Sint-Dimpnacollege, 16-23 March 2002 0708/2012... · Sint-Dimpnacollege Background information 2...

of 24 /24
Sint-Dimpnacollege Background information 1 Background information brochure European week Sint-Dimpnacollege Geel

Transcript of Sint-Dimpnacollege, 16-23 March 2002 0708/2012... · Sint-Dimpnacollege Background information 2...


Background information


Background information brochure

European week

Sint-Dimpnacollege Geel


Background information


Table of contents











Background information




St Dimpna’s is a private-subsidized, mixed, catholic school,

aged 14-18. It has around 700 pupils in the sections

Economics-Modern Languages, Economics-Mathematics,

Greek-Latin, Latin-Modern Languages, Latin-Sciences, Latin-

Mathematics, Modern Languages-Sciences, Modern

Languages-Mathematics, Human Sciences and Sciences-


Besides their mother tongue Dutch, our pupils follow for at

least 3 years French, English and German. Nearly all these

boys and girls will be going to universities or to other higher

education schools. The school has a staff of about 70.

It got its name from a local saint, whose cult formed the

origin of a very old, traditional method in treating the

mentally ill, as it is still practised in Geel.

The Sint-Dimpnacollege arose 1 September 2001 as the result of a reorganisation

of secondary education in Geel. Before, there was the Sint-Dimpnalyceum, a

former secondary girls school, aged 12-18, and the Sint-Aloysiuscollege, a former

secondary boys school, aged 12-18. Within the new school community KOGEKA

pupils, teachers, headmasters and names were exchanged. Result: the Sint-

Dimpnacollege now has boys and girls aged 14-18 and the Sint-Aloysiusinstituut

has boys and girls aged 12-14.

Dimpna International Inc.

Since 1992 our school has built up some experiences with international exchange

projects. In that year we invited one school of each country of the European

Community for one week in Geel. That ‘European Week’ was repeated in

Luxembourg (LU, 1995), Helsinki (FI, 1996), Kingston-upon-Hull (UK, 1997),

Athens (EL, 1998), Mainz (DE, 2000) and Neumarkt am Wallersee (AT, 2001).

Meanwhile we started projects with schools from Vejle (DK), Rethymno (EL), Porto

(PT), Xanten (DE), ‘s Hertogenbosch (NL), Cinisello Balsamo (IT), Interlaken (CH),

Vänersborg (SE), Rareny (IE), Kemi (FI), Hellinikon (EL), Rathmines (IE), Galapagar

(EL), Åkrehamn (NO), Olkusz (PL), Salo (IT), Ormilia (EL), Pompia (EL), Dijon (FR),

Mainz (DE), Kongsberg (NO), Bagno a Ripoli (IT),Cervignano (IT), Paris (FR),

Holbæk (DK), La Ville du Bois (FR), Larisa (EL), Barcs (HU), Bollnäs (SE), Gaigalava

(LV), Litvinov (CZ), Paleo Faliron (EL), Fagaras (RO), Ljubljana (Sl), Pamplona (ES),

Marsala (I), Worms (DE), Alesünd (N0), Màlaga (ES), Joensuu (FI),.. .

The reason why we do this, is simple. The aim of education at school is to prepare

our pupils for society. That society is increasingly internationalising, certainly in

the small country called Belgium. The world is becoming one big house. But do


Background information


we feel at home in it? While physical distances are diminishing due to technical

developments, mental borders of extreme nationalism and creepy racism are

growing. While the economical Europe is unifying more and more, some fear that

the European cultures will degenerate. Therefore, if we want our pupils to become

real world citizens, we have to arrange meetings with pupils from other countries

in their own environment, so that they can experience foreign languages, habits,

cultures, countries, ... as an enrichment, not as a threat. Europe will only be truly

unified in the hearts of the Europeans, not with paper trade treaties.

Every exchange project is different, but we always try to respect some principles.

1. Exchanges are very worthwhile, although not compulsory at St. Dimpna’s.

That’s why we always work with volunteers, not with class groups! Any pupil can

participate. We do not select on the basis of the knowledge of foreign languages

or study results, eventually we take the motivation into account.

