As I packed my bags for the Fulbright EU Seminar in late February, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect – what could five days in Brussels show me that six months of research on the European Union hadn’t already? Well, I was delightfully surprised. Over the course of these five (very full) days, we traveled from Luxembourg to Brussels to Brugge, getting a clearer and clearer picture of how EU institutions function, and how those same institutions interact with the United States in transatlantic relations. The Belgian Commission’s thorough planning and care truly showed in the success of the seminar – I left Brussels with a much deeper understanding of how EU institutions function in real time.
The seminar would have been series of impersonal tours through European government buildings had it not been for the forethought of the Belgian Commission. The EU Seminar gave me access to presentations with top European and American officials, many of whom were former Fulbright Scholars. Meetings with Vice President Koen Lenaerts at the European Court of Justice, Ambassador Robert Mundall in Luxembourg, and Permanent Representative Ivo Daalder at NATO painted a very clear picture of what treaties, laws, and policies are the focus of European, American, and EU-US politics. For example, I was able to have lunch with Referendaire Kurt H. Riechenberg, a career legal ‘clerk’, and ask him questions about what he takes into consideration when interpreting the treaties – how and when laws are interpreted in European Court of Justice judgements. Finally, the EU Seminar also connected me with Fulbrighters doing related research in other European countries: teachers studying education policy in Finland, researchers examining migration issues in Greece, and economists studying the housing crisis and restructuring of the Spanish economy.
The EU Seminar was particularly enlightening for me since my Fulbright research has come to focus of EU law-making. Although I was trained to work with issues of foreign development aid, in the context of the Euro Crisis my interest shifted closer to home: I now want to see how Germany and other Member States interact with one another in terms of regional governance structures. In Berlin I have come to see that good governance should facilitate interactions between government, civil society, the private sector, and other actors so that the rights and wellbeing of citizens are protected. Yet today, German good governance is not only a national question, but a regional one tied to the fate of its neighboring EU Member States via the EU Treaties. For example: how do EU education policy goals translated into German policy? And how do German and European courts interpret these policies?
Given that, the opportunity to personally connect with European institutional actors truly granted me a unique window into how the European Union defines democracy within this regional governance framework. During the seminar we not only discussed the Euro Crisis, but also the discrepancy between the European institutions, the EU Treaties, and the reality of Europe in 2013.
The opportunity to visit new countries, catch an in-depth glimpse of policy making, and expand my network to an incredible group of Fulbrighters will have a lasting effect on my research, my friendships, and my vision of the European Union! I cannot recommend the EU Seminar highly enough!
Liebe Grüße (warmest regards),