Every year, the Belgian Fulbright Commission holds a “Seminar on the European Union” in Luxembourg and Belgium. Last week, 39 American Fulbrighters from several EU member states gathered in Brussels for the conference. I was honored to be one of the representatives from France.
I was really excited for this trip because I’ve been living in Europe for 5 months but don’t know much about the politics here and, as a busy engineering and French major, I’d never really had an opportunity to take a class at Northwestern. I learned more about international politics in this week than ever before! Throughout the seminar, we visited several different EU institutions, where we listened to speakers, sat in on meetings, asked questions, and met some very important people. I was particularly interested in science policy in the EU and how politicians and scientists collaborate to create and advocate for evidence-based policies, as it seems like the gaping chasm between science and the US government is growing every day. Although we didn’t get to discuss these issues specifically, I learned a lot about the challenges that researchers face today and also know that it’s important, now more than ever, to encourage support for scientific programs funded jointly by the EU and the US.
Each institution told us about its purpose and the problems it’s currently facing. Here’s a breakdown:
Reception with the US Ambassador to Luxembourg—On the first evening of the seminar we met Ambassador Robert Mandell at a reception at his house. We had the opportunity to mingle with him and his wife and some former European Fulbrighters to the US.
European Court of Justice—We sat in on a hearing with Europe’s version of the US Supreme Court. It was a case from the Netherlands about the owner of a coffee shop called “Bulldog,” who started making energy drinks. Red Bull was not too happy about this because the names sounded too similar. Most of the proceedings were in Dutch, so I used the opportunity to practice my French by listening to the French interpreters 🙂 After the hearing, we had a question and answer session with Judge Koen Lenaers, the Vice President of the European Court of Justice, and then lunch with 2 staff members.
European Commission—The European Commission is the executive body of the EU (and the building looks like the Ministry of Magic in Harry Potter…) We listened to presentations on economics, foreign policy, the state of the European Union, and US-EU relations.
NATO—On Friday, we visited NATO and met the US Ambassador to NATO, Ivo Daalder, who spoke with us very candidly about the role of the US in the (miliary) work of NATO. We also heard some very informative presentations about what exactly NATO does (from a NU alum! Go Cats!) Then we had lunch as guests of NATO, which is something they only do twice a year!
US Mission to the EU—On Friday afternoon we listened to presentations on the European Parliament, the US Mission to the EU, and the US Foreign Service, followed by a reception with Deputy Ambassadors Manzo and White from US NATO and US-EU.
College of Europe—Finally, on Saturday we went to the College of Europe, which is an independent university institute of postgraduate studies, with students from all over the world. One of the most impressive things is that you have to be bilingual to attend the College of Europe (French and English are required), but most people speak at least 4 languages… and up to 11 languages! Then we heard an interesting presentation about US-EU relations. It was interesting to see that a lot of the political and economic differences between the two nations stem from differences in culture.
The seminar was a great opportunity to expand personal and professional networks, but we also got to do some sight-seeing in Brugge and had some down time to explore Brussels (read: eat waffles, chocolate, and fries with mayonnaise and drink lots of beer) 🙂 I made a bunch of new friends and now I have couches to sleep on all over Europe!
French word for today:
flaque (d’eau) (flak doh)– puddle
Il pleut depuis une semaine et il y a beaucoup de grandes flaques d’eau sur la terre.
It’s been raining for a week and there are a lot of puddles on the ground.