>Day 4 (Brussels and Bruges…Mary Ellen’s Birthday!)Posted: July 4, 2009
>Another beautiful morning in Brussels! Spending my birthday in such a beautiful country was a present I will not forget. We only had one meeting to prepare for and the rest of the day was ours to spend as we wished. Perfect!
He was an excellent speaker, touching on topics from current missions linked with NATO (such as piracy off of the coast of Somalia, instituting the Rule of Law in Kosovo, and the police mission in Afghanistan). On matters of finances, Germany weilds 25% of production which accounts for 20% of the GDP of the EU, but has been outvoted on financial issues in the seven year budgets frequently. This, according to Herr is one of the problems the EU faces: consensus is needed in the Parliament in order to pass legislation. Consensus means unanimity. It is extremely difficult to get all 27 Member States on board on an issue in order to move forward as a collective group. As one of the largest and most powerful of the EU States, Germany has much power and, along with France and the UK, can use a “qualified majority” to discipline and negotiate with contentious Member States. Despite the special interests of the Member States that can keep consensus from occurring, the EU has been politically and economically successful. The EU is a haven of stability; Europe has experienced sixty years of relative peace and prosperity. To those who know History, that is a fait accompli that the Congress of Vienna boasted in the 19th century. Legitimacy and equilibrium are used to deter war instead of the threat of force. The Germans call this “Soft Power.” (Of interesting note: in 1815, Prussia (Germany) was only given 2/5 of a critical piece of land, Saxony, so as to keep them disjointed as the world was fearful of a unified Germany even then). This is a historic first that Germany gets along with its neighbors.
With all of its shortcomings, Herr and all of the dignitaries we spoke with agree that, while not giving up sovereignty totally, the supranationality that is the European Union is a good thing for Europe and those that are not called to be in this Union can be included in the ‘neighborhood policy’ and have friendly relations with Member States of the EU.
After our meeting concluded, Joanne, Joe and I walked back to our hotel and boarded a train for Bruges, a small town about 65 miles outside of Brussels. A quaint little town surrounded by canals, Bruges had the signature cobblestone streets laden with candy stores full of Belgian Chocolates. In order to see the town, we took a boatride through the canals. The architecture was magnificent; stone and brick buildings painted in brilliant colors lined the canals. Restaurants with balconies and opened windows overlooking the canals, were full of people enjoying the warm sunshine, cool breezes and delicious food. After our boatride, we visited many shops and walked to the outskirts of the town—where the indigenous Dutch and residents lived. How clean and neat their homes and streets were. Every home and shop had baskets and planters of gorgeous flowers, and everyone was so friendly. We must have walked six or seven miles, through commercial streets and parks. By 6:30, we were ready for dinner. Choosing a restaurant was not an easy task; there were way too many to choose just one! We opted for a little Belgian Restaurant on a back street. The large windows were raised to allow the cool breezes in. We ordered the local fare: vegetable soup and salade chevron chaude (salad with warm goat cheese). After our repas, we headed back to the train and back to Brussels. What a memorable birthday!
Thanks World Affairs Council, Sky, Christina, and the European Union; I am forever grateful.
~ Mary Ellen