Visiting Brussels

When we hear the name « Brussels », we immediately think of the European district, the place where all the major decisions are made and where the laws are discussed. It is true that the European district is an important part of the Belgian capital city, but there are also other places that we shouldn’t miss if we go to Brussels.

First, visiting Brussels, is visiting its European district which is one of the most modern part of the east side of the city. This district was originally inhabited by the “upper class”, but people had to leave so that the offices could be built during the 1960’s. It can explain the presence of some ancient and elegant buildings right in the middle of modern and imposing constructions.
We are going to highlight these institutions that make up European Brussels. In fact, the European Union has its main base of operation in Brussels. Among these institutions , the most important of them are the European Commission, the European Parliament, the Council of Ministers and the European Council. Moreover, many countries also have their embassies based in Brussels to make the most of the proximity to the European institutions. There are about 210 foreign embassies and consulates in Brussels. These embassies and consulates, ranging from A to Z (Afghanistan – Zimbabwe), represent their countries within Belgium. Moreover, it is not just the countries which have embassies in Brussels, almost each Region of the European countries has one. That is the case for example of the “Bureau Franche-Comté/Bourgogne” where we went to listen to people explaining us their lobbying activities.
First of all, it’s important to explain again what the role of the EU is : the work of the European Union is carried out by different European institutions based in Brussels, Luxembourg and Strasbourg, in France. Each European institution plays a unique role to generate a democratic process for law and policy development for member countries. The major administrative branch of the European Union is the European Commission whose responsibility is to draft proposals for laws and policy. These laws are then discussed and approved by the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament. Once the European Union laws are passed, the European Commission also ensures they are implemented by member countries.
Then, the European Parliament is the EU institution representing the 470 million members of the European Union , it’s the only institution of the European Union directly elected by the citizens. The European Parliament has three fundamental powers: legislative power, budgetary power and political control of the European institutions. The European Parliament acts as the law and policy checker, it is able to amend, delay and reject laws and policies put forward by the European Commission and also makes recommendations for new European Union laws but can’t put forward new proposals. The European Parliament consists of  representatives from the  member states elected every five years, indeed, all EU citizens are eligible to vote from the age of 18 .

The Parliament
The council of ministers is a meeting of specific ministers of member countries to discuss specific laws and policies . The chairman of these meetings is the President of the Council – currently changing on a 6-month rotation basis between heads of state. The European Council is a summit of heads of state of member countries. In Brussels, this council is held four times a year and attended by two representatives from each country . They are chaired by the presiding President of the Council at the time and the outcomes of this meeting steers the direction for future laws and policy drafts. Here is a little anecdote : our guide told us that at the top of the building of the European Council, there was a gastronomic restaurant where 28 chefs coming from the 28 European countries cook. Moreover, every 6 months, a top chef  is appointed, just like the ministers at the European Council. What a remarkable European sense, isn’t it ?


But, visiting Brussels, is also visiting its city centre.
You can’t miss the Grand-Place, which is one of the most beautiful places in the world. It is a calm and peaceful place, which has been considered as the heart of Brussels from centuries.

Town Center
The City Hall which is on the Grand Place is one of the best known monuments of the capital, its style is gothic and it has got a tower drawn by Van Ruysbroeck on top of which the statue of Saint Michel, Brussels’ symbol, overlooks the square.
The king’s house, also on the Grand Place, in front of the City Hall, is the building where there is the museum of the city of Brussels, which explains the city’s history thanks to different works of art.
The houses of different corporations surround the Grand Place with their baroque facades.
Then, there is the Manneken Pis, a little statue made by Jerôme Duquesney in 1619 in order to provide the district with water. This sculpture was called “the little Julien” as a tribute to another statue which looked like it and was already there at XVth century. It is said that to preserve the decency of the Manneken Pis, we must offer him clothes. As surprising as it may be, this little peeing boy is one of the most important symbols of Belgium !
The Royal Galleries of Saint Hubert, are the most beautiful Streets in Brussels. They gather all the luxury stores, a cinema and cafés.
Brussels also has other district like the Sablon where there is little square and Church, or Saint Michel and Gudule cathedral,  which is really immense. Many important museums are there, for example the museum of musical instruments,  the Magritte museum, the royal museum of art, or also the museum of  comic strip.


Don’t forget to mention two other aspects fixed in the Belgian culture : chocolates and comics ! On top of the numerous chocolate shops and sculptures of belgian comics’ heroes, we could not leave Brussels without learning more about both ubiquitous Belgian prides. That is why we went to a chocolate factory where we successively learned the chef’s story, tasted and compared the chocolates of the chef, and made our own mendiants. We also visited the comic strip museum, the 9th art, the symbol of Belgium. For one hour and a half, we went back into childhood and discovered heroes, old or new techniques, models and unknown adventures.

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Finally, we can say that visiting Brussels is being immersed in a city with numerous facets. From the European district with its imposing buildings to the baroque facades of the Grand Place, including the worldwide known Manneken pis and the specialities such as chocolates, waffles or fries ; Brussels offers tourists many various attractions. It was a great trip on many levels and we will remember this European capital for a long time.


Eurosceptics : who are they ?

