Dr. Birchfield has always described the EU program as “real-world politics in real time,” and this summer’s program definitely proved that to be true. As we learned about the challenges of European integration in the classroom, we saw exciting political events up close.
We arrived in France just one week after Emmanuel Macron’s historical election to the presidency. After the Brexit vote, this election was critical to the future of the European Union. Because we were in France, students could discuss with French citizens (and even policymakers during our site visits) the importance of this election to the future of French and European foreign policy.
A few weeks later, we visited Paris during the French legislative elections. In another historic result, Macron’s En Marche! party won a majority in the National Assembly. This second show of support for a centrist, pro-European government in France was another indication that France will continue to positively contribute to the European Union.
Students also had the privilege of visiting the George C. Marshall Center in Paris. 2017 is a special year for the Center because it marks the 70th anniversary of the Marshall Plan. The success of this plan to break the cycle of European conflict endures today, and despite challenges to Transatlantic relations.
During a day trip to the German city of Trier (or Treves, as the French call it), we saw a protest through the city center. It was clear from the signs that the protest was about the refugee crisis, but we were uncertain at first whether the march was pro- or anti-refugee. Luckily, an English-speaking protester explained to us that the march was in support of refugees. Specifically, a family of refugees that had settled in Trier was then sent back into a dangerous country, and the people of Trier were protesting to bring them home to Germany. Seeing this show of support shed light on the complex and controversial issue of refugee resettlement.
Students visited the European Court of Justice while in Luxembourg, and they heard a briefing on a case against Google regarding privacy protections. While we were in Brussels, a major judgment against Google came down from the Court. Lucky for us, we had an appointment at Google Europe in Brussels the very next day. After a tour of the facility, we got to sit down with policy analysts and discuss the possible implications of the judgment for the future of tech companies in Europe.
Also while we were in Brussels, the European Parliament hosted a High Level Conference on Refugees, which we were thrilled to attend. The question of refugees is a critical current issue that we’d been discussing throughout the summer, so to learn more about viewpoints on the subject was a great opportunity. Furthermore, we’d learned about the big names in European politics — High Representative Federica Mogherini, Commission President Jean Claude Juncker, Parliament President Antonio Tajani– and we got to hear them speak on this pressing issue in person.
These are just a few examples of the once-in-a-lifetime experiences we took advantage of this summer! Getting to see these things in person after learning about them in class is one of the many unique benefits of a study abroad like the EU program.