After 215 miles we’ve arrived in Brussels, the home of the trinity that is the European Commission, the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament. In amongst these three institutions that make up the EU is the Parlamentarium. The free museum at the heart of the European Quarter of Brussels. Brussels is defined by the EU as London is by ‘The City’. The industry of the EU brings jobs and languages from all over the world to work in the myriad tower blocks of offices.
The Parlamentarium is well worth a visit, it charts the formation of the EU as leaders respond to the aftermath of the second world war. In this context is was widely supported. Churchill was with others calling for a United States of Europe. Out of this history of conflict, the European Union has been a resounding success. In the context of war, the case for the EU is overwhelming. At one of our host’s I listened in to a conversation between a Spanish lady and her Dutch boyfriend. She had recently started working at the commission and spoke with passion and conviction about the good of the EU. The dutch boyfriend was less convinced and was sympathetic to the Brexit vote, complaining that regulation hurt small businesses. In response and as a finale to the discussion the young Spaniard simply replied “its about peace”
It is fitting that Belgium hosts the centre of this endeavor to unite conflicting regions. It has been fought over relentlessly and is now host to three parliaments and languages within the boarders of Belgium. The political factions divide by language creating an array of parties that struggle to work together resulting in the record breaking 589 days without a government that started in June 2010. The art of compromise that is needed to bring difference sides together can result in absurdities. For the EU an example is the monthly trip to Strasbourg where the whole parliament moves for 4 days of voting. A price worth paying for peace, but when we learn to expect peace this becomes a symbol of bureaucratic waste.
Whilst we walked through the museum one recording jumped out at me. A slightly triumphalist comment bragging of the democratic support received from so many referenda. I couldn’t help chuckle as this would have been recorded before Brexit. I wondered how much editing would need to be done in light of our vote. I assumed these events too recent to get a feature but there at the end of the corridor display was a photo marking our referendum. The picture shows a woman with a placard reading “you broke my star”. We were told by our electronic guide that the diversity of Europe is it’s greatest challenge and it’s greatest opportunity. It’s easy to see the challenge faced by Brexit, but maybe we need to look for the opportunity.