From Brussels to Lubeck, Germany

Brussels was a whirlwind. We listened to presentations from Senior Policy Advisors to NATO on Monday — very interesting.

One of the things we’ve been hearing over and over is that the European Union has “enlargement fatigue” from growing to 27 member nations so rapidly. One nation can stymie legislation, and each takes rotating turns as head of the EU. Layer upon layer of bureaucracy and slow government. It’s brought great changes and consistency to the continent, but its expansion is a challenge.

I asked the NATO representative if he found the same to be true for NATO, which has now expanded to 26 countries (!). He said actually the opposite is true — the more countries the better. More countries means more funding for NATO and also expanded military security.

We also met with the head of Danish Industries, a lobbying group representing 11,000 Danish companies before various levels of government. Interestingly, she argued that immigration is absolutely essential for the future of Europe, due to the declining birthrate and aging population.

Four of us Fellows flew to Lubeck, Germany today where we’ll be until Monday. We flew from Brussels to Hamburg, then our host, Meggie, picked us up and drove us to Lubeck, an hour’s drive. The scenery en route was beautiful — rolling green hills with tall trees girding the road, with lots of farms and small villages.

Today, I’m visiting Lubeck’s state-of-the-art waste treatment facility. In addition to cleaning waste, they also create refuse-derived fuel, which is used to generate electricity.

Belgium – A Tale of Two Countries

We heard from two speakers today: Koert Debeuf, a speechwriter for the prime minister and member of the Flemish Liberal Party; and Nikolas Busse, a NATO and European Union correspondent for a German newspaper.

Both talked with us about Belgium politics and Europe’s future. Mr. Debeuf told us how complicated Belgium’s government is, divided by language (Flemish/French), then further divided into segmented parties. The ruling government is always a coalition, and the King has no power except to select the prime minister in times of political crisis. The prime minister must give his speeches in two, sometimes three, languages, alternating between Flemish and French, with a bit of German. (One section will be in one language, the next section in another.) Interestingly, sometimes the different portions of the speech are chosen to be in one language or another depending on whether the section resonates with the Flemish or Francophone population. Even more interesting, if the political leaders would prefer to gloss over an issue with their constituents, they’ll put that part of the prime minister’s speech in the other language.

Belium is the home of NATO and the European Union, which comprises 27 European countries. At dinner, Mr. Busse talked about his experience covering both organizations for his home audience, Germany. The EU faces many challenges, not the least of which is governance. The countries take turns chairing the EU, and it’s very slow and challenging to get all the nations to agree on issues.

We spent the afternoon touring Louven, a university town on the outskirts of Brussels. It was cold and rainy, but I loved seeing all the pedestrian-only, cobblestone streets lined with shops and restaurants.

One thing I’ve noticed about Brussels is that the buildings are only 5 or 6 stories tall for the most part. What they lack in height, they make up for in density, with all the buildings on a block smacked together. The result is high density but with a human scale.

First Day in Brussels

We traveled most of Friday, so I didn’t get a chance to blog.

Friday morning’s lecture was great. Professor Weaver from The American University spoke to us about the differences between American and European culture. VERY interesting. I’ll expand on this tomorrow and post pics for these two days, but I wanted to stay in touch with a quick post.

We caught a 6pm flight to Brussels, Belgium and landed around 1am Dallas time, 7am Saturday here. Saw graffiti along the highway – grrrr.

We’re staying at the Hotel Leopold in the heart of Brussels. This afternoon I opted out of a 2 hour tour of the city so I could catch about 4 1/2 hours of sleep. I woke up and went with the group to dinner at a place called Dolce Vita. It was a little hole in the wall, and I think they were overwhelmed with 16 of us all at once. I mean literally overwhelmed — their electricity went out several times (we suspect their microwave couldn’t take all the work, since some of our food came out freezing cold).

After that (around 9pm here), six of us checked out the city’s one-night-only arts festival, Nuit Blanche. It was very cool: streets closed off for concerts, art exhibitions, and musicians; museums open late; and lots of avant garde art pieces (like what looked like a giant, white bouncy house — it took everything in me not to run up there and start jumping on it, but who wants to get arrested the first night in a foreign country?)

I would love for us to do something like this in Dallas. There were people of all ages. (I loved seeing the little kids especially. I have a great video of a 2 year-old girl on stage dancing to techno music — heeelarious.) This would be a great tradition for us to start in our city.

Off to bed. It’s past one here and we’ve got a 9am meeting. I’ll be meeting with a member of parliament on Monday to discuss homelessness. I really hope I get to meet with someone about their streetcar system here — it’s really expansive.