“Sprouts and Supranationalism: A Perfect Combination”
Written by SU Strasbourg student Justin Cole
Hope that title didn’t scare you off. If you are anything like me, the first thoughts that come to mind when I mention Brussels will undoubtedly have your gastronomical senses tingling. Whether it’s the famous chocolate, waffles, sprouts, French fries (yes, they were first made here, not France), or more probably, beer, Belgium is known for its contribution to our palate. Needless to say, the first thing that comes to the minds of most students is certainly not supranational governmental bodies.
Yet Brussels’ most important recognition in past decades has not been for its culinary contributions, but rather for its role as the central seat of the European Union. A few months ago I too would have thought of an ice cold Blue Moon before I thought of intergovernmentalism when someone mentioned Belgium. But spending a month in Professor Torbiӧrn’s contemporary policy class at SU Strasbourg has changed all of that.
I won’t bore you with all of the details of the institutions of the European Union (and truthfully, midterms are over and all of that information that was crammed into my brain has been replaced with mush) but I will share some of my experiences with these places.
Last week, we took a class trip whose itinerary looked like something out of an International Relations student’s dream vacation. We traveled first to the tiny country of Luxembourg, just three hours north of Strasbourg, where we visited what could be considered the judicial branch of the European Union. We attended a fascinating (hope the sarcasm comes through) hearing regarding airline consumer regulations, and while the subject was less than stimulating, I don’t think any student there would deny the awesomeness that one felt just being there in such an important place.
For you see, the European Court of Justice’s existence in itself is truly unbelievable when one considers the impact of 27 countries, many of whom were bitter enemies in the trenches just 60 years ago, sitting down at one table and settling legal disputes. But anyways, I’ve let the boring political science side of me talk for too long, and now join me as we move onto Brussels.
I think all of you will agree that waking up at 7AM isn’t the easiest thing to do for a college student, especially when your day’s agenda is filled with boring lectures from monotonous professors. If there’s one thing I can tell you about studying abroad, is that you will rarely find boring lectures.
Anyways, our early morning in Brussels was made easier by the prospects of the day’s visits: NATO and the US Mission to the EU. Arriving at NATO at 9AM, we stepped outside of the bus to one of the most heavily fortified, secure, and intimidating places I had ever been to. Three levels of security were passed to get to our innocent conference room. Once inside though, we were treated to a briefing from two American foreign service members who gave informative presentations about what exactly NATO does.You could fill a textbook a thousand pages long with everything that NATO does, but I’ll simplify it down to two sentences.
It was founded after WWII to keep defeated Germany down and unable to regain its power, keep the Soviet “sphere of influence” from extending into Western Europe, and keep the United States involved in maintaining peace in Europe, unlike after WWI. However, these days, with the threat of Germany minimized, the Soviet Union collapsed, and the United States very involved in European affairs, NATO’s main objective is to serve as a peace-keeping body and currently maintains forces in Afghanistan. If anyone out there is studying for their IR midterm, you’re welcome.
The US Mission to the EU is an interesting place. As you might have guessed, the US cannot be a member of the EU (that Atlantic Ocean always ruins our plans). However, we can maintain “observer” status to attend certain meetings so that we may protect our own interests. I like to think of the US as that quiet kid who sits at the back of the class and never says anything, but who you know is always snooping and creeping. Yeah, something like that.
But on a more serious note, our trip to the US mission showed us that, while we clearly are not a member, we still have a presence and a degree, albeit small, of influence in the policies of the EU. We spent the remainder of our day walking around the beautiful town of Brussels, enjoying all of the aforementioned cuisine, and visiting the “must-sees” of Brussels. You know you have stumbled across a quirky European city when arguably the most famous tourist attraction is a fountain of a urinating baby. Check it out here and be sure to read the legend behind it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manneken_Pis
Waffles, chocolate, supranationalism, and peeing babies. What a trip.