2. In principle exchanges are reserved for the pupils of our fifth form (16-17 years

old) because of educational and practical reasons. Longer lasting projects can

start with pupils of our fourth form (15-16) and end with our sixth form (17-18).

3. Because of the mixed up groups of pupils, all preparations have to be done

outside the lessons. That’s why motivation is an important feature for our

exchange pupils.

4. Exchanges are an excellent way of practising foreign languages. During the

exchanges the aim is not to speak perfectly English (or French or German), but to

dare it (as good as possible).

5. All exchange participants stay in host families, preferably one guest per host

family. This highly benefits the ready knowledge of foreign languages and the

acquaintance of the manners and customs of the host country. Besides, this is not

only the cheapest way to stay abroad, but also the most pleasant and informing.

The participants get to know the every days life, not the tourist mask.

6. Exchanges are based on reciprocity: those who have stayed in a host family,

will receive their former host in their house. Only when this is impossible for

serious reasons, we deviate from this base.

7. Exchanges are expensive. That’s why we always try to get as much financial

support as possible from e.g. the Flemish Ministry of Education or the European

Union. Also our parents committee is involved in financing actively the exchanges

and the school itself invests in the coordination and realisation of European


8. Financial problems may never be the only reason for a pupil not to participate

in an exchange project. In such cases, we considerately lighten the costs for the

pupil in one way or another.

9. Exchange projects deal with a theme. The theme and the programme are

determined in consultation with the partner school(s).

10. The exchange program usually is a tasteful cocktail of lessons, study tours,

social and cultural activities and tourist trips, dependent on the theme.

Experience told us that this is a very enjoyable recipe to widen your cultural



Background information


I hope you understood well: these are the principles WE hold on to, not

necessarily our partners. Every school has its own educational project and the

freedom to organise its exchange projects according to it. But it’s good to know

each other’s point of view towards exchanging pupils, to prevent



Background information



Sint-Dimpnalyceum (1992-2001) & Sint-Dimpnacollege (2001-…)

Period Programme Project Partners







Protection Of The

Environment, Pressing


Xanten (DE), Rethymno (EL),

Porto (PT)



Lingua E FITAL Cinisello Balsamo (IT)



Comenius 1 Pure Water, An Emergency Kemi (FI), Hellinikon (EL),

Rathmines (IE), Åkrehamn (NO),

Porto (PT), Galapagar (EL) (E)



Comenius 1 SWIRBEL Vänersborg (SE), Rareny (IE)




Salo (IT)



Comenius 3.1


Comenius 2)

BISEL. Biotic Index at

Secondary Education Level

Gent (B), Mol (B), Argiroupolis

(EL), Vlissingen (NL), Kongsberg




Comenius 1 From The Vineyard To The


Mainz (DE), Dijon (FR)



Comenius 1 Endangered Species Hellinikon (EL), Kongsberg (NO),

Olkusz (PL), Porto (PT),

Galapagar (EL)



Comenius 1 Paideia 2000 Paris (FR), Bagno a Ripoli (IT)



Comenius 3 CFN. Comenius Freshwater


Fresach (A), Mol (B), Nicosia

(CY),Lyon (FR), Athens(EL),Barcs

(HO),Vilnius (LT), Brasov (ROM), Settle (UK), Kingston-upon-Hull (UK)



Comenius 1 Water Solidarity Holbæk (DK), La Ville du

Bois(FR),Larisa (EL),Barcs(HO),

Bagno a Ripoli (IT), Gaigalava (LV), Bollnäs (S)



Comenius Accompanying Measures Water Parliaments Vienna (A), Espalion (FR), Le Puy

(FR), Strasbourg (FR), Barcs (HO)



Comenius 1 The Ciconia Project

Kongsberg(NO), Olkusz(PL),

Porto (PT), Litvinov (CZ), Paleo

Faliron (EL), Fagaras (RO)



Comenius 1 PILE (project intercultural

de langues européennes)

