“Being ‘inside’ the buildings of the European Commission, the Council of the European Union, NATO, the European Court of Human Rights, and the Council of Europe and having speakers who work there and are members of these respective organizations is the heart of the study tour. […] I am so happy I attended the study tour and I hope for others the same opportunity.” – Carolyn Quffa in her report from 2007
Cristina Soare – CeRe
I’m working in a small NGO from Romania, called the Resource Center for Public Participation – CeRe. Even it’s a small NGO CeRe has big goals like supporting NGOs and public institutions in acquiring the principles and applying the methods of public participation. In Romania the public participation is both vital and challenging. Vital because especially in the communities with few resources, the citizens must have a say on how they are to be used. Challenging, because public institutions still see it as an obligation, without a tangible ending, and NGOs use public participation as a tool only in crisis situations.
When I found out about the study tour I was interested from the first moment. Even if my work doesn’t have many things in common with security or peace building, it was a great opportunity for me to see how the European Union and its institutions work and how the needs of European citizens are reflected in their actions. The study offered to the participants the possibility to visit the Council of Europe, the European Parliament, the European Court of Justice and the European Investment Bank in Luxemburg, and a short discussion at the European Commission. All the discussions at the European institutions focused on presenting the history of the European Union and the principles on which the EU is based on. We’ve learned that EU policies are divided into three main areas, called pillars which were established by the treaty of Maastricht. The pillars are:
- the first or Community pillar concerns economic, social and environmental policies.
- the second or Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) pillar concerns foreign policy and military matters.
- the third or Police and Judicial Co – operation in Criminal Matters (PJCC) pillar concerns co-operation in the fight against crime. This pillar was originally named ‘Justice and Home Affairs’.
We had some discussions about the situation in Western Balkans and the enlargement of the EU. Beside the great presentation of Calum and Lucas, we had a speaker from the embassy of Croatia that offered to us a beautiful and positive image of Croatia. I loved most the speaker from the Council of Europe. The council is more involved in promoting and defending the human rights. Even if the Council of Europe doesn’t have as much financial resources as the European Union their campaigns are visible at national level.
I think that all the speakers were really well prepared and they all showed thru their speeches that is really important to know the history and the basis of founding the EU for understanding the meaning of the EU actions. The study tour is a really great opportunity for everybody to learn about the EU and also to meet different people with great goals.
Deyana Kurchieva – Partners Bulgaria Foundation
The QCEA study tour that took place from March 29th till April 5th 2008 in Brussels, Belgium was a great and enriching experience for me. The eight days I spent in Brussels increased my knowledge of how the EU institutions work, introduced me to the work of QCEA and also gave me an opportunity to meet wonderful people from different age groups and nationalities.
Upon our arrival at the Quaker House we received a warm welcome from Liz and Martina, the staff members, and Sara, Calum and Lucas, the programme assistants, who have all worked very hard to organize the tour.
During the tour we learnt a lot about the structure of the EU institutions in Brussels, also that the Council of the European Union (which we also visited) was part of the European Union, but the Council of Europe was not. We also learnt that the Commission drafts the legislation, after which the Council of the EU and the European Parliament pass the legislation several times amongst themselves until they reach an agreement.
We visited both the European Commission and the Council of the EU where we had some very interesting presentations. We learnt about the history of the Commission and the way it works, the three pillars, which were mentioned during almost all of the presentations, and by the second half of the tour I was really able to fully comprehend what they really mean and to make distinction among them and their functions. On the lighter side we learnt, that often Europe is defined as “Euphoria Unhappiness Resignation Optimism Pessimism and Apathy (E.U.R.O.P.A)”.
I was really intrigued by the talks given by the speakers from the EU mission of Croatia, who explained in great detail the country’s culture, politics and EU accession strategy.
In Luxembourg we visited the European Court of Justice and the European Investment Bank. We sat in on a court session, which as I understand we were lucky to be able to attend.
On the tour we also learnt about the work of the Quaker Council for European Affairs which lobbies the Commission and the Parliament and provides helpful information to Commission members and MEPs. A lot of work is done by QCEA in terms of lobbying on the issue of women in prisons. QCEA also advocacates for the strengthening of civil society, for peaceful rather than military solutions to conflict, etc.
