The lessons learned in their Unfolding the European Union course came to life for Suffolk Madrid students when they left the classroom behind and headed to Brussels for a visit to the European Commission.

“The visit to the European Union’s headquarters gave students an excellent way to synthesize the theory and ideas they had learned in the classroom,” said Amy McAlister, director of student activities at Suffolk University's Madrid campus. “Their lessons about what takes place in the European Commission and Parliament gave students a deeper understanding of the practicality of most of the issues discussed while they were in Brussels.”

Witnessing policy discussions

These issues ranged from controlling pesticides and reducing the use of plastic shopping bags to ruling on member states’ compliance with penal laws, establishing immigration laws for all member states, and promoting greater trade and commerce between Europe and the rest of the world.

Joaquin Almunia, a vice president of the European Commission responsible for Competition Policy, arranged the visits and meetings for the Suffolk Madrid students.

One of the highlights of the trip was a tour of the chambers where European Commissioners meet and debate.

That tour included a meeting with Sören Haar of the eacon public affairs firm, during which students posed questions on a wide range of topics, including:

  • Turkey and other countries that are candidates to join the European Union
  • Competition
  • Monopolies affecting member nations
  • Rulings on cases involving Google and Microsoft

“It was a thrill to go to the European Commission and have a brief overview meeting on the EC and its functions,” said junior Matt Wagnon. “It set a good foundation to learn more about the place where 80 percent of the EU’s processes take place.”

Exhibits on EU history & process

Wagnon and his fellow students also had the opportunity to visit the Parliamentarium, a new visitors’ center with multilingual interactive displays. The Parliamentarium leads the visitor on a journey of discovery with exhibits such as a virtual trip through the 20th century to discover why countries saw the need to form a European Union.

“It was a great learning tool that, in the end, explained everything easily and clarified the process and the jobs of the EU employees,” said Wagnon.

Personal confirmation

Cordelia Stockwell, a junior, said that visiting Brussels helped her to better absorb what she had learned in classes about the EU governmental system. “The trip has given me the inspiration to keep following the path I have set for myself by studying international relations,” she said.

“One of the insights we all took away from the trip to Belgium was the amount of diversity in such a small geographical area,” said McAllister. “For an American, it’s eye-opening to see that in an area roughly the size of Maryland there are three official languages and two distinct governing bodies.”