Rick Steves: Brussels is the unofficial capital of Europe

Brussels, the capital of Belgium, offers visitors many enticements
BY RICK STEVES Published: January 20, 2013
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From the balcony overlooking the building's lobby, you'll see the giant Confluence sculpture with moving metal-wire pieces — representing people coming together for a common purpose. The audio guide tells you all about the building itself: In line with EU idealism, it's functional, transparent and very “green.”

The grand finale is the vast “hemicycle,” where the members of the European Parliament sit. Parliamentarians representing 160 different national political parties, organized into seven different voting blocs based on political ideals (rather than nationality), hash out Pan-European issues in this hall. It's one of the largest multilingual operations on the planet.

As you tour the headquarters, consider this: Europe has had its economic woes the last few years. (Who hasn't?) But a bold and ambitious experiment like the European Union is bound to have some growing pains, as member states with starkly different lifestyles, priorities and fiscal philosophies are now sharing one big pot. The fact is, while some of its members are struggling, most EU citizens are much better off today than they were 10, 20 or 50 years ago.

Naysayers continue to predict the imminent collapse of Europe. But what these people don't understand is that European unity is not just a convenient political talking point that's easily abandoned in tough times.

It's a way of life that most Europeans deeply believe in. A visit to Brussels and the EU headquarters proves this point: Ultimately Europeans believe as fiercely in unity, cooperation and celebrating diversity as Americans believe in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Rick Steves (www.ricksteves.com) writes European travel guidebooks and hosts travel shows on public television and public radio. Email him at rick@ricksteves.com and follow his blog on Facebook.