Euroscepticism is the ideology that criticizes the European Union (EU) and the process of European integration. It can have different forms, from promoting a EU limited to free trade, to calling for a withdrawal of their country from the EU. It can be a right-wing as well as a left-wing ideology, but is generally found in extremist parties.

Euroscepticism in the European Parliament (EP)

In the current repartition of seats in the EP, dating back from the 2009 elections, eurosceptic parties represent more than 16 % of the members, without taking non-inscrits into account. The  parties concerned are:

– the European Conservatives and Reformists (54 members), described as center-right or right-wing, which promote a liberal but non-federal Europe;

– European United Left-Nordic Green Left (35 members), described as left-wing to far-left, which promotes a social Europe and rejects the current Europe that they regard as too liberal;

– Europe of Freedom and Democracy (32 members), described as right-wing to far-right, which promotes a Europe of Nations;

– some non-inscrit far-right national parties (27 members), generally promoting a withdrawal of their country from the EU.

According to the last polls, the next European elections are to bring a lot of eurosceptic European deputies in the EP, reaching almost 30 % of the seats. It reveals a real lack of confidence in the policies of the EU among the population.

Euroscepticism by country

Map representing the confidence of the population in the EU, by country, in December 2013

Source: Eurobaromètre



Countries in red: less than 26 % of confidence.

Countries in orange: from 27 % to 39 % of confidence.

Countries in green: more than 40 % of confidence.

We can notice with this map that the most eurosceptic countries are Southern Countries (Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece, Cyprus), which have been recently affected by the economic crisis, and the United Kingdom (UK), historically eurosceptic.

In the UK, euroscepticism is mostly represented by the right-wing UK Independence Party (UKIP) of the famous euro-deputy Nigel Farage, which promotes a withdrawal from the European Union. As the fourth political force of the UK, it has a great influence on the public debate and is getting more and more popular. The Conservative Party of David Cameron sometimes shares some eurosceptic views with UKIP, for example it calls for a referendum about the possible withdrawal of the UK from the UE, but this opinion is not shared in the whole party.

In Italy, euroscepticism is represented by two parties: the Five Star Movement of the humorist Beppe Grillo, which is the third political force in the country, which promotes a withdrawal from the Eurozone (not from the EU) and has links with UKIP, and the right-wing to far-right regionalist party Lega Nord.

 The countries which are neither eurosceptics nor euro-enthusiasts are Western Europe countries (France, Germany, the Netherlands, Czech Republic, Austria, Ireland, Slovenia, Croatia) which have generally not been strongly affected by the economic crisis, but whose population don’t want to pay for the poorest countries.

The main eurosceptic parties in France are right-wing sovereignists (Debout la République of Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, Mouvement pour la France of Philippe de Villiers or Union Populaire Républicaine of François Asselineau), a far-right party, the Front National of Marine Le Pen, which is the third political force of the country and calls for a “renegotiation of the treaties”, and left-wing to far-left parties such as the Front de Gauche of Jean-Luc Mélenchon or the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste of Olivier Besancenot.

In the Netherlands, the main eurosceptic party is the Party for Freedom of Geert Wilders, a right-wing to far-right party known for its islamophobic positions, which used to be an influential party and has links with the French Front National.

In Austria, euroscepticism is represented by three right-wing to far-right movements: the Freedom Party of Austria of Heinz-Christian Strache, the Alliance for the Future of Austria of Gerald Grosz and Team Stronach of Frank Stronach. All of them claim for a withdrawal of Austria from the EU. The Freedom Party of Austria has links with the French Front National.

Euro-enthusiastic countries can be classified in three groups: Belgium, which gets benefits from the European Institutions installed in Brussels; Scandinavian countries (Denmark, Sweden, Finland), which have not been affected by the economic crisis; and newly arrived countries such as Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Malta, which are “discovering” the benefits of their belonging to the EU.

Among those countries, those which have some important eurosceptic parties are Hungary with Viktor Orban’s right-wing party Fidesz, promoting a soft euroscepticism, and Gabor Vonna’s far-right party Jobbik, promoting a total withdrawal from the EU and an alliance with countries such as Russia or Turkey.


Euroscepticism has different forms : a soft euroscepticism promoting a renegotiation of the treaties, a Europe of Nations, a Europe of free-trade or a withdrawal from the Eurozone, and a hard euroscepticism promoting a total withdrawal from the EU. Euroscepticism is shared by both left- and right-wing parties, but the main eurosceptic forces on the national and European scales are right-wing and far-right parties. The increase of euroscepticism is due to the economic crisis (Greece, Cyprus, Italy, Spain, Portugal), to the fact that the population doesn’t want to help the poorest countries (as in Germany or in Austria) or to the fact that the population wants to go on with the sovereignty and the independence of its country (UK).

What do you know about Europe ?

In this blog, you have read articles about many different issues, not only about our region, Burgundy, our city, Dijon, but also about the European capitals, the Eurostar, the inequalities in Europe, and so much more information ! Besides, you have been able to recount the actual  history of the European Union, from its creation to nowadays, the criteria that countries which want  to enter the EU have to respect to be accepted, the different meetings of all the European countries ; all of that to make you understand better the functioning, the roles and the meaning of the European Union.

If you have read all these articles seriously, now, you can play to our quiz. Enjoy this game !