In April 2015, a group of 18 SPIRE students from Keele University studying European Union (EU) politics went to Brussels to visit several of the EU’s institutions. Two of the trip participants, Max Hill and Bea Hare, write about their experience.
Despite the early wake up, the 2015 second year students studying the Politics of the European Union module were ready for the two hour train journey to Brussels to expand their knowledge on the EU and have the opportunity to visit this great city.
Upon arrival, we checked into our hotel, and were given free reign to explore the city before the visiting the institutions. It was this day where the group discovered that Brussels holds amazing architecture, interesting people, and fantastic beer. It was a great introduction to the city, and a brilliant way to start off our trip.
Waking up early, the coffee-induced group travelled by metro to our first destination, the European Economic Social Committee. Here we discovered the running of this organisation which represents civil society in Europe, as well as finding out the career opportunities that are available for graduates which offered great possibilities to interested students who wish to work for the EU in the future.
After lunch, the group visited the Council of the European Union to talk about the crisis in Ukraine. We learnt about the considerations placed to impose sanctions on other states, whether or not they work, and how the institution and the wider EU are monitoring the situation in Ukraine. It was a great way to find out what is done in the Council of the EU due to the fact that we spoke to staff who were able to offer us first hand knowledge of the institution and how its run.
We then spent the night experiencing more of Brussels, visiting landmarks including Mannekin Pis, the Grand Place and gorged over the famous Belgian waffles to end an insightful and interesting day.
Waking up early for our busiest day, we travelled to the European Commission and discovered the institution’s importance in the EU in the UK. We discussed the democratic deficit of the institution that we learned about in class and how the Commission was trying to address it. This was a great way of introducing us to what we will talk about in the European Parliament on Day 4.
During lunch break, we discovered the tacky EU souvenirs on offer that ended up being the thank you gift to Chris and Liz for accompanying us for the trip. It was amazing that EU themed toothbrushes, light up pens and bottle openers are all sold in numerous stores in the city, and I am sure that Chris and Liz were more than happy with their tacky gifts at the end of the trip.
The group then visited the home to the UK Permanent Representation to the European Union, and met an employee of the Civil Service working to promote British interests in the EU. It was explained how the permanent representation works to promote British interests and how the UK Civil Service worked in order to exert its influence in the EU.
We finished our day visiting the Birmingham and West Midlands regional representation to the EU. This was especially interesting as we did not learn about local government role in the EU in class. We learned that €360 million was designated to the region from 2007-2013 towards structural funds and what influence is exerted to the EU on a local scale in addition to what we learned in the UK permanent representation to the EU.
On our last day, we visited our final institution: The European Parliament. After a brief history of the institution and learning that the Parliament costs €300 million to run due to the Parliament additionally being located in Strasbourg, we continued the idea of the democratic deficit that was mentioned at the European Commission. As the democratic deficit was a topic for assessment for the Politics of the EU module, students engaged in conversation and asked stimulating questions to gain us great insight into the relationship between the European Parliament and European Commission.
After a brief tour, we finished off our visit to the European Parliament with a meeting with Siôn Simon, MEP for the West Midlands. He explained about what he does on a day-to-day basis, and how he works with the British government to ensure UK interests are enforced in the EU. He additionally explained what it is like to work for the EU as an MEP in comparison to being an MP and gave advice on what to do if you wish to work in the organisation.
After last minute souvenir shopping and a last glimpse of Brussels, we all met in Brussels Midi station and returned home. It was a great trip! We gained helpful information on the politics of the European Union for our module, and also explored the great city of Brussels. The trip made us extremely interested in the EU, and a place to consider working in the future.
A massive thanks to Chris for organisation the trip as well as Liz for accompanying us, wouldn’t be the same without them!