Bollate (IT), Saronno( IT), Bollate

(I) Les Ulis (FR),

Massy (FR), La Ville du Bois –(

FR), Setubal (PT), Zaragoza

(ES), Salamanca (ES), Haunetal-

Neukirchen (DE), Neuenstein

(DE), Bad Hersfeld (DE), Craiova

(RO), Jud Constanta (RO), Serres



Background information




Minerva The Gisas Project Helsinki (FI), Ljubljana (SI), La

Ville du Bois(FR), Larisa (EL),

Barcs (HO), Bagno a Ripoli (ITT),

Gaigalava (LV), Bollnäs (SE)



Comenius 1 Garden of Eden Litvinov(CZ), Kongsberg (NO),

Olkusz (PL), Cervignano (IT)

Gaigalava (LV), Le Puy en

Velay (FR)



Minerva Free Your River Grenoble (FR), Cervignano(IT),

Tolmezzo (I) Ljubljana (Sl) WWF

(SW), WWF (I) Umweltbüreo Nord

E.V. (DE), Education Highway

(GmbH), WWF (Au)



Comenius 1 Home Green Home Helsinki (FI) Ljubljana (SI), Barcs

(HO), Fagaras( RO), Marsala(IT)

Porto (PT),



Euroklassen Nobel Kongsberg (NO)



Comenius 1 Eco Energy Vänersborg (SE)



Comenius Super Supper Ljubljana (SLO), Barcs (HO),

Pamplona (ES), Marsala (IT)



Comenius Art nouveau Worms (DE), Malaga (ES),

Alesund (NO)



Comenius Wine….not ? Marsala (IT), Pamplona (ES),

Joensuu (FI), Olkusz (PL)


Background information




Background information



Geel is a town with 34,000 inhabitants, in the province of Antwerp. It belongs to

the Flemish Community in federal Belgium. Until a few decades ago it was a rural

community. Because of its location near several canals, railways and the

international Motorway E313, Geel has also developed a large industrial area


For ages it has been known for the treatment of the mentally ill, who are not

taken up in an institution, but in families.

Geel is also a school centre: nearly 10,000 students and pupils attend secondary,

technical and higher education schools.

Psychiatric Family Care in Geel

Geel is known far beyond its boundaries for putting out its psychiatric patients to

board in families. This kind of ‘care’ means that psychiatric and mentally ill

patients stay in a foster family and participate in family life. This is a unique

feature in psychiatry, the basis of which lies in the legend of St Dimpna.

This legend, written down by Petrus van Kamerijk in about 1250, tells how an

Irish princess, Dimpna, died as a martyr in Geel in the year 600. According to this

document, Dimpna was the daughter of a heathen king of Ireland. Her mother,

the queen, had become a catholic and raised her daughter in the same belief.

After the death of his wife the king was inconsolable and nothing or nobody could

make him happy. His courtiers suggested that he remarried a woman who would

be as beautiful as his former wife. The messengers who were sent out all came

back without results because such a woman was not to be found. They then

advised the king to marry... his own daughter Dimpna. So the king, caught by a

devilish lust, asked his daughter in marriage. This proposal gave the deeply

religious Dimpna a great shock and she firmly refused.

With a few faithful servants, among whom her confessor Gerebernus and the

courtjester with his wife, she crossed the North Sea and reached shore at the port

of Antwerp. Upon fleeing further inland she found herself at Zammel, a hamlet of

Geel (near Westerlo), where she settled in a little hut.

Her father traced her with the help of an innkeeper from nearby Westerlo (the inn

was called ‘The Kettle’) who recognised the coins with which Dimpna had

previously paid her. The tradition added that the hostess, unaware of her

unintentional betrayal, pointed out the direction with her stretched arm, and this

was suddenly immobilized.

So this is how the king caught up with his daughter. But still Dimpna obstinately

refused to accept her father’s impossible proposal. Mad with fury the king fled

into a demented rage and beheaded his daughter. Gerebernus was also murdered,

and the inhabitants piously buried both martyrs.


Background information


The people started to honour them as holy martyrs. Miraculous healings followed

and in time the tomb became a place of pilgrimage in honour of Dimpna. This is

where the legend ends.

