On Tuesday, I sat in a classroom discussing the roles and capabilities of the European Parliament within the EU. On Wednesday, I was sitting in the European Parliament, listening to Members of Parliament (MEP) from France, Germany, the U.K., and other member states discussing what to do regarding the situation in Syria. To be able to learn so much in a real political environment is, to put it bluntly, pretty cool.
For those unfamiliar (which is probably most people, considering my EU knowledge was close to zero at the start of this program), the European Parliament is located in Strasbourg, France, and is one of the decision making bodies of the EU. The MEPs are elected within all 28 EU member states, and must approve any legislation put forth by the EU Commission. The whole process is rather convoluted - and often the Parliament does a lot more talking than acting - but it was fascinating to see first hand nonetheless.
Before entering the parliamentary chamber, however, we had an ever more exciting opportunity - the chance to speak face to face with an MEP himself. And not just any MEP; Mr. Gerard Batten, one of the founding members of the United Kingdom Independence Party, which celebrated after Brexit’s success in June. Batten has been a longstanding advocate of the U.K. leaving the EU, and although I found most of his arguments to be problematic and lacking in nuance, I still found it captivating to hear about the supposed virtues of Brexit coming straight from the mouth of one of its primary supporters.
This day trip was a good reflection of the immense value of study abroad. Not only am I studying the EU - but I'm actually there! The seamless exchange of classroom learning into first-hand experience was remarkable, and it was moreover a unique treat to get to see political arguments played out in real time by real parliamentarians. To some extent, it is heartening that the theories of politics and international relations that we learn in school are actually relevant and important in the real world. I heard an MEP talk of the EU’s lack of hard power and necessity to utilize its soft power capacities, a topic which we had been discussing in my Security and Foreign Policy class earlier in the week - it's these connections that help me appreciate my education and my fields of study.
As I finish writing this blog post, I am trying to ignore the fact that I actually have to wake up in just over four hours. Tomorrow, bright and early, begins the second big trip of the IES Abroad European Program, during which we will visit more key EU institutions in Luxembourg, Brussels, and Paris. If our brief visit to the European Parliament was any indicator, I can imagine that this is going to be an extraordinarily fascinating and informative adventure. Ciao!
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<p>Hello! My name is Zach and I am so happy you are here! I grew up in Tucson, Arizona, and am currently a Junior at Occidental College, where I am double-majoring in History and International Relations. I'm fascinated by the connections between the past and the present, and the role that history plays in modern diplomacy. Be sure to keep up with my travels as I explore Freiburg and the European Union this semester!</p>