Europe Day, the annual celebration of European unity, falls on 9 May each year. Brussels marked this year’s Europe Day by opening the doors of the many European Institutions based here to the public – the European Council, the European Commission and the European Parliament each welcomed visitors with information booths, giveaways and interactive activities.
We visited the European Commission where we were greeted by an extremely long but fast-moving queue – it seemed just about everyone else in Brussels had the same idea! Once inside though, the crowds did not diminish from the novelty of getting a behind-the-scenes look at the headquarters of the European Commission, the executive decision-making body often European Union.
A number of activities were on offer for visitors to participate in, including quizzes, games and food sampling. Musical performances, live demonstrations and information booths were also used to highlight some of the Commission’s activities and priorities. Particular highlights were a peek at the press room and the chance to visit the interpretation booths and have a go at some live interpreting alongside the professionals. It was amazing to learn that all of the Commission’s interpreters and translators have a minimum of three primary working languages and are constantly learning new ones – I felt somewhat inadequate with my one and a half!
I have to admit that my main motivation for visiting the Open Doors Day at the European Commission was the promise of attending the Brussels Bread Festival which was taking place just a few metres away. As we made our way through the Commission building, we got to explore some rooms not usually open to the public. I stood on the podium in the press room and pushed a few buttons on the interpretation console.
But it was the ‘I Love Schengen’ photo exhibition right before the exit that made my day. Aside from my excitement at being that much closer to the bread fest outside the door, I was impressed by the series of photographs by Valerio Vincenzo which presented an original take on the the “borders” between the Schengen states – a boardwalk between Germany and Poland, a cycling path along a mountain ridge between Switzerland and Austria. My personal favorite was the shot depicting a chicken on a road running between Belgium and the Netherlands. Finally an answer to one of life’s great mysteries: why did the chicken cross the road? To get to Belgium!