Can this folk legend historically be justified? This is hard to find out because we

are short of source material. Since the end of the Middle Ages Dimpna’s death has

traditionally been placed on May 30th of 600 AD. But this date cannot be proved

historically. The only evidence we can cling to are the remains of the white stone

coffins dating from the 8th or 9th centuries.

Then there is the so-called ‘Red Stone’, which may have been found in one of the

coffins and in which the name Dimpna is engraved. This ‘Red Stone’ might date

from the 9th century. The oldest wooden relic coffin of St Dimpna, which is still

preserved in the St Dimpna Church, could possibly go back as far as the 10th or

11th century. We know for certain that Dimpna was already being adored in Geel

then. Originally people venerated her as ‘martyr of purity’, and she was called

upon for the healing of all kinds of diseases. Some fragments out of her life story

stirred the imagination of the primitive medieval people.

Dimpna had resisted a father who was possessed by the devil. The image of a

possessed father and the fact that Dimpna, his daugther, had resisted him and

consequently the devil... all this made the medieval people believe that the ‘Saint’

Dimpna also had power over other persons who were possessed by the devil. In

short, after some time Dimpna grew into a ‘patron of insanity’.

The place of pilgrimage had a certain aura even before. In his ‘De vita Sanctae

Dimpnae’ Petrus Van Kamerijk relates how the inhabitants of the German city

‘Xanten by the Rhine’ attempted to rob the relics of the ‘Saints of Geel’. Some

historians place this event in the 10th century. Two papal letters (1329 and 1412)

confirm that during that period Dimpna’s fame as ‘patron of insanity’ had become

strong and was widely spread. Naturally there were other such holy figures

abroad, but Geel’s fame was wider spread due to the great number of ‘miraculous

healings’ that occurred ‘at the intervention’ of Dimpna.

At first the patients were housed in the church. Later on special buildings were

established for them. The present ‘Sick Chamber’ dates from 1687; the first

might have been finished in the 15th century. Chronicles from this period teach

that - just as everywhere else in Europe - methods of admission and treatment

demonstrated anything but a human approach. The treatment always consisted of

‘exorcism’-techniques. They always used medical prescriptions, not to forget the

importance of Dimpna’s relics, which were believed to have a ‘supernatural’

healing power. The patient in Geel had to confess and communicate (consecrated

wafer) as often as possible. Every three days he had to creep barefoot under St

Dimpna’s reliquary, among such other things as staying within the Sick Chamber

for nine days and drinking from the ‘ablution water’ (= water to clean the chalice)

after the daily mass. The patient was also weighed and had to sacrifice his weight

in corn to Dimpna. These were the various penances during a ‘noveen’ and they

were written down in the Liber Innocenticum.


Background information


We are not well informed about the number of pilgrims reaching Geel each year

but the names of foreign pilgrims, especially Dutchmen, Irishmen and Spaniards

frequently occur in the archives of the St Dimpna Church.

It is very likely that family care developed in the late Middle Ages. Some

psychiatric patients were put out by their own relatives with citizens who lived

near the St Dimpna Church. Later on family care expanded to the whole territory

of Geel.

The putting out of patients in foster families was carried out by clergymen until

the end of the 18th century. In 1797 the French revolution put an end to this first

religious phase of family care in Geel. The priests were driven away, and the

church was closed. Until the 19th century the St Dimpna Church kept being a

church for pilgrims rather than a parish church. It was part of the centre parish St

Amands till 1874, the year in which the St Dimpna Parish was founded. The

families who took in patients were financially paid for by the patients’ relatives.

The year 1850 meant a definite break with the past: family care in Geel was put

under the supervision of the State by a national law. In this way, the State - in the

form of the Ministry of Justice - took family care under its authority as a ‘State

Colony’. In 1862 the State built an ‘infirmary’, a central hospital, developed by the

architect Pauly, according to the progressive ideas of Professor Guislain from


The Geel State Colony soon became renowned throughout the world for its

system and it was followed in a lot of places. The number of patients increased

rapidly and reached its climax in 1938 with 3,726 patients in a total number of

20,000 inhabitants in Geel. By then Geel had become a rural municipality with an

urbanised centre. The patients came from home and abroad.

