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A Smith Fulbrighter in Europe

 

By Nora Hayes-Roth ’06


Nora Hayes-Roth at the seat of the Italian Foreign Minister

Every year, the Belgian Fulbright Commission organizes a one-week Fulbright Seminar on the European Union and NATO. A Fulbright Fellow from each EU member country is selected to attend, based on a selection procedure that includes the Commission of the member state, the Belgian Commission, and the EU Fulbright Commission. Nora Hayes-Roth ’06, who is living and working in Italy as a Fulbright Fellow this year, was chosen to attend this year’s seminar and wrote the following about her experience.

The Seminar offers a special opportunity for participants to expand their personal and professional networks to include an inspiring panel of distinguished speakers and guests, as well as their own peers. It was a great honor and a privilege for me to be chosen to represent Italy at this year’s Fulbright Seminar.

The Seminar week started with a reception hosted by U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg Ann Wagner. Other political officials, Fulbright alumni, U.S. Foreign Service Officers, and university professors shared in the opening celebration. This was the first of many social events, punctuating days packed with briefings, in which we met with high-level officials for more intimate discussions over lunches or dinners in private clubs and residences. As one Commissioner said, “it’s not in the Council or the Parliament where stuff happens, it’s around the lunch table, where deals get made and agendas formed.”

During the Seminar, the participants attend a series of briefings: in Luxembourg, at the Court of Justice, Ministry of Education, and Court of Auditors; in Brussels, at the European Commission, Council of Ministers, European Parliament, U.S. Mission to the EU, and NATO Headquarters; and in Mons, Supreme Headquarters for Allied Powers of Europe.


Hayes-Roth with fellow Fulbrighter Michael Moore (left) and Patrick Kelley, President, Belgian American Alumni Association

Our visit to the European Commission illustrates the intensity of our Seminar briefings. Ms. Mary-Teresa Moran, Directorate General External Relations, discussed the European Union’s Neighborhood Policy, which essentially governs EU relations with closely located countries who are not (and may never be) members of the EU. Mr. Jos Vandercappellen, Directorate General Education and Culture, discussed the State of the European Union. Ms. Christine Hughes, Directorate General External Relations, discussed EU-US Relations. Mr. Gerard De Graaf, Secretariat General, discussed the European Union’s Lisbon Agenda. Finally, Mr. Tobias King, Directorate General External Relations, discussed the EU’s Actions in the Area of Human Rights and Democracy Beyond its Borders. While each speaker covered a very specific topic, they all accepted questions outside their areas of expertise and, in so doing, gave us a glimpse of the politics behind the acting Commission and its internal workings. In fact, their very diplomatic briefs belied the continuing complexity of national versus collective identity, which sometimes surfaced in the more personal opinions they expressed. 

Our visit to the U.S. Mission to the EU offered unique insights into the demands of U.S. foreign policy on political officials abroad. The exchanges between Fulbrighters and U.S. officials were themselves quite political. Many Fulbrighters asked pointed, provocative, sometimes impertinent questions, often focusing on U.S. hegemony. In return, they received a variety of responses, deflections, and frank rejections. While some of these responses were less than satisfying, the U.S. officials’ deft fielding of questions served as a great entrée into the world of foreign diplomacy.

My favorite event of the Seminar week was our visit to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg. The visit started with a briefing by Mr. Dittert, Legal Secretary, Chambers of Mrs. Kokott, First Advocate General. Mr. Dittert explained the mechanics of the Court and the political workings behind it, and provided background on the case for which we would witness a court session. The case concerned the equality (or inequality) of pension plans for flight attendants. The judges confronted the question: should women, who originally did not receive access to the pension plan, and later only received access by paying a fee, receive benefits retroactively? And, if so, should they have to pay a lump sum equal to the cumulative sum that each man had paid to participate in the plan, or should they receive benefits now by paying the same fee that men currently pay? The judges considered the arguments under the purview of Community Law on the Equal Treatment of Men and Women. It was a difficult case and was not decided on the day we attended the court. After the hearing, we had the honor of chatting over lunch with one of the three judges on the bench, Judge Koenraad Lenaerts, the Belgian Judge to the Court and President of the Chamber. He had just returned from the United States, where for the first time ever, the Supreme Court hosted the European Court of Justice for a series of meetings. Discussing the similarities and differences between the two courts with Judge Lenaerts and learning first-hand about the talks between the two High Courts was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. As one who is passionate about justice and equality, I valued the opportunity to examine and discuss the successes and failures of another judicial body, and consider the state of my own country’s judicial body from an international perspective.

The Fulbright Seminar was a unique opportunity to meet with scholars, scientists, judges, bureaucrats, and politicians, who share common interests in promoting cultural exchange and understanding of issues related to the EU and NATO. We Fulbrighters, who are just beginning to build our networks and find our places in the world were fortunate to have such outstanding people actively reaching out to help us on our journey. I also have no doubt that many of the Fulbrighters whom I met at the Seminar will one day accomplish great things, fill important leadership roles in the U.S. and abroad, and make a difference wherever they can. I enjoyed getting to know them at the Seminar and look forward to re-encountering them and working together on shared goals in the future.

4/3/07   
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