Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The European Commission Prison

Todd Gleason, Farm Broadcaster, University of Illinois

The European Union Center on the University of Illinois campus has taken a group of high school teachers to Brussels, Belgium. Most of them are history teachers, and learned how agriculture, in large part, underpins the common European society. Listen to the second of Todd Gleason’s journal entries from the weeklong trip, and follow along with the transcript below. Also check out Todd Gleason's blog on the experience, featuring posts, photos, and a map of the study tour.

Tuesday June 26, 2012

Oh my, our second full day in Belgium is starting just as early as the first. 6:30am for breakfast and then we’re off to the European Commission building. It is a foreboding structure. Almost prison like from the outside because of louvers that line its curve and then a tower – a prison tower dead center. I’m sure the commission would not approve of my description, none-the-less this is how I see it from the street. Inside we pass through security checks and eventually settle into a warm be very comfortable conference room. It’s a bit UN’ish. We are arranged in sweeping oval, the center of which is open. We each have a microphone in front of us, a set of headphones stashed in the desk from which we could listen to the interpreter if there were one. There is no need.

Our briefing, and I believe that is truly the correct word, is lead in the first hours by a Fin. Who know the Finnish people were so dry witted. The high school teachers are engaged in the geo-political discussion. The give and take is easy, and the PowerPoint presentation is dismissed altogether as it is quickly apparent the three days spend on the University of Illinois campus preparing for the trip has paid dividends. There was little need to recap the history of how the European Union came into being. We delved into the current challenges and the financial matters at hand; Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Ireland; the possible expansion of the Euro Zone; the prospects for Turkey’s entry and that of Iceland. The time passes swiftly.

Our second briefing is not nearly so entertaining nor engaging for most of the group, but I am enthralled as we pick through U.S. / E.U. trade relations and the ground work being laid this year for a future Free Trade Agreement that could harmonize regulations across the two areas. It might for instance create a common-emissions standard so that automobiles could move more easily from one side of the Atlantic to the other. Paying attention to the regulations would allow the globe’s two largest trading partners to set the bar by which all others might have to play.  Now that is good stuff. We have one more lesson before lunch on the streets of Brussels. CAP, or the Common Agricultural Policy.

NATO is next. It is a lengthy, hot and humid transit bus ride to the headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Save the razor wire, this building is not nearly so ominous as the European Commission. One of our group thinks it looks like a big high school inside and out. Maybe, but most high schools don’t require a passport for entry. All our electronic devices are stowed at the gate. We arrive on an historic day. The members of NATO are deciding what do, if anything, about the downing of a Turkish military jet by Syria. The NATO reps discuss possible actions, and then as is the case we are told for each and every decision the final question is if there is any opposition. The agreement is made in silence. If no opposition is voiced then the action is taken…classified, but taken.

Dinner is at 7:30. It last a few hours. Unlike NATO our group is not silent. We’re loud, very loud!


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