AUBG Students Take Over Brussels
On Oct. 25, a group of fourteen AUBG students, alongside Prof. Jean Crombois, AUBG Professor of European Studies, set off on a journey to Brussels – the heart of the European Union. The trip was a mandatory requirement for all the students taking the EUR 405 European Lobbying class this semester. The organized event provided them with the unique opportunity to meet with professionals working for the EU institutions and to better understand how the decisions within the walls of those institutions are being made.
When the customs officer asked Diana Elagina, a third-year AUBG student, about the purpose of the trip, she replied, “We will be visiting the European Commission, the Council of the European Union, and other organizations with our Professor!”
The trip was organized as part of the Jean Monnet Module run by Professor Crombois at AUBG. During it, the students got first-hand experience of how lobbying in the European Union works and acquired insights on how the European Institutions make decisions.
Professor Crombois considers such trips to be an important part of the learning process as it allows his students “to have a more practical feel of the daily functioning of the European Union out of the classroom and textbooks.” When he decided to teach a course on EU Lobbying, a topic rarely found in the academic curriculum due to its practical nature, he “thought that it would not make much sense unless students could meet with the EU officials and interest groups in Brussels.”
The four-day trip included 12 meetings with discussions held at the European Commission’s Departments (DGs), the Association of European Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the American Chamber of Commerce to the EU, the Council of the EU, the US Mission to the EU, and the EU External Action Service. As a part of the class, students were required to write their own lobbying strategies on the assigned topics. They were supervised by AUBG alumni, who are currently working for the EU Institutions and for some of the non-governmental organizations in Brussels. Yelyzaveta Glybchenko, a third-year student, found the experience of meeting with the AUBG alumni valuable, given that it brought ”a more practical approach to the lobbying strategies [students] are developing in class.”
Apart from discussing the issues related to the EU, alumni couldn’t resist asking about their alma mater — AUBG. Every meeting ended on the warm note of sharing memories about the university and giving useful bits of advice. Glybchenko noted that “seeing successful [alumni] gives the sense of security in the future, after graduating from AUBG, especially in terms of possible employment and alumni networks.”
Shedding light on the latter, the Alumni Placement and Salary Survey, conducted in July, 2016, stated that more than 47 per cent of AUBG alumni found their jobs within the first months after their graduation, and more than 45 per cent of the respondents received their Master’s degrees right after AUBG. The results from the statistics, together with meeting AUBG alumni working for major EU Institutions and NGOs, further motivates and sets an example for the students to aspire to.
The agenda of the trip also included students’ attendance of the daily press briefing at the European Commission. The speaker, before proceeding to the official part of the briefing, welcomed the AUBG students on behalf of the Commission. Elagina, who is double majoring in European Studies and Journalism, described the experience as overwhelming.
“When I was (…) listening to the latest news and comments of the European Commission, I felt like I was (…) in the center of the EU affairs. This made me feel proud,” she shared.
Professor Crombois’s aspiration is to take the most out of the trip to Brussels by organizing as many meetings with EU representatives and interest groups as possible. This year’s group consisted mostly of students, coming from the post-Soviet republics which are highly affected by Russia’s foreign policy. In this light, Crombois arranged a meeting at the EU External Relations Service, where students discussed current EU-Russia relations.
“I always try to arrange meetings with as many people as possible, EU officials, diplomats, as well as people working for interest groups based in Brussels and dealing with different topics, ranging from technical to more political issues,” Crombois stated.
Daniil Butorin, a forth-year student, acknowledged the fact that the trip helped him understand the class material better “as [he] saw how everything works from the inside.” Butorin described his overall impression from the trip as “good,” and his time in Brussels as “productive and useful,” saying “it was interesting to visit the European Commission, the Council of the EU and the various DG’s.” The only institution the group didn’t visit was the European Parliament, as it was difficult to squeeze it in the intense schedule.
“I always say that each trip is a small miracle itself, so the fact that it took place is already something I am very happy about,” Crombois said.
“This trip was a success. We had a full schedule of meetings, where we discussed different issues. I am very happy to be able to connect current students and our alumni in Brussels, and to offer the students an experience that, I hope, they will remember for the years to come,” he added, reflecting on the trip.