All ways lead to Europe, as Europe is the way to go. Once in a lifetime, everyone should visit Brussels and the European Institutions. Working as a guide for the European Parliament was unique lifetime chance to learn, laugh and live the European Idea of being united in diversity.
Is this the real life, is this just fantasy?
Europe is just like passion you have to feel it to really understand it. Strangely, my journey to the heart of Europe started at the home of Europe, where everything began in ancient times. Enjoying the sun of Greece with friends from Italy suddenly, a strange message reached my smartphone: “You have been shortlisted for a traineeship at the European Parliament.” Considering this rather just an error, the vacation went on, leading from Greece to Italy and back home. A few weeks later, being back at work as travel agent, another strange messaged reached my phone, when we just having a glass of wine on a vineyard in Lithuania. Enthusiastically I was accepting the offer in Tallinn, Estonia, where the memecommissioner started their career. Still doubtful, that this could be really true at the last day of September I boarded a train to end up in Brussel Gare du Nord: Welcome to Belgium, Welcome Europe!
Europe, here we come! Where I am?
Entering the hemicycle of the European Parliament felt just like Zeus must have felt, when he saw the princess of Europe for the first time. About 300 young people from all over Europe and beyond were assembled to start what should be the European time of their life. Rather being lost at the beginning, it took a while to realize, that a (European) dream had come true. The next five months, the European Parliament should become my home. Nevertheless, the first days seemed like a special European discovery, exploring all the amenities the European Parliament was offering as the canteen or most important the Mickey Mouse Bar.
Especially, meeting new colleagues was an amazing experience, working in an international environment, together with colleagues from Belgium, France and not to forget Denmark. During the first weeks a special experience was to speak Swedish, pretending to be Danish, meanwhile being considered Belgian, now conceiving, yes, you are at the heart of Europe.
Europe is like a bar- Mickey Mouse bar!
After a few weeks, having get used to the complexities and amenities of the European Parliament, eventually, it was me to conceive my own European story to tell visitors. Fathoming for a long time, a predecessor of mine, strangely coming from my hometown, gave me the clue. What is Europe all about? Describing Europe in a word, he now working in France at his house presented me the method of Jean Monnet. Jean Monnet, never being an elected member of a parliament, was to become one of the founding fathers of what ought to be the European Union. Every time international negotiations got stuck, Jean Monnet, took the negotiators for a long walk and most important to a glass of Cognac, making guests feel at home. Answering the question: What is Europe? Europe is like bar! Better said Mickey Mouse Bar and Pluxing.
A Danish, a Belgian, a French and German are going to a bar… Good stories start like that. The same counts for the European story, where Mickey Mouse Bar serves as a spot to intermingle. Here, MEPs, APAs (their assistants), journalists, staff and visitor come to see and talk to each other. More important of course the famous Pluxing, where over a pint of Jupiler, politics are discussed, new alliances are made, and the European way of life is lived to its fullest. Here, some phrases start in English, change to French, entering in all kind of languages. Bringing together Europeans from all around Europe, here being united in diversity comes true.
Driving home for Christmas or Mrs. Strasbourg
During the last years being busy around, Christmas had lost some of its specialness. However, this Christmas should be different. Welcoming groups during those times of preparation and celebration was a very special moment of this traineeship. Having prepared a dancing performance for the Christmas celebration of the Communication Department, it become obvious, that the European Union is not just about cold bureaucracy but heartwarming people. Having an informal chat with your supervisor over a glass of “Glühwein” or meeting your trainee colleagues in Christmas dress, shows, that Europe is about bringing people together.
However, what was still missing for a true European experience was Christmas in Strasbourg and greve in France. During the last week before holidays, our department of VISSEM was supposed to transfer to Strasbourg, hosting groups coming for Tarte Flambe and Europe. Getting awake very early in the morning, when our busses eventually arrived in front of the parliament, a new nickname was given to me. Having carried the biggest suitcase of all, full of Christmas presents, full of clothing, I received the honorary title: “Mrs. Strasbourg 2019”.
