Culture / Travel

Cultivating interest in the European Union

ImageBrussels hit the mid 80’s today and it was heavenly. The sidewalks were swarming with people in summery dresses and shirtsleeves enjoying ice cream or simply time outside. On my way to a meeting, I discovered Jubelpark, a gorgeous and huge park crowned by a triumphal arch that celebrates Belgium’s fiftieth anniversary. At the entrance, there’s a modest bust garlanded by rose bushes, commemorating Robert Schuman, who is credited as a founder of the European Union and the Council of Europe and NATO.

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Earlier in the day, our group visited the European Parliament and even sat in on committee meetings. I observed a fishery policy meeting. The most fascinating aspect about it was the simultaneous translation happening. The 27 (soon to be 28) nations in the EU speak 22 languages. Little headphones sit at the ready and if you’re listening to a Maltese expound on fishery, chances are you can almost immediately hear a translation in your language of choice. Just turn the dial.

I still think Brussels feels a lot like Washington, D.C. with a slightly more cosmopolitan flair (sorry D.C.). And that brings me to my next thought… in Europe public affairs means lobbying. Basically, Europe continues where in the U.S. we’d stop, claiming we cannot cross the line. And so, when a European in Brussels mentions transparency, it’s very likely that they’re talking about ethics related to the way business is conducted in the European Parliament, the European Council and the European Commission. And it’s very likely that what they’re talking about includes lobbying. There’s a voluntary register that organizations and individuals can use to declare their interests. This came about around 2006 when a group of “interest consultants” got together and drafted a code of conduct that was soon adopted by the European Parliament and the Commission.

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In the end, it’s all about relationships, isn’t it? On this visit, I’ve heard several comments about the European electorate being less engaged and more divided on the European Parliament. This lackluster feeling about the body has led some to fear that more fringe groups will gain power because people aren’t paying attention. It’s also caused concern about the power of the body as a whole. I have a feeling the lobbyists would move heaven and earth to ensure that the parliament stays powerful.

Image This is Darko. He’s the dog I met hanging out in the newsstand. His owner and I had a mangled French (on my part) conversation about dogs.

Off to eat chocolate. Tomorrow to Germany.

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