We had been looking forward to the trip since we found out that we had placed first. We must admit that we approached the trip with much enthusiasm but also hesitation, due to the fact that we were not all from the same team.
On arriving in Brussels, after having unpacked at our hotel, we went on a stroll to get a feel of Brussels and the area around our lodgings. Our previous worries evaporated as we spent more time with the others because we soon forgot what was dividing us, and instead started to realise that we actually had a lot in common, both on a personal level and our hopes for a future career.
Our first official day in Brussels started with a tour of the European Parliament Visitor Centre. During this we got to enter the hemicycle and see where the MEPs debate as we had done on a smaller scale during our MEA sessions. Prior to this we had a meeting with MEP Therese Commodini Cachia. For the duration of the meeting we discussed a number of various topics. Amongst these were future careers in the EU, the roles of MEPs and their assistants and an explanation of education and the importance of youth empowerment. Something which was of great value to us was her sharing of her personal experience as an MEP. After a quick lunch to keep up with the days eventful schedule, we proceeded to the European Commission and there we had a meeting with Commission Cabinet Member Dr Elena Peresso and Zenon Severis, the Member of the Cabinet of Commissioner Vassiliou . This was of great importance to us as the main topic we discussed was European Programmes for Youth. These included the European Voluntary Service, the 5 month Traineeships for graduates, linguists and students with one of the European Institutions - 'Estagio'.We ended our hectic day with a tour of the Parliamenterium which gave us a detailed insight of the history of the European Union.
Thursday was without a doubt the busiest day of the whole trip. Our first meeting was with MEP Roberta Metsola. As we were there the week before the grilling of the commissioners, Dr Metsola gave us a detailed explanation of the grilling process and of the roles of the MEPs in it. She said each commissioner is asked a total of 30 questions and that each party has an allotted amount of question that they are able to ask each commissioner. For example the European People's Party (EPP), being the largest party, is allotted 17 question per commissioner. She stressed the importance of standing by one's values and judgements, and not always abiding by what a party say. She also added that seeing as Malta is such a small country and we only have 6 members in the European Parliament, when a policy is brought up which will effect Malta directly, it is of extreme importance that lobbying with other countries happens at the early stages in order to get most support and actually have an impact on what goes on.
Our next meeting was supposed to be with Maltese Ambassadoor Marlene Bonnici but due to recent ISIS crisis, the meeting was cancelled and instead we met with her assistants. We questioned them about what Malta's stand is in relation to the EU regarding this topic. We also discussed the topical issue of migration and the prospect of creating an EU army.
We then moved to the European Commission to meet Mr Patrick Mifsud, Member of the Cabinet to Commissioner Tonio Borg. Here we discussed health issues related to food such as the issue of food hygiene, farming etc. He also explained how the commission works with other EU institutions as well as Jean-Claude Juncker's main idea of allotting the other commissioners a portfolio in which the country he/she comes from has to improve ex France - Economy; Malta - Environment.
For lunch we met up with MEP Miriam Dalli. She talked to us about her experience as an MEP, and showed a great deal of interest in our studies. We also discussed our ideas and goals for our career, and she gave us an overview of what, in her opinion, would be the best courses for us.
Immediately afterwards, we were given a tour of Europarl TV, which is the media station for the European parliament. We were shown around the radio and TV studios, and we were told that both public and private station from the EU member states are allowed to use the facilities to film and broadcast their shows which have the EU as a subject.
On the same day, we met MEP Marlene Mizzi who spoke amongst other things about the realities of an MEP's lifestyle - not just the glamorous and exciting aspects, but also the loneliness that may accompany the job since most people do not take their families with them to Brussels. We also spoke about her work on the animal welfare committee, and particularly the issue of bullfighting which remains a common practice in Spain.
On Friday, we had our last meeting with an MEP, this time Alfred Sant who talked and answered questions at length about the economy and various topics. We asked about his position regarding the EU, and he shared his concerns with us. He also criticised the decision of Commission president Juncker to give portfolios to countries seeking to improve in that particular area.
We finished off our Brussels Prize Tour with a tour of the Federal Parliament of Belgium. After that, we were free to spend our last day simply enjoying the atmosphere in Brussels, last minute shopping, and visiting other tourist attractions such as Mini Europe and the Atomium.
In conclusion, the meetings we had with the different MEP's and Brussels bureaucrats, were both very enlightening and very informative. We received a firsthand description of what working in the EU institutions entails. This has greatly broadened our perspectives and encouraged our wish to work in the EU. What we are really grateful for is the fact that we had to opportunity to see what we practiced during our Mini European Assembly sessions in the real setting. Overall, we all agree that this was a truly amazing and unforgettable experience and therefore we would like to thank NSTF for providing us with this opportunity and we look forward to taking part in MEA again during our first year at University.
By Manuel Zarb, Chiara Vassallo, Jacqueline Grech Licari & Therese Lia
A group of 17 students hailing from the NSTF Mini European Assembly, League of Young Voters and the European Elections 2014 'MEP Delegates' project participated in a four-day familiarisation visit to the EU institutions in Brussels, Belgium. The ''Brussels Prize Tour'', organised by the EP office and NSTS Malta, gave the students the opportunity to personally meet five Maltese MEPs and their teams, and to discuss with them current affairs as well as their mandates and respective roles in EP Committees. The group also visited the European Parliament's main headquarters, the European Commission, the Maltese Permanent Represenatation to the EU at 'Dar Malta' as well as the National Parliament of Belgium.