From nuclear engineering to European affairs

Brittany Broder, US Fulbright Advanced Student, 2016-2017

This past February, I had the opportunity to visit Belgium and Luxembourg for the Fulbright seminar on the European Union and North Atlantic Trade Organization. I was excited to not only enjoy the beauty of these places I had never been before, but also learn more about the workings of these organizations in European and international politics. People are often surprised that I, as a nuclear engineering student, am interested in politics. However, every aspect of the nuclear industry, from nuclear reactors to the wastes they produce to isotopes used in medicine, is heavily regulated by governmental organizations. Certain aspects of this industry, such as moving radioactive materials, influence the entire region regardless of their country of origin, thereby necessitating regulation from an organization representing all involved. Moreover, intra-country European scientific projects often receive support and funding through the EU. So, as someone interested to learn how nuclear science works in the EU, I found this seminar particularly relevant.

Day 1 began early for me – I got up at 5:00 AM for an early train to Paris and then on to Luxembourg City. Some six hours later, I arrived at my destination and started exploring! My first impression of Luxembourg City was that it looked like a lot of places I had visited in France – pretty buildings and residences lining the streets, with plenty of shops, restaurants, and cafés. It was when I got to the bridge that I first realized the unique beauty of Luxembourg City.

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The city appeared to be built on top of a series of cliffs, but continued at the bottom with more roads and parks.

After meeting with the rest of the seminar group, the first thing on the agenda was a walking tour of the city. We saw the Grand Ducal Palace, the Monument of Remembrance (also known as Gelle Fra), and enjoyed some more of the scenery.

The next stop was the US Embassy for an overview of its function, the EU, and a reception during which we got to speak with embassy members and past Fulbright scholars. The embassy itself was a beautiful building. Equally as impressive, however, were the speakers addressing us. It was interesting to learn now only what the embassy does, but also what their day-to-day affairs look like. While I imagine embassies working primarily with politics, they also work with community outreach to foster intercultural understanding. We also got a ‘crash course’ in the EU – namely, what it is and why it was formed.

The next morning, we headed to the European Court of Justice. The case we heard was about a Latvian music association that had created a monopoly in the industry and charged much higher prices than the same services cost in neighboring countries. While the Latvian court had already decided the company should be fined, they were appealing to the ECJ for instruction on how to apply EU laws regarding the case. Equally as interesting as the trial were the proceedings: everyone wore a headset through which they could speak their native language. Then, a series of translators would translate that person’s argument into other languages so that everyone could hear their own language. As someone who’s spent a lot of time trying to learn other languages, this concept was very interesting to me: there are a lot of times when an argument or an idea gets lost in translation. This system makes sure that everyone always understands each other. After listening to the court case, we met with the ECJ president Dr. Koen Lenaerts and Judge Dr. Paul Nihoul to discuss the role of the ECJ in the EU and in ongoing politics. Similar to the Latvian case, I learned that 2/3 of cases heard are from countries looking for guidance in applying EU law.

Next, we left Luxembourg City and headed to Bastogne, Belgium, the site of the Battle of the Bulge. This was one of the last major German offenses during WWII and resulted in extremely high American casualties. Because of the US’s involvement, there’s a US war memorial there:

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Day three, we saw the European Commission in the morning followed by the US mission to the EU in the evening. At the European Commission, we learned how the commission is structured, what its purpose is, and how laws are made. We also learned that the EU has 10 prioritized areas of policy. While many are related to economics and markets, I was surprised that some are more tied to social issues, such as ‘migration’ and ‘energy union and climate’. In the American system, it often seems like social and economic issues are divided, despite the impact they invariably have on each other.

In the afternoon, we had the chance to discuss the US’s evolving relationship with the EU with officers from the US mission to the EU. One thing that struck me in particular was the discussion surrounding the election. For me, the prevalence of the election had kind of faded into the background: while I had gotten a lot of questions about the candidates, election system, and new president in the time surrounding the election and inauguration, it wasn’t something that I dealt with or discussed on a daily basis anymore. I continued to follow politics at home and field the occasional question from my classmates and friends, but not on the scale that I had before January 20th. However, for people working in this field, the discussion never stopped. While I read about new policies from afar, these people actually had to figure out how to implement them while maintaining positive relations with their European counterparts.

Day four was our visit to NATO and the European College. I was particularly excited to visit NATO, having read about it a lot over the years in politics classes and in news articles. As with many of the places we visited, it was cool to be in the place where the action happens and decisions are made.

Perhaps one of my favorite parts of the trip, however, was our trip to the European College. To get there, we took a scenic walk through Brugge, a town with historic stone architecture and canals weaving in and out of roads. Some of the buildings had the date they were built painted on them, and many dated back to the 1600’s, if not earlier.

Equally as interesting as the city, the Schuman grantees gave presentations on their projects at the European College. One of my favorites came from the Schuman-Fulbright chair, who presented some of her work on creating constitutional systems in emerging governments. I’d been impressed all week by the dedication of politicians and the complexity of the governments they navigate, but I can’t imagine trying to create all of those nuances anew.

I greatly enjoyed my time at this seminar and for the opportunity to learn about organizations that have such a huge influence on European life, as well as meeting the officials who have a part in shaping those groups. Not only did I meet politicians, but I enjoyed meeting other Fulbright grantees and learning about the cool projects they’re doing all over Europe.

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