A Visit to Europa Parliament

20 Feb

So a few weeks ago, before the tidal wave that is “finals” hit, I took a class trip to Strasbourg, France, one of the three seats of the parliament for the European Union. It was a really cool place–the building is huge–and I got to experience some rather interesting things. Our class was about one-third Americans and Australians, and the other two-thirds came from European nations, so I’m sure it was even more relevant/interesting for them, but we did get to view a panel of EU-representatives answering questions of a group of what seemed to be college students. Most of the questions were about economic policies, which is pretty much the main subject in the EU right now.

What I found interesting was the way it felt to listen to the panel and to the people asking the questions–the students asking questions were from Eastern Europe, perhaps Poland or the Czech Republic, based on their accents. They asked their questions in English, usually (one asked a question in French), and the panel responded in German. Everything was translated real-time into several different languages using headsets, ensuring that everyone can understand everyone. Of course, because it wasn’t a true meeting of the Parliament, the only translators they had were for German, French, and English instead of the twenty-something languages they have while in session. I think, personally, that having an international government with so many different languages is fascinating, especially since they make sure to cater to every language–that way, everybody can speak in the language they are most comfortable using, but everyone else can still understand them.

After that panel, we had a short presentation about the relationship between Germany and France, the two countries that are “running” the EU, so to speak. Before the presentation, however, we were surprised to have a visit and an informal chat with Rainer Wieland, one of the fourteen Vice Presidents of the European Union (from Germany). None of us were expecting it, so when they asked for questions there was an awkward silence for a minute or two, but once we got to talking it became very interesting. As he talked to us (his accent changing from the more “proper” German that we’d heard at the panel to his regional Stuttgart accent), he explained that he had been a “Rechtsanwalt,” or counselor-at-law, and that his motivations as a Vice President of the EU were to keep true to the social and legal rights of every citizen of the European Union.

All in all, it was a very interesting day, and I consider myself extremely lucky to have been given the opportunity.

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