The eight days that I spent on the Study Tour helped me acquire greater knowledge of both the EU and also the work of QCEA, which I consider to be very useful for my work as a coordinator of the DARE – Network (Democracy and Human Rights Education). During the tour, there were also opportunities for sharing of experience with the other Study Tour participants. We also had lots of fun during the tour – we shared and enjoyed meals together, and had time to explore the wonderful city of Brussels!
Anna Kasińska – Partners Poland Foundation
The QCEA study tour that I had possibility to participate in took place from March 29th till April 5th 2008 in Brussels (Belgium) and was a very valuable experience for me. I have learned a lot about European Union: its institutions and how they work. I also increased my knowledge about the philosophy behind it. The Study Tour gave me also the opportunity to become acquainted with QCEA activity, which I found very interesting and inspiring.
Thanks to QCEA Study Tour organizers I met great people from different countries and different age groups, which is one of the biggest advantages of the Study Tour. We could share our opinions not only during sessions but also while having meals together or discovering the beautiful city of Brussels! All the time we have been receiving a lot of warm attention and help (when it was needed) from Liz, Martina, Sara and Calum.
During the tour I learnt a lot of details about the structure of the EU. It was a bit difficult at the begging – considering my language skills – but when I learned the basic vocabulary connected to EU it became perfectly understanding and (which is more important) interesting. Now I can tell that I know the difference between the Council of the European Union, the Commission and the European Parliament. The meaning of three pillars are also very clear to me after the Study Tour.
The most enriching experiences for me was visiting institutions. Not only because of having very interesting presentations there. The possibility of watching people working, seeing them walking down the hallways – it all makes the idea of EU more real, more credible and much more trustworthy. According to interesting presentations I would like to distinguish the one about Croatia.
In Luxembourg we visited the European Court of Justice and the European Investment Bank. The court session that we were able to attend was the first I have ever seen.
The eight days that I spent on the Study Tour made me more conscious about what it means to be an EU citizen. I also got knowledge that I’m going to present in my foundation, where my colleagues are really looking forward to it.
Peter Dyson – Friends House Moscow
Take 17 motivated diversely experienced people of 9 ethnicities and nationalities from 3 continents; mix together into an enthusiastic and energetic group and you begin to get some idea of what the staff of Quaker House in Brussels have to cope with when they organise a study tour of European Institutions.
The participants of adherents from religious traditions other than of Friends was a real bonus and for me one of the surprising threads running through the group was the number of us not living any longer in our birth countries.
We worshipped together, ate and drank together, walked and talked together and NEVER ran out of things to say. In the Commission, the Council, the Council Secretariat, NATO, the European Court of Human Rights, the European Parliament and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe; with MEPS, Police Officers, Lawyers, Civil Servants, Public Relations Officers and Crisis Management Specialists we always ran out of time, rather than words, because we had so many focused questions to ask. If the PR Corp generalised with their answers, the Practitioners in the field that we met with always gave a full and detailed exposition of the circumstances they encountered in their work. We heard things that depressed us, excited us, encouraged us, disappointed us, frustrated us and occasionally gave us hope. This was because of meeting people who believe in their work and that the Institutions of Europe remain an instrument of maintaining the peaceful co-existence of Nation States within the Union.. despite the creeping militarisation taking place in some quarters today to create a military capacity outside NATO. (Write to your MEPs immediately!!!)
So if you want to unravel the jumble of EU and Council of Europe institutions in your mind… then all you need to do is sign up for next year’s QCEA Study Tour.
The QCEA Study Tour really was a fantastic experience, and I was sad that I had to return to London for work commitments so early. However, the four days I spent in Brussels extended my understanding of how the EU works – no easy feat; it gave me a deeper knowledge of the work of QCEA, and introduced me to some wonderful people.
The students on the Study Tour varied in age, from eighteen to sixty-five, and if anything the group was slightly weighted toward the ‘older’ generation. This actually produced a very respectful and focused atmosphere. In fact, one of the most special moments was when a group consisting of an even spread of 60-year olds and then twenty-somethings went out to dinner. Saad, a Palestinian from the Quaker school in Ramallah, wanted to take all those willing to taste the delights of Middle Eastern cuisine, and one could sense a genuine excitement on behalf of some of the older people about the fact that we young ones were inviting them to join us. I think this strengthened us as a group as we discovered the individual person underneath their physical appearance. The group was also made up of a wonderfully diverse array ofbackgrounds and nationalities; we had British, Irish, American (based in Germany), Taiwanese (formally American, based in Germany), Latvian, Azerbaijani, Palestinian, British (living in Spain) and American (living in Palestine). I think perhaps the main unifying value in the group was a commitment to non-violence, which is also a core value at the heart of the birth of Europe. I found that very powerful, especially when juxtaposed with what appears to be the increasing militarisation of Europe.
