About Brussels

About a year ago, I was asked by the Prague NGO organization “Center for the Integration of Foreigners” to become its Honorary Chairman. The organization primarily focuses on outsiders who, for one reason or another, are in the process of (legally) immigrating to the country. It provides Czech language courses, advises on how to get a work permit, health insurance, etc. They do great work, and just like most organizations of a similar nature, on a shoestring budget. When they asked me to attend the first ever EU Parliament conference on migration as a representative of the Czech Republic, I was curious. Never having been to the EU Parliament, but having written several times about it, off I went.

“This is Europe” said the person behind the coffee counter responding to my comment on how no two people in Brussels spoke the same language. The city is full, not only of Eurocrats but of ordinary people, students and tourists of all ethnic backgrounds, all mostly hurrying along at true London or New York City pace. The city of 1 million people has an architectural style that is best described as “pan-European” – a complete catalog of classic architectural styles intermixed with glass and steel sky­scrapers.

The EU Parliament consists of a huge complex of buildings, all grey glass and steel. I found my way to the largest building, and was rushed through the metal detector on presenting my conference badge. The EU parliament itself is a mixture of main chamber, lecture and conference center, tourist center and office complex. About twenty major activities take place at the same time, all outlined in train-station electronic-board format on TVs that hang at all entrances: conference on Croatian aid, Room 345; general meeting of Transportation Development By-laws Committee, Room 126; Migration Conference on migration strategies, patterns and practices, General Hall, 2nd floor.

One hundred and fifty people from all of Europe converged in a huge UN-style assembly hall. Each place was perfectly equipped with pens, paper, outlines, earphones, and two bottles of mineral water -one with and one without bubbles. Sixteen translators arrived and sat down behind sixteen windows, and we began on the dot. There was a moderator, the two EU Parliamentarians who were in charge of shaping the policy debate, and four panelists. We listened and then engaged in dialogue, sometimes disagreeing, but always polite. But it was the fourth panelist, Ruud Lubbers, Minister of State of the Netherlands, who said it best: “The Europe of Tomorrow will be the result of three liberations: the liberation after WWII, the liberation from the Cold War, and the liberation from the fear of foreigners and their eventual total integration into a new Europe.” Welcome to Brussels and to the new Europe.

Martin Jan Stránský


The New Presenceautumn 2007

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