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Report from the FHP Real Lab Excursion "What does the EU have to do with Social Work?" to Brussels

Studierende stehen im Plenarsaal des Europäischen Parlaments in Brüssel

From the 25th to the 29th of April 2022, students were in Brussels. The aim of the excursion was to meet those involved in European social policy in order to better understand the EU concept and its influence on the social work profession. The aim was also to find out more about the so-called Pillar of Social Rights and the EU's action programme to implement the goals set out there.

– A report by Raja-Maria Conradt, Samira Wacker and Arne von Boetticher

As part of the "What does the EU have to do with social work?" living lab, eight of us set off for Brussels with Prof. von Boetticher at the end of April 2022. The aim of the excursion was to meet players in European social policy in order to better understand the concept of the EU and the influence of this "apparent giant" on the social work profession. It was also about finding out more about the so-called Pillar of Social Rights and the EU's action programme to implement the goals set out there. We got to know NGOs, the representation of the state of Brandenburg and an EU parliamentarian, visited the premises of the EU Parliament and were able to experience political life in Brussels for a few days.

Visits to the Parlamentarium and organisations

The first item on the programme was a visit to the Parlamentarium. The exhibition tells the story of how the EU came into being and shows key historical moments in Europe over the last few decades. It was exciting to realise how key moments in European unification can ultimately be traced back to the commitment of a few people in particular.

The first organisation we visited was FEANTSA, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) and umbrella organisation for over 120 national organisations working with homeless people. Their goal is to end homelessness in Europe by 2030. We were able to learn more about the different priorities of homelessness assistance and its organisation at EU level, as well as information about newer approaches, such as the "Housing First" concept.

We were then welcomed at the"Social Platform". Similar to FEANTSA, the Social Platform is an umbrella organisation that campaigns for social rights at EU level and represents the interests of its member organisations in Brussels. Our conversation with Alva Fynn, Secretary General of Social Platform, gave us an impressive insight into how the organisation tries to set the tone in EU social policy with personal commitment and a TEAM of (only!) six people.

The umbrella organisations of non-statutory welfare services in Germany, including theGerman Caritas Association, work together on the premises of the Bundesarbeitsgemeinschaft der Freien Wohlfahrtspflege e. V.(BAGFW-EU). On the second day, we met a representative of the BAGFW-EU and a representative of Caritas. Both organisations are involved in social, education and health policy discussions at European level. One current topic is a European minimum income in the sense of a subsistence minimum in all member states depending on the respective economic performance. On the one hand, this involvement takes place in a formalised way as a member of the European Economic and Social Committee, which is made up of representatives from all areas of organised civil society and has an advisory function. On the other hand, the work is carried out informally by submitting statements, holding personal discussions and organising events. Afterwards, we fortified ourselves with the often recommended chips at"Maison Antoine", where our former German Chancellor was a customer, and explored either the House of European History or Brussels city centre.

The third day began with a visit to the Representation of the State of Brandenburg to the EU. In conversation with the head of the EU representation and two of his employees, we all learnt more about how legislative procedures take place between the Commission, EP and Council, i.e. in the EU context, and what role an individual state representation plays in this.

Visit to the European Parliament

The final highlight was a visit to the European Parliament (EP). There we met with MEP (Member of the European Parliament) Gabriele Bischoff (SPD). Between two appointments, she told us about her career, her priorities and her daily work in Parliament. Afterwards there was some time for our questions and her view on the role of social issues in the EP. Two of Mrs Bischoff's staff members accompanied us through the building and its security barriers. Over a refreshing drink in the in-house "Mickey Mouse Bar", we were given interesting insights into how one becomes an MEP and what the processes are like in an MEP's office.

Afterwards, we were able to attend a meeting of the EMPL Committee(Committee on Employment and Social Affairs) and experience EU politics in real time. Topics included the "Adaptation of the provisions for health and safety at work in times of the COVID-19 pandemic" and the social protection of lorry drivers in cross-border long-distance transport and the work of the European Labour Authority (ELA) to monitor this. It was the right conclusion for us and made everything more tangible. The last item on the programme was a guided tour of the plenary chamber, where the incredibly demanding work of the translators left a particularly lasting impression.

WhatI found most exciting and inspiring was the visit to the EP's Social Affairs Committee, where I was able to experience politics up close for the first time and see how debates and decisions are made that (could) affect our everyday lives."

– Participant of the excursion

The trip to Brussels was an informative and exciting journey. Even outside of the programme, we spent most of the time talking, laughing and discussing our impressions, opinions and most importantly: the political mandate of social work.

I have long supported the thesis that social work has a political mandate and it was very positive to see that the focus of the trip and the output of the people we met there also confirmed this."

– Participant of the excursion

In between, there was a little time to try Belgian waffles and Belgian beer and when we had to rush to the train on Friday morning, we would all have liked to stay a day or two longer. The impression that remains is that the banner on the European Parliament "Come in and make your voice heard", which we initially tended to ridicule, is taken seriously and put into practice. The local activists were interested in finding out about our interests and perspectives and reporting on how interests can be incorporated into EU (social) policy.