We began the Tour with a couple of sessions on the structure of the institutions in Brussels that are important players in ‘ Europe’. We learnt that the Council of the European Union was part of the European Union, but that the Council of Europe was not – this is a confusing topic, people sometimes refer to them both as ‘the Council’ and one is left wondering which one they mean. We were then taken through the process by which legislation gets produced, debated, evaluated and approved. In summary, only the ‘Commission’ can produce legislation, and then the European Council of the EU and the European Parliament pass amended versions of the legislation back and forth a few times until they agree or do not agree – the key is that there has to be a ‘co-decision’. One process that seemed to be highly wasteful was that the EuropeanParliament, once every month for roughly a week, packs up its entire operation (including its secretariat), transporting all the paper and people in trucks from Brussels to Strasburg. This costs some 200 million Euros per year, before the effect on the environment is brought into the equation.
I was lucky enough to visit both the Commission and the Council of the EU where we had some very interesting presentations. Apart from learning about the history of the Commission we also learnt that often Europe is defined and experienced as Euphoria Unhappiness Resignation Optimism Pessimism and Apathy (E.U.R.O.P.A), and a memorable quote from one of its long-term servants; “Who can fall in love with an economic market?” Of course many do fall in love with Europe, and I was certainly inspired by its importance for the future of European countries while we were there. I think also Gorbachev’s quote about Europe summed it up rather succinctly, “Economic giant, political dwarf” – and this is the challenge for all those who do fall in love with the idea of Europe and who want it to be as effective as possible.
The subject of ‘will Turkey join’ came up frequently. In our session with the Council of the EU we learnt that the EU is founded on a Jerusalem-Rome- Athens axis and that Turkey does not really fit this. More importantly though, was an unanswered question regarding Turkey’s lack of democratic freedoms for minorities. This was held up as the biggest obstacle to Turkey joining the EU. Interestingly, in our session with NATO, they said that a principal criterion for NATO membership was democracy in the prospective member – this did not stop it from welcoming Turkey as a member! Moreover, we learnt through persistent questions that ‘NATO does not discuss Human Rights’ abuses within a country after it becomes a member’. Thought- provoking indeed.
A further interesting fact was that when we were discussing some of QCEA’s advocacy work, the EU budget was touched upon. The EU budget is approximately 255 Euros per head (per EU citizen) per annum (phpa), however only 70 cents of that goes on stability projects for specific peace-building and conflict prevention projects. Conversely, 400 Euros phpa is the military expenditure of EU Member States. Other QCEA advocacy work focuses on: civilian rather than military solutions to conflict, the utilisation of local people for solutions, pressing for an increase in resources and capabilities available to civilian peace-building, and conflict resolution initiatives, and the strengthening of civil ociety to bring lasting conflict management. It was also fascinating to learn about the Peace Tax Seven – a group of seven UK citizens who are going to the European Court of Human Rights to claim the right for conscientious objectors to have the military part of their taxes diverted to a peace fund. This group’s progress is being monitored closely by QCEA as any decision from the European Court of Human Rights would set a very powerful legal precedent.
I think my four days on the Study Tour have given a greater depth of understanding of both the EU and also the work of QCEA, which will come into use in my role as the EMEYF QCEA Council representative. I would like to thank EMEYF for the financial assistance that enabled me to attend the tour. I felt that the Tour was a great way for young Quakers, and those who may not be a Quaker but interested in their work, to form strong relationships. I hope that EMEYF can find a way to encourage more of its members to attend the Tour and benefit from such experience. I can recommend it fully to anyone who is interested to learn more about Quaker activity in the EU, the EU and how it works, and also to meet other like-minded individuals – in an atmosphere that is truly inspiring.
The group who arrived at Quaker House Brussels on July 7 th were varied in age, nationality, religion and experience. There was a human rights worker from Azerbaijan; a law student from Latvia; a Taiwanese peace activist who lives in Germany; two American Mennonites living in Germany who give advice to troubled American soldiers; a sixth form student and an American teacher from Friends School Ramallah; the Line Manager of Friends House Moscow and a Friend from St.Petersburg; the Convenor of Dublin Peace Committee and other Friends from America and England. During the week of the tour, there were wonderful opportunities for the sharing of this wealth of experience and a great deal of fun.
