Yesterday was a looong day for me. I was looking forward to my first weekend alone here in Brussels as a time to relax and finally catch up on my sleep a little big, but then we found out that the EU Commission and Council would be open for the public. This only happens once a year, so one of the interns and I agreed to meet over there at 9:00. Of course it took me about an 45 minutes to get there using trams and metros, and I had to get up earlier to give Truman a substantial walk before I left, so I ended up getting up at 7:00. Not too much sleeping in.
Since most of my readers are probably unfamiliar with EU politics, let me explain the Commission/Council as best as I can. Be aware that I'm still confused about them as well to some degree, as is everyone. People keep saying that "once the Lisbon treaty is passed, it will simplify things!". That should tell you how bad EU bureaucracy is if a 500 page document "simplifies" it.
First was the EU Council. This is an immense building with glass on all sides. It's really pretty neat to look at, but unfortunately I forgot my camera. The Council is where all the heads of state from each of the 27 European Union countries meet to discuss EU treaties, etc. They also discuss new EU policies and laws, etc. The Council can also consist of the specific ministers of each of the 27 countries on a given issue. For example, in poultry trading (the big issue at work right now), the Council is actually the Minister of Agriculture for each country instead of the Prime Minister/President. It's a big deal because we're trying to get the EU to accept American poultry, which they refuse to do because it is dunked in chlorine before being sold. The Council's presidency changes every 6 months. Right now, Slovenia is finishing up their presidency with France to take over next month.
The Commission was next and is the most powerful body right now of the EU. Each country's government can appoint one Commissioner for so long (I think it's 4 years, but I'm not quite sure). These Commissioners are the only real Europeans because they have to swear to not consider their own country when making EU decisions. The head of the Commission is President Jose Manuel Barroso, who is considered the most powerful man in Europe right now. I'm a little confused as to the job of the Commission, but they pass laws and such that are then sent to the EU Parliament for approval.
Both the Commission and the Council had tons of goodies available for free for people visiting. These included all sorts of paraphernalia regarding the EU. Mostly maps, DVDs, books, etc. It was quite the treasure hunt for me because I could get everything in French and English, which I shall use later on to practice with. But neither compared to what was to come at the Parliament! After we finished with the Commission and Council, the other intern had to leave but I went on to Parliament, where each of the EU Parties had a booth with lots and lots of free stuff. I got a safety vest for riding a bicycle (which I was going to have to buy), three umbrellas, and all sorts of other goodies. Below you can see a picture of Truman with my umbrellas:
The blue square one is from the center-right party which includes Nicholas Sarkozy's conservative party from France. It isn't the most conservative one in Europe, but it is the biggest. The green is from the Greens. I had to laugh because, of all three, the Greens' umbrella had the most plastic packaging. The Greens are known because they were the first European Party to launch a pan-European campaign in the last election. The red one is probably my favorite, even though its the Socialist party, because its so big. After I left, I saw someone with a navy blue umbrella as big as this one from the EPP party, which is probably the most conservative main-line party (the British Conservatives are a part of that party, though they have promised to pull out after 2009). I was going to go back in to try to snag one, but there was a huge line, and I would have had to go through security again. Anyway, three is probably sufficient anyway.
So that was my adventure with the EU. I'll probably get a more in-depth official tour with the other interns, but it was great to see everything anyway.