As last year's ESM politics course excursion - supported by the "Verein zur Förderung politischen Handelns e.V." (Association for the Promotion of Political Activities) - had been a great success as a pilot project, some of the former participants said: "We'll be back!" and then boarded the bus to Brussels again together with the new s6 politics course students, accompanied by Mrs Rudschies (s7) and Mr Jerzewski (s6). This excursion was from 10th to 14th December 2014.
After having been driven fast and safely to the EU capital by our coach Rudi, the owners of our accommodation, the monastery-conference venue "Notre-Dame du Chant d'Oiseau" welcomed us with open arms. Immediately after dinner the tired but interested students attended the introduction seminar, held by the two friendly and qualified guides Iris Weber and Charlotte Uhlig. This year's theme was "The EU and its neighborhood policy", though, the events regarding Ukraine provided fodder for lively debates from the start.
The next morning the preparation began for the expert interviews and when we arrived at the European Parliament, the students were eager to pepper the first interview partner, Susanne Melior (SPD), with their questions. The member of the European parliament (MEP) answered all questions diplomatically and the focus of the discussion was on the difference between the EU Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy.
Next, we met Terry Reincke, MEP of the Green Party, who inspired the students with his uninhibited style of talking and who was spontaneously ready to be questioned on sanctions and EU security in the poster-decorated corridor in lack of available meeting rooms. In front of a white cow, covered in signatures, the students then took a farewell photo.
The two other expert discussions, held in the European External Action Service (EEAS), were about a current as well as unsolved foreign policy problem, the Ukraine crisis. In addition, the Swedish diplomat Stefan Tressing from the Europäischen Auswärtigen Dienst, gave us a lecture.
The following day, also in the EEAS, we met Lieutenant Colonel Harald Wegener from the EU Military Staff, who was trained at the Bundeswehr University in Hamburg and at the Military Academy in Paris. This conversation we students found particularly interesting because we got to see the EU from a completely new perspective and were able to ask very specific questions about the conflict and de-escalation strategies of the EU.
After the eating fish in the monastery hostel, the group went to the old city of Brussels to take part in the equally interesting and student tailored guided tour of Brussels, conducted by the university teacher Stefaan Debrabandere. The weather was not in our favour as "Billy", the low pressure area over the Atlantic, brought us continuous downpours and wind gusts. On the last evening, the students scattered in all directions of the old town to buy chocolates or other Christmas gifts or to admire the play of light, accompanied by music on the Grand Place or treat themselves to delicious Belgian fries.
Conclusion: Neither politics nor fun was missed out, which mean that all ESM politics students agree: "Brussels, we'll come again!"