We attended Brussels Meeting , enjoyed the company of Brussels Friends and were able to join Strasbourg Friends for a meal later on in the tour.
In Strasbourg we visited the headquarters of the Council of Europe, which was founded in 1949 and has 47 member states. The Council is concerned with democratic stability, social cohesion and cultural diversity for over 800 million Europeans. It has its Parliamentary Assembly and also the European Court of Human Rights in that city.
In Brussels we were dwarfed by the huge office block of the Commission of the European Union. The Council of Ministers building is a fine palace with a circular courtyard and the flags of the 27 members of the European Union. We saw the Parliament of the European Union in session in Strasbourg. There are seats for the 785 Members of Parliament and voting is done by a show of hands or by electronic methods. This is also a very impressive building.
The Headquarters of NATO was on our list. Security here was strict, but they treated us well and one of their staff gave us the organisation’s view of the situation in Afghanistan.
On the tour we learned of the work of the Quaker Council for European Affairs. Research is done into the treatment of women in European prisons, into the effectiveness of the Union’s conflict prevention work in the world, into the peace tax issue and the rights of conscientious objectors in Europe. QCEA is concerned with other issues as well and is able to lobby at the Commission and the Parliament . It is able to supply to supply helpful information to Commission members and MEPs.
We gained an understanding of how the European Union and the Council of Europe work. We met some very fine people. There was a Danish policeman who worked for the European Union by training Palestinian policemen. He had been involved in controlling the border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt. At the European Council a speaker told us how visits were arranged to prisons in member countries with the aim of reporting on inhuman conditions. The aim is to encourage member states to improve their treatment.
The militarisation of the European Union has increased since the Balkan crisis. There are EU forces in Kosovo and also in the Congo. QCEA staff are concerned about this and are monitoring the situation.
The EU gives financial support to the Palestinian Authority . We spent a morning looking at the situation there as three course members had direct experience. We came away from this session feeling saddened.
There was much fun on the tour. We enjoyed meals together in both cities, we had quiz sessions on the long coach journeys between Brussels and Strasbourg. We had an end of tour party and plenty of “home” entertainment. I would strongly recommend the QCEA Study Tour.
When my colleague came to me during class and told me there was a trip to Brussels and to sign up in the office I went immediately at my first opportunity. About this time where I live, the people I associate with usually ask the question, “Are you going anywhere this summer?” I was overjoyed when my school director’s secretary asked me for my passport number to reserve my plane ticket. The entire experience was a learning experience. I discovered how a foreigner with a tourist visa crosses over the Allenby Bridge into Jordan and how to make the return trip, which is just as complicated. Once in Brussels and settled in my ‘home’, the Bruegel Youth Hostel, I was happily satisfied that I was in the very capable hands of the QCEA staff. All aspects of the study tour were satisfactory from the youth hostel itself and the nice manners of the people of Brussels and the other youth hostel guests to the many interesting sites within easy walking distance of the youth hostel. The study tour was well organized and very informative. I felt I was entering a domain only accessed by foresight, planning, effort, and skill. This is just one example of the dedication and hard work of the QCEA staff. Being ‘inside’ the buildings of the European Commission, the Council of the European Union, NATO, the European Court of Human Rights, and the Council of Europe and having speakers who work there and are members of these respective organizations is the heart of the study tour. We were also allowed a question and answer period with all the speakers. Reflection with the QCEA staff after our visits was very helpful-and informative.
The big bonus was the fun we had amongst ourselves with all of the participants and the QCEA staff. I seriously enjoyed sightseeing in Brussels and Strasbourg, dinner in Strasbourg at the home of 30 year veteran staff members of the Council of Europe, visits to the EU Commission and Council, NATO, and the Council of Europe, and the European Court of Human Rights but the interaction I had with the other participants and QCEA staff was especially delightful. I learned so much by listening and asking questions with the other participants. This trip and study tour will stay with me for years to come and has opened doors to new possibilities in understanding and perhaps becoming a part of how the politics of my part of the world operate. I appreciate very much the opportunity I had to attend the study tour and the fact that people like the staff of QCEA are using their resources to help make this part of the world a better place to live. Their contribution does help people in ways probably none of us have the means to realize. I am so happy I attended the study tour and I hope for others the same opportunity.