Monday, 21 June 2021

MA International Relations Virtual Study Trip by Emily Board


The 2021 MA virtual study trip to Brussels offered students meetings with members of the European Parliament, European Commission, various civil society organisations and NATO. Although students and presenters were not able to meet in person, the discussions were no less in-depth, informative or thought-provoking. 

The first event MA students attended was with the European Commission. The discussion focused on the new EU policy for asylum seekers and refugees. The aim of this policy is to make the process easier and more streamlined for applicants and member states alike. Since this meeting I have read a piece by Bhambra (2017) which recentres the migration crisis in Europe to a crisis of morality in Europe. As a result, it is possible to see how Eurocentrism shapes policies and how this impacts international relations. 

Secondly, an event was held with members and former members of the European Parliament. This included speaking with former UK MEP and green economist Molly Scott Cato, who provided an engaging talk about the difficulties and rewards of working in the European Parliament. The issues Scott Cato faced included tax avoidance by EU member states and their reluctance to vote for any reform in this area. This clearly showed the difficulties facing green economists and encouraged the audience to reflect on subjects it was unaware of. A common theme between Scott Cato, Gaby K├╝ppers and Axel Singhofen, other members of the European Parliament who participated in the discussion, was the difficulties of cooperation and common agreement in the EU. This issue extends across topics such as tax avoidance to environmental policies and trade.   

The third meeting was with civil society organisations. These groups: Agricord, the European Climate Foundation and PepsiCo are trying to combat climate change in different ways. It was particularly interesting to hear about how PepsiCo’s environmental branch and its attempts to encourage recycling and improve its sustainability. This raised questions about the role of corporations in international relations, particularly how they can be held responsible for their impact on climate change. There was also space for criticisms of these organisations.

The meeting with NATO engagement officers gave students a chance to see the new headquarters virtually. The discussion focused on the non-military aspects of NATO work such as their science for peace programme and their campaign to prevent disinformation. This opened up a discussion of NATO’s decreasing relevancy in a post-Cold War world. This meeting allowed an interesting reflection on the ways in which NATO reinforces a western perspective and stresses its own importance. One key part of the video tour which struck me was the piece of a steal beam from 9/11 that was placed at the entrance of the headquarters. Paul King, the Programme Officer, explained that this monument was used as 9/11 resulted in the only use of NATO’s Article 5. I thought this was an interesting way to remember the attack on the twin towers and I considered how the loss of human life is considered in international relations.

Each virtually meeting allowed students to see the practical, rather than theoretical, side of international relations. This brilliant virtual trip was organised Dr. Ford who arranged a wide range of speakers and organisations to talk with us. Thank you!


Bhambra, Gurminder K. 2017. “The Current Crisis of Europe: Refugees, Colonialism, and the Limits of Cosmopolitanism.” European Law Journal, 23 (5), pp. 395–405


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