UCL European Institute


European Institute takes students to Brussels

24 February 2023

As part of the Practice Module led by the European Institute for the MSc in European Politics and Policy, students travelled to Brussels to see EU policymaking at work.

Image of Brussels with sun shining

How do big events upset policy? What is the EU’s foreign policy approach towards Russia and China? To answer these questions and more, the European Institute and the students on our European Politics, Policy and Law in Practice module embarked on a trip to Brussels from 15-17 February.

The first of its kind, the study trip was tailored as an interactive experience for students to engage with practitioners on a range of issues, from climate and sustainability policy over political messaging and foreign policy to communicating the EU as a journalist. Our programme included a curated series of conversations with policymakers and think tank, advocacy and media professionals, as well as a networking reception with UCL alumni.

We were welcomed to the Residence of the UK Ambassador to the EU for a discussion on UK-EU relations after Brexit. Deputy Head of Mission, William Macfarlane, and six members of various teams within the UK Mission shared their insights on how relations have changed since the UK left the EU, from trade over transport, international development to legal and political affairs. They also engaged in an open conversation on their career development in diplomacy and how they came to work in Brussels.

Image of students speaking with policymakers from EU institutions

We went on to scrutinise the European Green Deal, which sits at the heart of the EU’s overall political and economic strategy with its target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Martin Porter of the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership discussed what we can expect NGOs, businesses and other advocacy and lobbying organisations to do to ensure tthe EU achieves this commitment.

Heather Grabbe of the Open Society Foundations led a practice session on political messaging, where students tried their hand at drafting a State of the Union speech for Ursula von der Leyen. We explored how big events upset policy frameworks and how policy-makers adapt in response, in particular, how the EU had to adapt its enlargement and green policies as a result of the war in Ukraine. 

Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine remained a focus as representatives from the European External Action Service spoke with us about the EU’s foreign policy approach towards Russia in light of the war . In a separate insight session held at the European Parliament (EP), members of the European Parliament Research Service discussed the challenges in establishing independence from Russian fossil fuels, as well as delving into EU-China relations, and offering practical information on how the service informs agendas and decisions throughout the policy cycle.

The programme was rounded off with a visit to POLITICO newsroom to hear from Bjarke Smith-Meyer and colleagues about scoops, stories, career options and journalistic business models; a visit to the European Commission for a policy-oriented session on its trade policies; and finally, an inspiring tour of the House of European History.

The European Institute and the UK Mission to the EU hosted a networking reception for UCL alumni as part of our visit, allowing current students the opportunity to engage with alumni now working in Brussels in policy roles and to learn more about their experiences. We were delighted to see so many in attendance – thank you for coming. We look forward to holding similar events in the future.

A huge thank you to those who made our meetings possible, and above all to all our guest speakers for taking time out of their busy schedules to share their experiences and thoughts with us:

  • At the UK Mission to the EU: Ambassador Lindsay Croisdale-Appleby; Deputy Ambassador William Macfarlane; Political Counsellor and Deputy Head of Mission Nick Leake; Paul Lakin (political); Michael Vidler and Benjamin Simpson (foreign policy & development); Alice Vickers (legal); Daniel Bradley (international development); Matthew Small (transport), Philippa Marsh (trade)
  • Martin Porter, Executive Chair, Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership
  • Heather Grabbe, Senior Advisor, Open Society Foundations
  • Richard Freedman, European Parliament
  • Alex Wilson, Energy Policy Analyst, Economic Policies Unit, European Parliament Research Service
  • Ulrich Jochheim, Policy Analyst, External Policies Unit, European Parliament Research Service
  • Joanna Apap, Strategic Liaison with Academia, Strategy and Innovation Unit, European Parliament Research Service
  • Bjarke Smith-Meyer, Fintech Correspondent, POLITICO
  • Cecilia Di Cristofaro and Letizia Dessi, Talent Acquisition team, POLITICO
  • Michael Mann, Head of Division for Relations with Israel, Occupied Palestinian Territories and the Middle East Peace Process, European External Action Service
  • Jon Kyst, Head of Sector, and Maija Valivaara, Policy Officer, Russia Division, European External Action Service at the EEAS Russia Division
  • Jack Kelly, Policy officer, DG Education, Youth, Sport and Culture, European Commission
  • Katja Modric Skrabalo, Policy officer, DG Trade at the European Commission
  • Evdoxia Nerantzi, Chair, Brussels Advisory Group

If you would like to get involved with the European Institute in the future by hosting a talk or attending one of our networking events, please contact Claudia Sternberg.


Student feedback:
I really enjoyed the trip and found it incredibly valuable in complementing the more academic elements of this course. It provided really interesting practical information about how the theories we learn about are applied in real life. It was also incredibly eye-opening about the career opportunities available.
This trip has definitely been one of the highlights of my masters degree.