Day 19: Visiting the European Parliament (6/21/2017)

By Emily Allen

Today, our group took the hour-long trip from Freiburg to Strasbourg, France, to visit the European Parliament and tour the city. Upon our arrival, we unexpectedly learned that we wouldn’t be able to use any public transportation due to a worker’s strike. Not being able to use the transit was a disappointment because we weren’t able to compare France’s transportation system to the systems we’ve previously used in other cities. Despite that setback, we jumped in a couple of taxis and made our way to the parliament building. We were joined by fellow American students studying in California and were given a short tour, seeing the rooms where Parliament members gather and vote on legislation.

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Outside the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France

The European Parliament functions similarly to Congress in the United States. In both systems, elected representatives come together to introduce and vote on legislation. A major difference, however, is the method of representation. The EU has proportional representation, where seats in Parliament are distributed based on the percentage of votes, unlike the winner-take-all system the US uses. Proportional representation allows for a multi-party system, where many ideologies can be accounted for. In the US, only two parties dominate, which often leads to polarization and political gridlock. Another similarity between the US and EU is how legislation is passed. Both systems have committees on various subjects that are composed of field experts that are able to amend proposed legislation before a vote is taken. We learned that the location of the parliament in Strasbourg is symbolic of the intentions of the EU: to maintain peace in Europe. The EU was established after the Second World War, and since its creation, Europe has maintained seventy years of peace. The Strasbourg region has historically been an area of dispute between France and Germany, so having representatives come from all of Europe to Strasbourg to make decisions as a group demonstrates that countries are able to set aside differences and come together to benefit their greater community.

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Inside the European Parliament

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VT and UVA Students in the European Parliament

After lunch (and a stop for some gelato), we went on a walking tour of Strasbourg, where we walked along the river and saw the Strasbourg Cathedral, which was the tallest building in the world from 1647 to 1874 at 466 feet tall.

Our guide, Genevieve, talked about the disputes between Germany and France for control of the Strasbourg region because it is situated along the Rhine river. The city used to be a part of Germany and France in the past, but transferred to French control post World War II. She mentioned that the people of Strasbourg really denounced their German background, and embraced the French language and culture. Genevieve also taught us about how the city transitioned to its current urban transportation. Some difficulties came from leaders that were unwilling to actually make the move towards a trolley system and instead made the plans and left the implementation to successors.

The unusual heat for this time of year–we later found out that the heat was record-breaking for the month of June in Freiburg–left many of us tired and quite ready for our tour to conclude back at the train station so we could head back to Germany.

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