal margin.

I think this role-playing helped to put the harsh reality of these negotiations into focus. It is a tedious process that leads to more disappointments than wins. Sometimes your parties’ core objectives are lost in favor of the majority. I also think it helps to show how current events can sway decisions. While these situations are important to the decision-making process, they may sway decisions too quickly without fully processed thought behind the decisions. Overall, the process is chaotic and can be disappointing, but it is a necessity for the European Union to continue progressing.

Swimming with the Big Fish in the Think Tank

Our journey to the Centre for European Policy Studies began later in the day than any of our previous site visits, at 16:30. We were met with the vibrant personality of John Peterson. His contagious smile and quick remarks left us all ready to hear more.

Instead of just beginning with a spiel about himself, he asked to hear a little more about us. We each described our favorite part of the trip thus far. Answers ranged from all the various institutions we have visited to more broad responses. These broad answers touched on the cohesion of the European Union amidst great cultural diversity, and how our visits to the various institutions have lent themselves to analysis of the differing perspectives of different institutions.

Once we had gone around the table, it was time to hear from the experts. While MEP Richard Corbett was meant to be the one briefing us, he had important business that kept him in London. Understandable, especially since this is a bit of a tumultuous time for the United Kingdom. In a pinch, John Peterson was able to rally some of his colleagues to give us a fascinating view from the thinktank itself.
As we moved on to the perspective of the think-tank employees, the mood turned more somber. Our first presenter began discussing how he thinks the EU has failed to make drastic changes since he first moved to Brussels. He highlighted that a lot of this lack of progress stems from the locations of the various institutions, which is detailed in the treaties. For example, he described these red boxes in the Parliament building in Brussels that contain material that must be shipped to Strasbourg because of the incidence of there being two Parliament buildings.

We then moved to a more positive note with the talking points on the summit agenda coming up at the end of the month. The agenda includes Brexit, migration, the deepening of the banking union, and the probable accession of Albania and Macedonia. On the idea of Brexit, one of the students wanted to understand what exactly the exit of the United Kingdom will look like. The conclusion seems to be that no one truly knows. There will have be a transition period, due to the fact that Article 50 was triggered with no plans in order for an exit strategy. Overall, though, British citizens are surprised about how little Brussels today is concerned with Brexit. This is due to negotiations being extremely compartmentalized within the institutions.

Our next briefer was involved in the economic policy unit at CEPS and also happened to be from Italy. As there is quite a bit going on with the Italian government at the moment, it was interesting to hear about it from the perspective of an Italian citizen. The newly elected government is a coalition government that is sympathetic to Trump and Putin and has agreed on a loose fiscal policy, which will increase the country’s debt further. As of right now, Italy has a 130% debt in relation to their GDP and has experienced low growth since the Great Recession. Although the EU has already experienced a debt crisis with Greece, Greece accounts for approximately 1% of the EU economy, whereas Italy accounts for 12% to 13%. This crisis would be more disastrous to the European Union than any other. Due to this situation, the EU is justifying moving some of their budget to Southern European countries. This may also be a scheme to remove some of the funding from Hungary and Poland, where there is democratic backsliding.

To wrap our meeting up, we briefly touched on whether the Trump administration will drastically change the trajectory of the EU-US relationship. I think that while it may put a major stall on the process, it will not change the trajectory completely, but the next president will have major bridges to build.

Our Last Lecture Before a Free Weekend

Bleary-eyed and coffee-fueled, it was our last class before our first free weekend in Europe. As soon as class begun, Dr. Birchfield woke us from our dreams of travelling with a thought-provoking discussion no one saw coming. The conversation stemmed from our viewing of the Ted Talk, The Danger of a Single Story. The talk underscores the idea that we all have a deficiency to view a group of people who share a common attribute and identify them only as that attribute. We miss out on the individuality of people because we selfishly want to easily identify them. While these identifiers may be true in some cases, they are incomplete and stem from power relationships in society. A person’s position in society clouds their view of their relationships with others and helps to create these labels.

To dig even deeper, Dr. Birchfield asked us to describe ourselves and explain the single story we fear the most. As a class, we decided it best to not read them aloud. To me, this was because reading that single story makes it all the more realistic, and it is our duty not to perpetuate them but to defy them and become so much more.

To transition this into a more concrete example about the European Union, we discussed that people create identities “in opposition to”, and we, as residents of the United States, view the European Union in this same manner. We are able create narratives about nations against how we view our own. This was evidenced by the member state presentations of Greece, Spain, and Portugal.

These three countries were part of the second enlargement and have since experienced varying paths of growth within the European Union. Greece entered into the EU with a very poor economy. Although they were asked to take action prior to entering, their economy remains in a deep deficit. As they continue to pay off their debts, they are also experiencing other crises, including a refugee and an unemployment crisis. On the other side of the economic spectrum is Spain, with the European Union’s fifth largest economy. The largest ongoing crises in Spain has to do with the independence of Catalonia. The people of Catalonia feel culturally unique and have voted for independence from Spain. Spain does not recognize this and neither does the EU. Also, in opposition to the economic imperfections of Greece, Portugal had previous economic problems but effectively used austerity to correct them. They are one of the few economies were austerity was actually observed to work.

Our final class-oriented activity of the day was watching the film, Europe at Sea which began to explain the ever-changing borders of the European Union and the role of the Global Strategy. It detailed the Operation Sophia that has helped to save thousands of refugees travelling from Syria and Libya, as well as, taken action in northern Africa to stop human trafficking at the source. The film also spoke about European Union relations with other organizations, such as NATO. The Global Strategy continues to progress but not without setbacks, and as a few people in the class pointed out, the video seemed to only be portraying the Global Strategy from a positive light. While we may agree or disagree with the Global Strategy, it is always important to show both sides of the argument as to be fully informed.

As our discussion wrapped up for the day, many headed off on their travels. Some students left for Barcelona, some for Ireland, and a small few were left in Metz for the evening. A couple of us that would be in Metz for the evening ventured out to the fair. Walking in, we were immediately overwhelmed with the same sights and smells as the county fairs back home, only more grandiose. The prices were also more grandiose, as the one ride we rode cost 7 euros! But those 7 euros were made worth it at the top of the ride where we could see out onto the varying landscapes of Metz.

In continuation of our exciting evening, we met up with Dr. Birchfield for fondue. Throughout the meal, I couldn’t help but notice how evident it was that each of us are here because of our interest in international affairs. The conversation was littered with talk of future sight visits and the state of current transatlantic relations. And as the evening began to wind down, we parted ways with Dr. Birchfield in pursuit of our own adventure that we would set off for the next morning.

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