MIR Class Trip to Brussels

Written on June 15, 2011 by Ángeles Figueroa-Alcorta in Master in International Relations (MIR), News

From March 17th to 23rd, the 2010/2011 MIR intake traveled to Brussels to visit the core European Institutions and NATO. The European Union is a central element in the MIR curriculum and the trip to Brussels represents a unique opportunity for the students to interact with key decision makers from the organizations they study in class. The class was particularly fortunate this year to visit all three leading institutions:  the Parliament, the Council and the Commission — the first MIR intake to be able to do so.

The students kicked off the trip with a visit to the European Economic and Social Committee. They were greeted, like last year, by Charis Xirouchakis, Head of the Unit for Visits and Publications. His informal, honest and often humorous account of the role of the EESC within the EU made a positive impression on the class. At the Commission, several representatives from the newly created European External Action Service, the Directorate General for Communication, the Directorate General for Home Affairs and the Directorate General for Budget explained the inner workings of their departments’ day to day operations. At the Council, students met with Richard Corbett, Advisor to President Von Rompuy, who shared privileged insights on decision making in the President’s circle.  At the Parliament, the class had the chance to meet with two MEPs from opposite sides of the political spectrum, Richard Howitt and Cristina Gutiérrez-Cortines. Both gave interesting accounts of their experiences in the voting process and were open to candid questions from the audience.

MIR students also spent an afternoon at the NATO headquarters during which they were addressed by officials from different units including José Maria López-Navarro, Information Officer for Spain & Portugal, Daniele Riggio, Information officer for Outreach Countries (namely Afghanistan) and Dr. Petr Lunak, Senior Programme Co-ordinator, Partnerships Section, who spoke about NATO’s evolving and often tense relationship with Russia. Students were also able to ask questions on the nascent conflict in Libya and NATO’s role in the preliminary military operations.

But not all visits were institutional. Indeed the MIR class was also invited by MIR alum Enric Tomàs to an informal talk at FD Blueprint, a public affairs consulting firm. Julia Harrison, Managing Partner at FD Blueprint, was especially forthcoming in her presentation of the company and in answering questions from the audience. Students also met with Prof. Jose María Areilza and Dr. Salomé Cisnal de Ugarte, Counsel Mayor Brown International LLP,to discuss lobbying in the EU. Furthermore, they had a chance to speak with Tomas Abadía of the European External Action Service.

In addition, the students received a special invitation to the private residence of the Saudi Arabian Ambassador, H. E. Abdallah Y. Al-Mouallimi. The MIR class was treated to a Middle Eastern BBQ buffet on the lawn of the residence. The Ambassador shared a few words on political relations between the EU and Arab states, a conversation made all the more interesting by the Arab Spring unfolding as he spoke. This elegant dinner was certainly one of the highlights of the trip.


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