Don’t forget Europe?
Travelling on a bus across Europe over a 4-5 day period can seem like a daunting task for anyone but when there are students of law and government aboard, there will never be a dull moment. This perennial jaunt across Europe is more than just a visit to the major European institutions such as the Courts of Justice, the European Parliament and European commission. It offers the potential for Law students like me to find out what all the fuss is about in Europe. It opens up a Pandora ’s Box of delights by giving us the opportunity to meet and discuss real issues with European Court justices, Ombudsman and Officers of the European Commission alike. Thrown into this mix is the possibility to explore three beautiful and powerful cities that have been the bastions of Europe since the EU project began all those years ago, Brussels, Luxembourg and Strasbourg.
Most of us have very little contact with European politics over the course of our everyday lives and that is the norm but every now and then issues can arise which not only affect us but Europe as a whole. It was our quest to get to the truth and find out that if the EU raises its hand, will we be there to shake it or keep our hands in our pockets. When I arrived at Cork Airport to be greeted by our professor eagerly ticking off his check list of students, I didn’t realise the respect and connections that this man had in store for us and that he would do everything in his power to fit in as many meetings with high powered individuals as was possible. Declan Walsh has a flair for making the mundane seem exciting! He is a self professed Europhile anorak and his ability to instil a curiosity about Europe is what this journey is all about. Even though he has been on this trip many times with past UCC Alumni, many of whom are working in the very institutions we are visiting, there is still a twinkle in his eye when it comes to the enigma that is the EU. It was our task to crack this enigma and go beyond what we have read in our books and seen on TV screens.
What is it about the EU that has brought us here? The EU’s primary goal is the protection and guidance of a people for the better good. An idealistic goal that I sensed many people have questioned and become disillusioned with over the years. One of the overriding feelings that I garnered from each ‘meet and greet’ is that disillusionment rising to the surface after the usual introductions. I believe there is a rising discontent amongst Europhiles which has been exacerbated by the recent Brexit vote. It has created a challenging new era within these institutions which could either foster a greater belief in what they have struggled to mould over decades or a crumbling despair at how easy it can all crumble. Maybe it is that very disillusionment which has been equivalent to the foot on the pedal of the potter’s wheel slowly moulding and gradually developing into what we see today.
Our party may have been wooed by the magnificent buildings which have become synonymous with the culture of European politics and we may have also been swayed by the tasty Belgian beer(some more than others) but what has stayed with us all is the connection we made with the people we met along the way. From the Judges to the référendaire and the many Irish staff who kindly offered advice and encouragement to us along the way, I salute their efforts to keep this machine turning ever so slowly. It was encouraging to also see a twinkle in their eyes similar to our professor as they talked passionately about their own roles over the years. Their genuine concern to call on us for the future was equally palpable (all we need to do now is brush up on our Irish and French).
The calibre of people we met along the way was equally matched by the people on the bus who joined me on this journey. It must be said that most of us will never forget Europe after our trails across France, Luxembourg and Belgium. It may have been the combination of late nights and early starts that helped us to gain an even greater understanding but the privilege of meeting such esteemed MEP’s, Judges and Commission Staff along with UCC Alumni has reinforced my belief in the future of this project that is the EU.