Back in Black...I mean Brussels

Published: June 4th 2009EDIT THIS ENTRY

Grand PlaceGrand PlaceGrand Place

This is my living room.

I have managed to lose this thing twice, the last one being a truly epic loss, so I apologize for it's lateness.

Monday: Once again, we travelled back to Infocentre for another round of talks. I’m sure you’re as sick of hearing about the place as I am in going to it! I don’t think I have provided a description of the pace yet, so now I will attempt to. It is located right in the heart of the EU district across from the Berlaymont building that houses much of the European Commission. On the second floor there are many brochures, books, maps and condoms that one can pick up that explain everything (and then some) about the EU and how it works. For lectures, we proceeded to a back room that is very modern with fancy projectors and double-paned windows. That is where the modern aspects end. The windows do not open and the air-conditioning is never on so it is ridiculously hot in there. Think cooking an egg on the engine of your car, and you might start to grasp just how hot it is in that forsaken room. Then there are the chairs. They are ergonomically correct. That is code for hellishly uncomfortable. The chairs seem to me that they would be more appropriate if they were used as torture devices for prisoners! On top of the heat and the chairs are the speakers. For whatever reason, they tend to be less than scintillating at Infocentre. I’m sure many of them are good speakers and they have a lot of interesting things to say, it’s just that the audience appears completely lost at times due to the parameters of the room. The exception to the rule seems to be the French speakers who, for whatever reason, all seem to be entertaining to listen to. We left Infocentre but there were many riot police outside because there was a protest. A soon as I saw the protest, I immediately thought it was French. I don’t want to generalize but, if you want a protest, ask a Frenchman to organize it. To my surprise, they were German dairy farmers, not French that were protesting. I thought they would be a nice orderly bunch, being Germans and all, but they were vociferous and they kept ringing their cowbells. Personally, I thought they needed more cowbell. In the afternoon we went to the trade Union building where we had some lectures on trade union policies. We then headed out to the Quebec Delegation’s house out in the swanky part of town for a reception and a presentation on Quebec’s policy and interaction with the EU. The food they served was absolutely fantastic! The chefs somehow managed to get canard avec cerises into a little pastry roll. C’etais magnifique!!!

Tuesday: It’s been very hot here lately, hovering between 24 and 27 degrees. Normally, I’d be overjoyed with temperatures like that but when one is sitting in a wool suit in a stiflingly hot room, it can be a trifle unbearable. Our first venue of the day was the European Council building where the President of Council meets with the other heads of state of the 27 EU nations. Now I don’t know how many of you are familiar with how the Presidency of the Council works but it rotates the presidency every 6 months between the heads of state of the Member States. The first 6 months of June was the Czech presidency. Every time there is a new presidency, a new art installation goes on display inside

A German dairy farmers protest.
the Council building. This year’s piece was made by David Cerny and was quite controversial. In the piece he created maps of each country in Europe and then put national stereotypes on each one. For example, Romania was a Dracula theme park, Italy was a bunch of soccer players, Germany was a series of highways and cars, France was on strike and Britain, well Britain just wasn’t there! I thought it was hilarious, but more sensitive people didn’t and it was removed sometime ago so I was unable to see it unfortunately. We got to sit in a large meeting room, and I sat in the seat of the great and powerful Malta. I asked two questions that morning, and apparently they were good questions as both speakers deigned to answer them! We went to the fantastic sandwich place one more time, before heading over to a great little dessert place. My dessert was a tart with meringue, raspberry filling and cheesecake on the inside. It was absolutely amazing and I’m getting hungry just thinking about it. At this moment I think you should take some time to wipe the drool of your keyboard. After lunch, it was back to
The French (Canadian) friend ConnectionThe French (Canadian) friend ConnectionThe French (Canadian) friend Connection

Xavier, Aurelie, Me, Claude, Edith and Kathleen.
Infocentre for more lectures on various subjects that I really don’t remember.

Wednesday: Infocentre again. Woo……………..wait for it…………………nope, no hoo. One of the speakers in the morning was actually quite interesting. His name was Hubert Petit, and he worked in the EU Central Asian Mission in Astana, Kazakhstan. One of the slightly peculiar things about him was that despite having a French name and being born in France, he was most definitely oriental in appearance. It took a bit of getting used to as the French accent coming out of his mouth was certainly not the one I was expecting! The afternoon lectures were on EU-Russia relations and the EU’s regional policy, and both were located at a building that is very close to where I will be living for the summer in Brussels.

Thursday: We went to the Turkish Mission to the EU and we got to witness once of the best speakers, in my opinion, on the tour. The Turkish presenter kept getting badgered by human rights questions and yet he kept managing to dance around the direct questions while still giving answers to them (if one was to read between the lines). He was fantastic
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Rob McInstosh University of Toronto, Laura, Anne, Taylor, Sinclair, Andreanna, Ryan
to listen to and he handled himself most impeccably. After that, we went back to Infocentre yet again. Are you as bored with this place as I am yet? More lectures and a great sandwich later, we headed to the Canadian Mission through the Cinquantennaire Park for some lectures from representatives from the International Organization for Migration and they were quite informative lectures. In the evening, I grabbed a couple of drinks and headed down to the Grand Place with Maddi, Jini, Alex, Taylor, Dan, Mark, Angelita, Xavier, Claude, Aurelie and Edith and we just sat on the ground in the middle of the Grand Place, and absorbed the atmosphere. It was gorgeous.

Friday: This was to be the last day of the tour and everyone was fairly excited for the party that night. However, there were lectures before we could get to the part. The European Chamber of Commerce was first and there were a series of speakers. The men on the Study Tour tended to pay more attention to the blonde Czech speaker rather than anyone else, but I digress. We headed out to Schuman and the excellent sandwich place for lunch, before wandering through Parc Leopold and lying in the sun for a bit. We then headed to Berlaymont, the headquarters of the European Commission and we were finally able to go inside it! It was almost as if it had been taunting us for weeks! Once inside, we were not disappointed. The elevators were quite tricky. There are no buttons on the inside, and you have to press a button outside them in order to get up to your floor. Apparently, elevator B was set up to take us to the appropriate floor and we went into elevator E. We went up to floor 6, then floor 13, then we went back down, counting down to floor 1, hoping for floor 1, praying for floor 1, and getting floor 0. We got out of the elevator and the liaison officer decided to escort us to the room afterwards. Nothing like getting a private escort in an EU building because we couldn’t figure out the elevators! We got to sit in one of the really swanky meeting halls were representatives from each country sit. It was even nicer than the room at the European Council building! I chose the mighty nation of Hungary this time. I don’t know why I keep getting the smaller nations but I do. The lectures that afternoon were on the Bologna Process. After they finished we met at L’Atelier restaurant for a goodbye dinner with Dr. Berlin and Ed before heading out to a sweet bar near the hotel. I don’t even remember the name of the bar but it had an awesome atmosphere and cheap beer and it wasn’t too smoky so you could breathe properly in there! We then headed to a place called You Bar which was supposed to be one of the best clubs in town. The music was great, but the DJ would play a minute or so of a song then switch to another one and that got really annoying. Going from Lady Gaga to Armin Van Buren to vintage Michael Jackson in one song is a little tricky!

And that was the end of the tour. I had a great time, went to a lot of interesting lectures and met a lot of awesome people. Next comes reality: work!

Things I learned in Brussels:
-Chicken curry is possibly the best meal ever.
-They need a thesaurus here to find another word for “Council”. Seriously, the Council of Europe and the European Council are different entities!?!?!?
-The EU Study Tour was awesome!


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