The group of the Netherlands have always led a ‘different’ life. Especially for them

the vicar Elie Van Dissel from Bladel (the Netherlands) set up a special association

which was called ‘The Association for the Benefit of Suffering Inhabitants of Geel,

Cared for in Geel’. Though protestant originally, this association addressed its

services to all patients, liberal, jewish or catholic. The protestant temple built in

1901 in Geel (Stationstraat (Station Street)) functioned both as church and club-

room. Part of the St Dimpna Church yard was reserved for protestant Dutchmen.

Patients were sent to Geel not only from the Netherlands but also form France,

Germany and even non-European countries. Worth noticing is that the Irish have

disseminated the cult of Dimpna throughout the world.

After the second world war the number of Dutchmen fell sharply. The State

Colony was reduced to an institution of national importance. At this moment a

thousand patients (in a totality of 34,000 inhabitants in Geel - 2001) still live in

Geel. The main reason for this decrease is undoubtedly a financial one (the cost

which has to be paid by the patients’ relatives or by the State).

Yet family care in Geel has not lost any of its vitality. Since the sixties an

international and multi-disciplinary project has been set up under the name ‘Geel,

Family Care Research Project’. The objectives were to examine whether the Geel


Background information


family care system could provide an alternative for the traditional institutional

psychiatric care in

hospitals. The Geel system symbolizes this unique and more human alternative.

Today, in the context of regional formation, family care in Geel comes under the

Ministry of Public Health of the Flemish Community and it received its present

title: Public Psychiatric Centre. (Recently the value of the family care system has

been officially acknowledged in a new decree - by the Federal Flemish


The cult of St Dimpna had stopped a few decades ago, but since 1975 the 15th of

May has been celebrated as ‘St Dimpna’s Day’ and every five years the St Dimpna

procession marches through the centre of Geel. The St Dimpna Museum and

‘Gasthuismuseum’ (Hospital Museum) opened a section exclusively dealing with

family care of insane people.

A final remark.

After the second worl war the Geel tourist services launched a new slogan: ‘Geel,

City of Charity’. It is up to you to find out this week if it deserves this honourable




Background information





Written historical records situate the origin of Bruges at about 850 A.D. The

origin of Bruges as a centre of commerce is closely connected with a sequence of

inundations, called the Dunkerque Floods, during wich the actual Zwin, a direct

outlet to the sea, was formed by a storm in 1134.

To defend the Flemish coast against the increasing Viking incursions, the early

counts of Flanders built a series of strongholds wich gave rise to cities. That is

how Bruges became a military fortress in Western Europe. At the same time, it will

become the centre of a settlement, around wich the coastal area of Flanders will

develop. The name “Brugge” could be a derivate of the Norwegian “bryggja” which

means “landing-place”. With direct access of the sea, Bruges became a commercial

centre with relations, not only with the neighbouring countries, but also with

regions in North, East and South Europe. So the city reached its most flourishing

period in the 13th century. In the 13th century, the prosperous Country of


Background information


Flanders was incorporated into the French crown-land, but already in 1302 a

revolt in Bruges led to municipal independence.

In the 15th century Bruges became the art centre of the Low Countries. The end

of the 15th century will mean the definite decline of the medieval splendour of

Bruges. The outlet to the sea had been constantly threatened by the silting up of

the Zwin. Flanders rose up against Maximilian of Austria in 1485. This caused

political instability and most foreign merchants emigrated.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the city obtained a new access to the sea

with the harbour Zeebrugge and the Baldwin Canal.

The museums of Bruges contain a unique collection of world famous paintings of

the Flemish Primitives.

Lovers of tapestry, lace, ceramics, pewter and wrought iron work find what suits

them in the churches and the municipal museum.

City of Art

Halles and Belfry

The Belfry is the symbol of freedom of a medieval city. The original edifice was

probably replaced by a brick belfry about 1240. Since then the tower has been

altered more than once. The tower has a famous carillon composed of 47 bells.

