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Politics students visit NATO and European parliament

Dated: 27 March 2018

 
At the end of January, 40 of our second year A level Politics students took the Eurostar train to Belgium as part of their ‘Global Politics’ unit at Woodhouse. The students stayed overnight in the Belgian capital and visited both Espace Léopold (the complex of parliament buildings in Brussels housing the European Parliament, a legislative chamber of the European Union) and Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) the headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation's (NATO) Allied Command Operations (ACO).
 
 
 
On day one they visited the European Parliament which was not in session at the time. The students were given a presentation by one of the parliamentary officials about the history of the EU, why it such an important organisation and how it functions.
 
 
 
As a clear example of the cosmopolitan nature of present day Europe, the speaker was a German born British citizen who lives and works in Belgium. The question and answer session naturally focussed on Brexit and it’s future impact.
 
 
 
Students then took a tour of the building and got a good look at the impressive debating chamber the Hemicycle. Here, EU members are arranged in a hemicycle according to their political groups who are ordered left to right according to their alignment. All desks are equipped with microphones, headphones for interpretation and electronic voting equipment. The large auditorium is surrounded by interpreter booths, a visitor gallery and a press gallery.
 
 
 
Students then de-camped to their hostel where they were to spend the night and were allowed time out in the evening to explore their surrounding area and sample the Flemish cuisine. Staff, meanwhile, purportedly shared a “1KG” mixed kebab meal at a Moroccan restaurant and made a good attempt at finishing it…
 
The following day, the group travelled to the NATO Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe to listen to key NATO briefings on the challenges faced by the organisation.
 
 
 
Here they met a Polish officer (Kris, as seen in the photo), A French Naval officer and a high ranking British military officer. The speakers talked of their current military exercises conducted across Eastern Europe as well as operations around the world. In the question and answer session, Russia was high on the agenda and how NATO are gearing up to contain the impact of Russia and their border incursions.
 
The HQ itself is a self-contained compound with it’s own cinema and schools as staff live and work at the base which is the NATO Allied Command Operations centre. There are eight separate security zones, arranged like layers of an onion, and only important officers can get to the central zone. Our students were sensibly restricted to the outer layer…
 
After an obligatory group photo outside NATO it was back to the Eurostar for the train home. Head of Woodhouse Politics Mr Patel said “Our students got a real insight into the physical structure of European politics on the visit and it has certainly ‘made real’ many of the topics we discuss in the classroom.”


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