Almost three months had flown by and we were heading to Brussels again. This time already knowing each other and already knowing what we are doing here. Can you believe that it was this exact same spring and not in another life when we visited Brussels for the first time? By the way, has anyone also had the impression that after having lived in Luxembourg for a while, Brussels looked much bigger than the first time?
The European Parliament, the Parlamentarium, the Committee of the Regions, the European Economic and Social Committee, the TV studio of the European Commission & the Council of the European Union in 2 days. That’s some busy schedule! Let’s not forget getting up early (as early as 6 o’clock) to wait for the bus for 40 minutes and to have free time for lunch on arrival to Brussels. And all the security checks! I mean, ALL the security checks… So here you get some little bits and pieces of our two super busy and super informative days.
Be on time. Don’t eat messy food on the bus. Behave… Sounds like a good start? Someone was offended that we were treated as children but actually it was kind of cool to feel as a group of kids on a school trip, no? When you don’t really need fancy activities to have fun and it is perfectly enough to get to play with those video cameras at the conference room while waiting. And the microphones (show our German skills and our sense of humour, for example). We also got to take pictures with the President in the TV studio. We got to pick the cards of our favourite countries and represent them at the Council. We got to listen to the same joke three times (is that the only joke on interpreting? well, if we decide to pursue a career in interpreting one day, we will definitely know the main rule: never translate jokes). We got to ask loads of questions (or not). We got to take a group picture in front of Berlaymont. And, quoting Mr. President, we got to feel like luggage with all those different stickers that we collected throughout the day. Doesn’t it sound like fun?
As for the educational part of the visit, we could sum it all up like this: Commission proposes, CoR and EESC give opinion, Council and Parliament decide (constantly disagreeing on basic issues), EbS TV documents everything and spreads the info to the world. I think, from now on we can proudly feel experts in how the EU works.
The Parliament & Parlamentarium
- Having visited the original plenary room of the Parliament in Luxembourg, now we got to see where the EP members take their decisions these days. Well, part of those decisions at least.
- Now we know where each of the political groups normally sit and we heard the numbers of members in each political party (which apparently can change with a blink of an eye; politics, what else could you expect).
- We also learned that at the moment there is an unusually big number of unattached members who either have too radical views to be accepted by any party or just don’t fit in anywhere.
- And we found out that in Portugal social democrats are actually a centre-right party.
Then we visited the Parlamentarium. I was truly impressed by its interactive approach to the EU history, diversity and current issues. If you want to understand what basic concepts lie beyond the EU, what/where/why/how is the Parliament, among many other things, go visit this place. And plan to spend more than an hour there. Engaging, informative and fun.
For us it was a bit too much info, too little time, unfortunately.
Committee of the Regions
This is what I went out of this really informative visit with:
- The 1st row is occupied by those who want to learn; the other rows – by experts.
- CoR can be described as “united in diversity” – that one we heard many times. Kind of like us, nope?
- Who would be willing to give power to the regions? Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, obviously. The countries where the regions HAVE a significant say in their own affairs. Against: France. Our beloved Luxembourg would be somewhere in the middle, same as certain Baltic countries or Cyprus, simply because they have no regional structure.
- 325 billion EUR for regions 2014-2020.
- The members of CoR meet at the Parliament.
- Like in the Parliament, there are different political groups and different commissions to discuss different matters.
- But it is also significantly different from the Parliament. Members of EP spend most of their time in Brussels or Strasbourg while members of CoR – most of the time at home. And members of CoR are unpaid!
- They play Monopoly there. Political groups have a number of points, each document has a different price. In case of conflict, they can also use a joker.
- 60 opinions issued per year, according to the priorities set out by the Commission (investment plan, digital agenda, energy union, workers’ mobility, commerce) + the Presidency of the Council also influences the areas covered.
- They work on areas as different as which airports can be subsidised, home-caring promotion, access to clean water, issues with regional languages, kindergartens in different languages, goats or unpaid traineeships.
- Ever wondered why there are signs along the roads everywhere around the EU saying it was co-financed by the EU? To bring the EU closer to the citizens, obviously.
- In terms of offcial EU languages, there has been 1 shy country – Ireland. However, happiness only lasts if you take pills and Ireland was not taking pills, so Irish language is now also an official one. What kind of pills is Luxembourg taking then to be happy without their own language in the EU ever since the beginning of the EU?
- CoR is the only official body which has made an agreement on usage of regional languages with Spain and the UK. 2 conditions apply, though: it has to be informed in advance and the country has to pay for services of an interpreter. So not very widely used, apparently.
- If you misuse your Fench/German/Italian in a weird way, you can always say it is used like that in Switzerland. As it is not in the EU, no one will notice that you are lying.
European Economic & Social Committee
The main part of the presentation was spent outside because of the unexpected fire alarm. It was a lot of fun but then pretty much the only thing we learned about the institution was that it was a French invention (whereas CoR – a German one). And that it is older than CoR. And that they are similar in their way of functioning. Oh and there are 3 groups represented: employers, employees and representatives of various other needs. Anyone could add anything?
This was a surprise visit for many of us. We started by asking “What is a PR studio?” and ended by not believing that all this exists, exists for free and no one knows about it.
- So how many of you knew that the EU has its own TV, EbS? It even has two channels, the blue one and the green one.
- All the material they film (or photograph) can be used by anyone free of charge and free of rights.
- And how many of you knew that the Commission has a TV studio anyone can use for free (the only condition – it has to be EU related)? Actually, two studios. Imagine our disbelief. I mean, for free? The whole studio? With the whole equipment and the crew? We are way too used to paying for everything.
- Why were we able to visit the studio if it can be booked by anyone anytime, you ask? We also asked. Because no one knows about it, obviously.
- So the next time we come to Brussels, we should definitely book a studio and interview each other about our experience as trainees at the European Commission.
And finally at the Council we met our dear Massimo Mauro whom everyone remembered from the Welcome conference. However, it wasn’t mutual and apparently he didn’t remember us.
So, again it was fun to listen to him but did we actually learn anything about how the Council works? If anyone did, please share it with me. I guess my head was too full with everything else that there was no more space for this info. I just remember that:
- They have floor 20 which is actually the 2nd floor and which is called an ordinary floor (where working parties meet). And the counting system is apparently such so that they can feel like in the world of Harry Potter and to have the level 3.5 called 35.
- Legal English is not tourist English, tourist English being numerical plus beer/wine (one wine, two beers) with “please” as an added value.
- Nordic countries are one greener than another.
- The Council is all about compromise. And trading votes in areas which do not concern your country for the votes you need.
- You don’t want Germany to be in the minority.
- There are 3 ways to avoid answering embarrassing or undesirable questions (highly important): 1. Answer the question which was not asked. 2. Find a secondary question and answer that with millions of details 3. (For Mediterranean ministers) Try to demonstrate how annoyed you are and say “How DARE you ask such a question which is COMPLETELY irrelevant” – after that they forget what they asked.
- Compared to the USA, we are a bit backwards and sometimes it is an advantage. [Concerning cyber attacks, etc.]
So what is the Council actually doing? Don’t ask me 🙂
And that was it, enough of Brussels for a while. Part of us went back to Luxembourg, part of us continued with the busy schedule exploring Belgium.
Thanks to those who made this possible because, honestly, not every day do you get such an opportunity to explore the institutions!