From the top, you have a panorama of the city.

The Halles date back from the same period as the tower. The ground flour was

used as a covered market.

The Burg Square

For nearly thousand years the Burg Square has been the centre of religious,

judicial and administrative activities. Of the original stronghold nothing is left but

its name. The edifice represents the different styles of nine centuries history.

Opposite the Town Hall, a scale model represents the Carolingian Chapel, built in

the 9th century.

The Basilica of the Holy Blood

This renowned place of pilgrimage consists of two superimposed oratories.

Every year on Ascension Day the celebrated procession of the Holy Blood goes

trough the streets of the city. In the museum the reliquary of the Holy Blood is to

be admired.

The Town Hall

This monument is one of the most beautiful Gothic town halls in Flanders. Of

special interest inside the Town Hall is the Gothic Hall.


Background information


The Old Recorders’ House

This edifice is one of the most remarkable monuments with Renaissance style

elements in Bruges.

The Former Court of Justice

This building (dating from 1727) is housing the Tourist Information Service and

the City Record Office.

Church of Our Lady

This church was built in the Middle Ages. The imposing brick tower dominates the

city. It’s 375 feet high.

We also notice the beautiful beguinage, the Minnewater,.... and the Reien. There

are also a lot of typical houses and squares.


Background information




Background information




Background information




Here is thus a summary of figures about the City of Brussels:

1 national and European capital

165.090 inhabitants (calculated by National Register on 1st January 2011)

surface of 32,61 km2

population density of 5062,5 habitants / km2

163 nationalities

296 km of public road network

4.324 municipal agents working in 338 public buildings

2.300 workers of the CPAS - OCMW (Public Welfare Centre)

2.359 policemen and employees of the Zone Bruxelles-CAPITALE-Ixelles and

495 police vehicles

350.000 commuters each day

650 demonstrations a year

42 green spaces of which 4 cemeteries

39 public playgrounds and 4 cemeteries

Population of the City of Brussels

The number of inhabitants of the City of Brussels (centre, Laeken, Neder-Over-

Heembeek and Haren):

Year Number of inhabitants

2000 136.673

2010 161.771

The Belgian capital may not be large, but it nevertheless has great ambitions, and

- as a truly world-class city - it is a veritable Mecca for encounters at every level.

Brussels today is home to more international organizations than London, Paris or

Geneva. It has become a centre of gravity for all currents of ideas and activity.

N.A.T.O. and many of the European Union‘s decision-making and administrative

institutions have long been established in Brussels, and many more Community

organizations are presently being installed here.

Brussels is a place where people feel at home, and while the city may be humming

with activity, calm and refreshing nature is never more than a stone’s throw away

- sometimes even in the heart of the city’s most lively quarters - with an

abundance of ponds, forests and bridle paths for those who love to stroll and



Background information


An open city, Brussels welcomes its visitors with the wide range of attractions it

has wisely preserved. With its rich tradition, its imposing facades and stately

parks, proud of its success, its present and its future, Brussels is a city of striking

contrasts: ... between the majestic architecture of the Grand-Place (Grote Markt),

and the futuristic Atomium, ... between a simple meal beneath the cherry trees,

and restaurants which are among the most sophisticated in all of Europe, ...

between the early morning “flea” market, and the Antiques market held in the

shadow of the Gothic tracery of Notre-Dame of the Sablon, ... between the calm of

the suburbs, and the hustle and bustle of the city centre’s commercial streets ...

the heart of the city - a pedestrian’s kingdom and a veritable feast for the eyes -

remains lively until hours of the morning. Restaurants, pubs, street artists, ...

everything contributes to produce a captivating atmosphere. At every turn,

visitors encounter traces of history, that of the European dream as old as Brussels

itself. The city’s many museums display priceless collections which are the envy

of the world: from works by the greatest painters of the Courts of Europe, such as

Rubens and Rembrandt, to the iguanodons discovered by coal miners in the 19th


Appealing, seductive, Brussels delights its visitors, revealing to them its most

precious treasure: its humanity.

