AUBG Students Explore Brussels
Students from the class EU Lobbying at AUBG went on a four-day study trip to Brussels on Sept. 28. Seventeen students got a chance to visit EU institutions such as the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union. Additionally, they visited the World Bank Office, NATO headquarters, and different lobbies for which AUBG alumni work.
It was the first time that this trip was completely funded by the EU and students did not have to apply for any travel funds. However, there was very little time to organize meetings with the institutions’ representatives, because Associate Professor of European Studies Jean Crombois got the funding only in late July and could not start planning the trip until September. In light of this, he stressed that “AUBG was very supportive, the Provost office especially, to help us make this trip possible.” Crombois mentioned that such projects unite the student body and faculty despite all the conflicting issues that go on in AUBG.
All four days in Brussels were filled with information visits and conferences, except for the first day when students had only one meeting with Natalie Pauwels, who works in the Cabinet of the Directorate-General Environment [at the time of writing this article]. She was talking about her daily responsibilities at the European Commission and about communication with the lobbies.
The second day of the trip began with the visit to the Council of the European Union where students were taken to one of the conference rooms in which the member states’ ministers meet. There, the EU official, Simonetta Cook, gave a presentation about the role of the presidency and the importance of its style and techniques during negotiations. She also emphasized that today the EU is in a moment of change. The growth of the far left and far right groups, the increase of anti-immigration movements, and the rising number of Eurosceptics show that the EU needs to be changed. That is why it’s not the right time for further EU enlargement, but rather for strengthening the existing ties, according to Cook.
On the same day, the EU Lobbying class met with Wolfgang Nozar from Directorate-General Enlargement, who discussed the status of negotiations of all candidate countries: from Montenegro as the most advanced to Iceland which froze the process. Then, a speaker at the European Parliament (EP) provided mostly general information, usually prepared for ordinary tourists.
On the third day, students visited the NATO headquarters. There, they discussed the conclusions of the recent Wales Summit and a brief on the NATO relations with Russia and Ukraine. The rest of the meetings included Oxfam Office, European Commission and the World Bank Office.
On the last day in Brussels students had three meetings with AUBG alumni at EU lobby groups. “These were the best events,” Prof. Crombois said. “Even the students were impressed and surprised, and it’s funny because some of them wanted to have a day off.” Bojan Mladenovski, a fourth-year student, gave a similar response, “They briefed us in detail how a real life job in Brussels looks like. This trip is a must for people interested in the EU.”
According to Crombois, this four-day experience provided AUBG students with at least three benefits:
motivation, practical knowledge and familiarity with professional setting. To him, this trip is an essential part of the educational process. After all, “the idea behind it is to attract more people to major or minor in the European Studies,” he said.
The trip to Brussels will be a part of the AUBG EU Lobbying class for two upcoming years.