Arriving at the Parliament in Strasbourg, directly hosting the first group, it became obvious, this is going to be a very intensive time. Here, meeting politicians was closer than anywhere else, especially, when during my session one MEP managed to switch of my presentation. Nevertheless, sharing an apartment with my colleagues during that day, what become obvious, “being united in diversity”, Europe is not about single players, but agreeing together as a team.
Give me one moment in history
Living your own European story, this traineeship was unique in history. For the first time in history, the Parliament and Council could not agree on a commission. Therefore, many candidates, proposed by Mrs. von der Leyen were rejected. Having the whole political world of Europe following the debates, what a feeling, watching you own working place in the daily news. Even more moving than finding a new commission was the historic moment of Brexit. During the last day, when it became obvious, that the United Kingdom was to leave the European Union, we were just standing behind the doors, this historic moment was happening. British MEPs leaving the parliament, a walk for history, as a relative said, watching me from home, and we were just joining for a walk outside at Place de Luxembourg over a last Irn Bru.
“Give me one moment in time”, this was probably the night before Brexit becoming valid. Having a last pint at the “London Bar” as dancing a Cedilih with Estonian friends, what become obvious. Even so, the United Kingdom is leaving the European Union, it won´t leave Europe. Many years ago, Brexit made me visit the United Kingdom for the first time due to Brexit, yet every prolongation of negotiations made me return, hoping, that Brexit might never come real. Facing now this moment, for the first time, I felt, what it means to be lucky living in Europe.
There is no service as visitors service
Entertaining groups from all ways of life every day, it becomes obvious, there is no businesslike show business, as there is no service like visitors´ service. No day was like the other, sometimes groups were uninterested, sometimes, groups were overwhelmed by the European experience, other times groups were hyperactive, but most groups were curious to learn more.
The reason for waking up every day, was not the salary, but the stories to tell and hear from visitors, coming from all ways of life, might this be lawyers, farmers, pupils or students, every time, it was a new thrilling challenge to guide this guest to find their own European story. Probably, it would take more than one Pluxing to tell a guide´s story about Europe, but some anecdotes are worth to be told here, opening a bottle of Jupiler, laying back to enjoy.
Yet, what should be know, when you get a wake-up call at 7o´clock in the morning by the German army, telling you to be delayed by two hours, suddenly you realize Europe is a peace project. When you have a family, on their way to baptisms stopping over with a grandson 5 year and a grandfather 75 years both never went to war, this becomes even more feasible. However, Europe can be lot of fun, when you have a group of pensioners from a city administration being rewarded for right answers with beer points to be spend at Grand Place. When you do your presentation in Viennese for a group of Viennese friends, loudly shouting “Geh bitte” through the hemicycle, or you get an invitation for a drink by a group, you know, you did a good job. When spontaneously you organize a quiz with a MEP to entertain students, or you have a laughing international group leaving the European Parliament, you suddenly notice, explaining, experiencing to explore European Politics can be lots of entertainment.
Learn. Laugh and live the European Dream
Many years ago, the European Union was just a dream of a few. Nowadays it is necessity for all of us. Having had the historic chance to spend five months during this historic moment, shows, the story of Europe has to go on. However, facing many hurdles and crisis today, Europe should become more aware of its capabilities as role-model making an impact in the world. Therefore, new approaches to political education are needed, encouraging Europeans through all ways of life to explore their own kind of European story, being united in diversity.
After so many European experiences, meeting so many astounding people, my conclusion as my dream is to revive a new kind of European dream. Learning why bringing so many different kinds of culture, languages and history together is unique in history, developing new formats for citizens to learn, why Europe is essential as how to get engaged in it. Laughing, that Europe still is a unique experiment, sometimes providing everyone with unexpected funny side notes. Eventually it is about bringing the European idea to live in the heart and soul of its people again. That does not imply accepting everything just because it is European, but rather being critical, curious and committed to shape, where the European experiment will guide us in the next years. Some things might remain mystical how they work but this is typical Belgian.