European Institutions

The European Union has its main base of operation in Brussels – the European

Parliament sometimes sits in Strasbourg, France and institutions can also be

found in Luxembourg. The build up of European activity has resulted in

development of the European Quarter on the east side of the city, located in the

area between metro Arts-Loi, metro Trone, Place Jourdan and metro Schuman. In

this rectangle you will find street after street of glass covered buildings, which

serve different branches of the European Union.

the European Union institutions that make up European Brussels include the

European Union, the European Commission, the European Parliament, the Council

of Ministers and the European Council. Many countries also have

their embassies based in Brussels to take advantage of proximity to the European

Union institutions.

1 European Union

The European Union is a supranational organisation of

countries given power by European treaties to create

legislation that supersedes all national legislation in

areas including, but not limited to, trade, border

control, foreign policy, agriculture, defence and

industry. The spirit of the cooperation between

European countries is to gain strength in unity. Since

its inception in 1951, European countries within the


Background information


union have not experienced a war between member countries; it has established

its own currency and its own internal borders.

The European Union today has 27 member states, 7 candidate states, an anthem

and its own flag. Its international significance has become important and the CIA

World Factbook has recently created a separate entry for the European Union

alongside other country records. Here are some basic facts about the European


The European Union was the result of a successful industrial alliance between six

founding countries in Europe in 1951 that has now grown to become a mammoth

economic and political force creating policies that affect almost 500 million

people each year. The work of the European Union is carried out by different

European institutions based in Brussels, Luxembourg and Strasbourg, France.

Each European institution plays a unique role to generate a democratic process

for law and policy development for member countries.

2 European Commission

The European Commission (EC) comprises of commissioners who are nominated

by member states to draft proposals for new laws and policies. As well as 27

commissions (one per state) there are more than 25,000 civil servants carrying

out the work of policy drafting and implementation.

Sources for legislative proposals come from European treaties, recommendations

by the European Parliament and the European Council. Draft proposals are

debated on by the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament before they

can be passed as EU laws and policies. Once legislation is passed, the European

Commission also ensures individual member countries put in the place measures

to implement the legislation.

3 European Parliament Brussels

Similar to a national parliament, the European Parliament (EP or Europarl) consists

of an elected group of representatives called Members of the European Parliament

(MEPs), there are 785 MEPs after the 2004 elections. The role of the European

Parliament is to amend, delay or reject new laws.

In terms of hierarchy, they are traditionally less powerful that

the Council of Ministers who are able to pass certain laws

without the co-decision of the European Parliament. Areas of

legislation include justice and citizenship, external

relationship, agriculture and fisheries, budget, culture and

education, economic and monetary affairs, employment and

social affairs, internal market and industry, regions and

transport and health and environment.

Elections have been held once every five years since 1979

and the European Union is trying to increase voter turn out at

these elections. There are 7 political parties vying for seats.

Parliament plenary sessions are held in Strasbourg (France) 12 times per year and


Background information


all other committee meetings and the official seat of the parliament is in Brussels


4 Council of Ministers

The Council of Ministers is officially called the ‘Council of the European Union’ or

Consilium in Latin. It is the main decision-making body of the European Union,

working in partnership with the European Parliament to pass new laws for

the European Union member states. Ministers for particular areas such as foreign

policy, transport, finance, agriculture or trade, will represent their member state

depending on the issue discussed.

Draft law proposals are written by the European Commission and used as input

into meetings where these draft laws are voted on and passed into legislation. As

at 2009, 345 votes are divided amongst 27 member countries. These are

distributed according to agreements in the European treaties. Depending on the

clauses set out by the treaties a law may need a simple majority, qualified

majority or a unanimous vote.

After new laws are passed, the Council of Ministers takes upon itself to co-

ordinate any laws which involve security and foreign policy, and police and

judicial co-operation in criminal matters.

5 European Council

The European Council is not literally an institution; it is a summit of

representatives of each member state (usually the head of state, such as the

President and/or Prime Minister). These meetings are held 4 times a year at the

Justus Lipsius building in Brussels. The European Council’s role is to issue

declarations or resolutions at the end of each meeting.

