What are your reflections on the program?
I was so impressed with how the European Union functions together as one entity while consisting of 28 different countries, with 24 different languages and different currencies as well. I really enjoyed learning from our speakers at the European Union External Action Service (EEAS), about its formation in 2011 and its current work on major issues like trade (within and outside of the EU), development and cooperation within the 28 countries, global climate change, as well as humanitarian efforts around the world. The EU is helping with “Operation Sophia,” rescuing those at sea that are fleeing war-torn countries and trying to combat human smuggling/trafficking, as well as helping to establish economic partnerships with refugees settled in the EU.
I also learned a great deal from the EU speakers about the EU-U.S. relations. We learned that the EU considers the United States the single most important bilateral relationship and that it should be strengthened, not eroding as it has been during recent years. The EU continues to work on security, syncing-up defense between member nations (since the EU does not have a single military), cooperating on homeland security while balancing privacy rights, and working together on counter-terrorism efforts.
What were the top highlights of the experience?
Where do I start! Each day was filled with speakers who were knowledgeable about the EU’s efforts and the various functions of the EU (EU Council, EU Commission, and the EU Parliament). I really enjoyed sitting and watching the European Parliament in action. We got to sit in and listen to an EU-African summit, where participants debated illegal fishing in the Caribbean, as well as poaching and trafficking of endangered animals in the Congo, and how the EU could help with enforcement outside of its borders.
Sitting in the Parliament chamber was so exciting…we got to sit where policy is created affecting over 500 million people! I also enjoyed going to the European Council and learning about how law is created, how it is enforced, and how the EU budgets the contributions of the 28 member states. It was fascinating to learn about how parliament and ministers work together to pass proposals and work on foreign policy. We also learned about the “Guardians of the Treaty” (Lisbon Treaty), which is the General Court which oversees EU law, such as fishing policies (i.e. how many, what size, etc.) and enforcement (monetary fine, transparency in processing/facilities, and exporting regulations). It was also great to learn about the Court of Justice, which sees 9 million people each year facing criminal charges throughout the EU. The member states work together to share fingerprint information, e-evidence, and suspect rights (translator, presumed innocent, right to legal aid), while working to combat terrorism, human trafficking, and other organized crime groups.
How does the program tie in with your teaching, and how might your teaching change after this experience?
After this experience, I am able to understand how the EU functions in regards to rule of law, the Courts of Justice, and the General Courts. My students will have a comparative law section which will go over police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters, suspect rights, EU strategies on criminal justice, victim rights, anti-money laundering enforcement, counter-terrorism efforts, mutual recognition (arrest warrants), and the principle of availability (e-evidence, cross border access, and the Prum treaty). I think the students will get a broader perspective on law and justice, not just in the United Stated, but on how law, courts, and justice function throughout the EU. They will gain insight into how our own system works in the United States from studying the methods, procedures, and cooperation/coordination of the 28 member states.
Any recommendations for future educators who go on the trip?
My recommendation is to go! This trip gave me so much information about the European Union from many different roles and representatives (we heard speakers from Cyprus, Italy, Austria, Poland, United Kingdom, Germany and France) and each gave a new perspective and information about the European Union and the work in does.
For more information on the Educators in Brussels EU Visit Program and the program application, see here.