Archive | March, 2015

Back to Belgium: Part II

31 Mar

Last I left you, it was the First of February and I was on a train from Ghent to Brussels for a Fulbright conference on the European Union. After checking into the hotel in Brussels, I headed straight for Au Bon Vieux Temps, a cramped, wood-paneled, television-less bar nestled at the end of an alleyway close to Brussels’ central square.

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As evidenced by the stained-glass windows, the bar is a converted chapel, which added to the feeling that I was making a pilgrimage to the place, since I had read that the Holy Grail of Belgian beers – the Westvleteren 12 – could be found here. For those unfamiliar, Westvleteren is commonly considered the best beer in the world (if you don’t believe me, see also here and here). It’s brewed by a group of Flemish monks in the Trappist Abbey of Saint Sixtus of Westvleteren in western Belgium, close to the French border. The monks live a solitary life of prayer and make their world-famous beer only to finance their monastery, and as a result produce very limited quantities of their prized brew in humble, label-less bottles. This makes the beer almost impossible to find – even in Belgium (one rare exception was when the monks needed money for a new roof, which prompted them to export a batch to the U.S. – more on that here and here). Luckily, Au Bon Vieux Temps did not disappoint:

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Next was a stop at the Grand Place/Grote Markt (although Brussels is predominately Francophone, the city is surrounded by the Dutch-speaking Flanders region of Belgium, which is why every street and square sign has both the French and Dutch version of the name). The largest building is the Brussels city hall; the building with the black façade houses the Brussels city museum; and the opulent but smaller buildings that encircle the square are the old guildhalls, a sign of the city’s medieval wealth.

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Later that evening, we kicked off the conference with dinner at Brasserie Horta in the Brussels Comic Strip Museum on Sunday evening where all of us Fulbrighters got a chance to introduce themselves, our EU host country, and our projects before receiving an “Introduction to the EU” lecture from Jerome Sheridan, Professor at American University in Brussels.

The next day, our group met with representatives from the U.S. Mission to NATO at the treaty organization’s political headquarters in Brussels (which is separate from NATO’s military headquarters in Mons). American foreign service officers and European officials briefed us on NATO’s current priorities as well as its relations with Russia and Ukraine. I really enjoyed the American foreign service officers’ remarks on the occasional frustration of having to advance a particular position with which they don’t always agree, as well as the delicate diplomacy required in an organization with so many different member nations.

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After an enjoyable NATO-provided lunch, we visited the U.S. Mission to the European Union where we got an overview of U.S.-EU relations which focused heavily on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a trade deal being negotiated between the Obama Administration and the E.U. which is similar to the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). Both deals have been widely criticized (see here and here) for being negotiated in secret, the privileged role of industry groups in the negotiations, the deals’ potential to weaken regulations and make governments more vulnerable to lawsuits by multinational corporations, as well as the almost total lack of media coverage about the deals in the U.S. In the evening, the U.S. Ambassador to the EU Anthony Gardner hosted a reception for us Fulbrighters. Later that evening, a few friends and I sat down for a traditional Belgian dinner at ‘t Kelderke on the Grote Markt/Grand Place, which included the best mussels I’ve ever had and a subsequent trip to Brussels’ world famous Delirium Cafe.

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The following morning, we headed over to the European Commission, something like the executive branch of the EU (but without an elected president) for more briefings.

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After lunch, we departed for the College of Europe in Bruges where Professor Mark Sheetz gave a presentation on U.S.-EU Security Relations. Afterwards, we ventured out into beautiful Bruges, made famous by the dark comedy In Bruges.

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As it got dark, a few fellow Fulbright beer enthusiasts and I hunkered down at De Garre to try their 11.5% house brew, Tripel van de Garre.

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We departed the next morning from our hotel in Brussels at 5am for the European Court of Justice – something like the Supreme Court for the EU – in Luxembourg City, Luxembourg. Once there, we received a briefing on that day’s case by ECJ Vice President Koen Lenaerts, attended the hearing of case C-231/14 InnoLux/Commission (involving fines on a technology company with factories in China and Taiwan) and then received a de-briefing.

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In the afternoon we went on a walking tour of the city:

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And in the evening we attended a reception hosted by the U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg Robert A. Mandall. After a pitch by the hospitable embassy staff for us Fulbrighters to consider joining the foreign service, the soon-to-be-stepping-down ambassador allowed us to help finish off his alcohol cache – and good thing he did, since those Sam Adams Boston Lagers were not gonna drink themselves 😉

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After a wild night out on the town, we departed the next day for Brussels where I just barely made my flight back to Copenhagen. Many thanks to the Danish-American Fulbright Commission for selecting me to attend the conference and picking up the tab, as well as the Fulbright Commission of Belgium and Luxembourg for organizing such an awesome conference for us Fulbrighters (here’s their blog on the conference, from which I shamelessly copied some text and re-used some pictures)!

*Please note that the views and information presented in this blog are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Fulbright Program, the Danish-American Fulbright Commission or the U.S. State Department.*

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