Before 2002, all meetings were held in the country of the presiding Presidency by

rotation, but due to concerns about cost to the environment and budget, this was

gradually changed.

This Council differs from the Council of Ministers in that it does not pass

legislation or have powers to co-ordinate activities within the

European Union. However, it is considered a steering committee that

drives the direction of the European Union on topical issues of the

day – climate change, financial crisis and admission of new member

states for example.

The President of the Council is also the chair of these quarterly

meetings. The President has no voting rights but he/she is

responsible for organising the meeting. Herman Van Rompuys (B) is

the president since 2010.

International institutions in Brussels

Embassies in Brussels

On last count there are about 210 foreign embassies and consulates in Brussels –

some countries have a consulate and an embassy office in Brussels. These


Background information


embassies and consulates, ranging from A to Z (Afghanistan – Zimbabwe),

represent their countries within Belgium. Embassies are spread all over Brussels

city but the highest concentration is along Avenue Louise (the high class

shopping area) and downtown by the Royal Park.

North Atlantic Treaty Organization

NATO is a military alliance of European and North American countries, established

after the signing of the treaty in 1949. The purpose of the alliance is the

enhancement of security of and military cooperation in the North Atlantic region

and the regions surrounding member states and partner states. NATO’s

headquarters in Brussels is the political headquarters of the organization and the

seat of the North Atlantic Council, NATO’s political decision-making body. It is

home to national delegations from the member countries and among others, to

liaison offices or diplomatic missions of partner countries. They are supported by

NATO’s International Staff and International Military Staff, which are also located

within the headquarters.


Background information



Brussels, a capital city

Brussels is a little bit of everything: an agglomeration of 19 communes forming one of the three Regions of

the federal Belgian state; the capital of the Kingdom of Belgium; the headquarters of the French and Flemish

Communities. Hence it is officially a bilingual territory. Brussels is also the home of the European

Commission and the Council of the European Union. Furthermore, geographically speaking, Brussels is

located in the middle of the 15 member states of Europe.

Its origin

Where does the name ‘Brussels’ come from? Brussels dates back to the Dutch word ‘broek’, which means

‘marsh’. In Celtic, ‘bruoc’ was the word designating the vegetation of marshes, heather; and ‘sella’ meant

‘chapel’. When the city was born, around 977, in the depths of the valley, the Senne, an impetuous and

variable body of water and its frequent floods led to the formation of marshes. (Its history dating back to

medieval times explains for a rather chaotic street-map.)


Brussels being the official bi-lingual capital of Belgium implies that practically all the official indications like

names of streets and traffic indications, fire exits etc.. are given in two languages: French and Dutch. The

majority of the people in Brussels speak French. English however is rapidly becoming an important language

in Brussels because of the numerous international political organizations. In restaurants, cafés, hotels one

should not have too many problems getting around in English. The Dutch-speakers in Brussels will easier

communicate in English than French-speakers.


Much bought souvenirs are :

1. chocolates : Everywhere in the city you will find chocolate shops. Those around the ‘Grand Place’ stay

open until 9 or 10 p.m.

2. beer: Belgium is the best (we try to be objective) beer country in the world. There are nowadays numerous

beer shops around the ‘Grand Place’ where you can buy most of the Belgian beers. New are the cardboard

boxes which contain a few bottles of one specific kind of beer together with the matching beer glass. (Note:

in Belgium every beer has its own specially designed glass.) Typical for Brussels are the fruit beers (cherry,

raspberry, peach…).Or what about a wonderful Trappist beer, made in one of the Abbeys of Belgium? Be

careful when drinking a Trappist beer. These beers tend to be very strong (between 8 and 11.5 percent of


3. lace : still the most bought souvenir of Brussels. Plenty of lace shops sell our different kinds of lace and


4. comic strips : In Belgium comic strips have become something like the 7th art, thanks to the popularity of

comic strip characters like Tintin. In the shop of the Comic Strip museum you can buy comic strip albums in

different languages, as well as different items with comic strip heroes in it (ties, T-shirts, beakers, key-

hangers, towels, underwear etc….)


Background information