On November 8th a group of Suffolk Madrid students visited the European Commission in Brussels. Mr. Joaquín Almunia, Vice President of the European Commission and Commissioner for Competition, arranged the visits and meetings for these students, who are currently studying the Freshman Seminar “Unfolding the European Union” or who took the course last year.
Vice-President Almunia’s aide, Ms. Elena Martín-Chico, hosted the group throughout the visits and conference, as well as a tour of the primary chambers where European Commissioners meet and debate daily. The students posed questions for Speaker Sören Haars (Germany) regarding the future inclusion in the E.U. of countries such as Turkey, and issues of competition and monopolies affecting member nations. Recent E.U. rulings on cases involving Google and Microsoft were also discussed..
Knowledge of what takes place in the European Commission and Parliament gained in their SF course provided students with a deeper understanding of the practicality of most of the issues discussed. These ranged from controlling pesticides and reducing the use of plastic shopping bags to ruling on member states´ compliance with penal laws, establishing immigration laws for all member states and promoting greater trade and commerce between Europe and the rest of the world. A fine starting point was a visit to the Parlamentarium, a newly inaugurated interactive museum which leads the visitor back through the 20th century to find the origins of the need for the European Union to become a reality. Junior Matt Wagnon shared his thoughts about the experience: “…It was a thrill to go to the European Commission and have a brief overview meeting on the E.U. and its functions. It set a good foundation to learn more about the place where roughly 80 percent of the E.U.´s processes take place. The Parliamentarium was a great interactive learning tool that, in the end, explained everything easily and clarified the process and the jobs of the E.U. employees. I would highly recommend this trip to any student that comes to Europe as it is great to know a little about the government process.”.
As utopian an ideal as it may seem to skeptics, the truth is that the former war-torn continent has enjoyed more than 60 years of peace since the European Coal and Steel Community came into being in 1950. These were to be the initial steps toward an ever greater cooperation and coordination..
Beyond the European Commission and Parliament, students were captivated by Belgium in general. Wagnon’s impression was that, “as far as Brussels itself, the city was absolutely incredible. The people were some of the kindest I have encountered, and the night life is fantastic. The city is beautiful and offers so much to see and do throughout the day as well. It is definitely a ‘must’ city to visit."