Master in International Relations Class Trip to Brussels
After five and a half grueling months of classes and a week of final exams and papers, the MIR trip to Brussels couldn’t have come soon enough, and promised a welcome break from classroom studies, as well as a chance to experience first hand many of the institutions and organizations about which we had been learning.
With the MIR’s focus on the European Union as a model for international organization, our trip was centered around visits to some of the EU’s institutions, as well as to NATO headquarters. After a snowy arrival on the Thursday night, our itinerary began Friday morning with a visit to the European Economic and Social Committee, where we were given two presentations on the Committee’s work and its role within the EU, the second of which, by Charis Xirouchakis, Head of Visits and Publications Unit, involved a spirited discussion and was one of the highlights of the trip. A group dinner that evening provided the perfect lead-in to the weekend, when many students took the opportunity to do a bit of traveling and sightseeing in the area, including trips to Bruges, Ghent, Antwerp, and Amsterdam.
On Monday we spent the day at the European Commission, and had presentations on an assortment of topics, including the EU’s climate change policy, the current sovereign debt crisis, industrial competitiveness, and the External Action Service. On Tuesday we changed gears with a visit to NATO headquarters; the difference between visiting a defense organization and visiting government institutions (as we had so far done on the trip) was immediately evident in the security procedures required to enter the building! Once inside, it was fascinating to gain a number of different perspectives on NATO’s changing role, including those of a policy analyst, a communications specialist, and a member of Spain’s diplomatic representation to the transatlantic alliance. That evening we were hosted by Belgium’s permanent representative to the EU, a man who has the distinction of being the only diplomat posted to an embassy in his own country!
We wrapped up the trip on Wednesday morning by visiting the European Parliament. Here, as was to be expected, things took on a more political tone as we met with several MEPs and had a chance to hear their views on some of the current “hot topics” in European politics. We were then left with time for one final meal out in Brussels, as well as a chance to make any last minute chocolate purchases before catching the airport bus, again amidst snow flurries, for our flight back to Madrid.