Zags in Florence – Day 4

On Thursday, May 25th, our class gathered at the Gonzaga in Florence building to meet Guido before walking together to the Firenze Santa Maria Novella Train Station to travel to Pontedera, Italy. In Pontedera is located the headquarters and one of the global manufacturing facilities of the Piaggio Group, which is the maker of several vehicle brands including Vespa, Aprilia, Gilera, and Moto Guzzi, amongst others.

Getting off the train at Pontedera, we immediately found ourselves on Piaggio Street, which was indicative of the size and importance of the factory under the same name. After walking five minutes or so along the seemingly endless factory, we reached the outside of the visitor’s center, which was decorated not only with iconic Vespa’s, but a small plane and railroad cars.

Upon arriving at Piaggio, we were greeted by a member of the Human Resources team who presented us with the history and present corporate view of the corporation. Beyond Italy, Piaggio manufactures vehicles in Scorze, Italy; Mandello del Lario, Italy; Baramati, India; Vinh Phuc, Vietnam; and Foshan, China. This latter operation is the result of a partnership and is not a purely Piaggio venture.

After this presentation, we were provided with a directed tour of the Piaggio Museum, which detailed many of the historic vehicles made by Piaggio over the past 70 years. In the past, Piaggio was not simply a manufacturer of compact transportation for the public. Beginning as a producer for the Italian Air Force (explaining the airplane out front), Piaggio established itself as a mechanical producer, but could not maintain the airplane business as their demand ended along with World War II. They dabbled in railroad cars for a time, however, Piaggio focuses predominantly on compact transportation. The museum was almost exclusively focused on Vespa and Gilera, which may be because these are the central brands of the company while other brands were only recently acquired in the past 20 years. Unfortunately we did not get to tour the manufacturing operations during our visit.

 

Written by,

Ian Wallace, Erik Hurson & Jordan Butler

Zags in Florence – Day 5

After a long week exploring Florence, we have finally arrived to our last day of the course. We have a long day ahead of us with a visit to GKN Driveline Firenze and Principe Corsini Winery Villa Le Corti. We met our favorite guide, Guido, at the Gonzaga in Florence Campus who led us to the bus station a few miles away where we experienced Italian public transportation on our way to GKN in Capalle.

       

At GKN Reception

When we arrived, we received security badges at reception and observed a little red robot try and mow the lawn at the facility. We made our way to the lobby of GKN and observed a few exhibits about what the company does before being led to a conference room where a few of the managers including Filippo Marinai, Emanuela Bologna, and Jacopo Campolmi gave us a presentation on the overview of GKN Firenze including its management structure, industry segments in which GKN operates, sales, number of employees, products, customers, assets, communication process, and GKN’s integration of industry 4.0.

   

In the GKN Lobby

After the enlightening presentation and a brief safety overview, we were given a few minutes for coffee and pastries. We were introduced to a fancy espresso machine that entertainingly caught our attention. It apparently takes several zags to operate an Italian espresso maker. After a short coffee break, we were escorted to a room with safety equipment to put on before we went on a tour of the factory. We looked pretty good in our neon safety gear.

 

Zags trying to make espresso

 

Zags in neon safety gear

Filippo was our guide and explained that GKN make drivelines for many automotive manufacturers including Smart, Fiat, Chrysler, General Motors, Mini, Audi, Land Rover, Jaguar and even high-end vehicles such as Porsche and Ferrari. He led us to a room near the factory entrance with several whiteboards outlining the current operations and goals of the firm. The categories that GKN outlined included Health Safety and Environment, Quality, Supply Chain, Finance, Maintenance, Lean Operations (continuous improvement), and Value Stream Machining. There was also a board with a structured communication process to help increase the efficiency of the firm’s operations.

 

   

Zags learning about GKN’s operations

GKN Firenze was a clean and organized operation and seemed like a well-oiled machine. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take photos inside the factory. But it was well laid out and use a lean modular cell design for the different products being produced at any given time. The cell layouts could be rearranged to produce a different product as needed. The technology was state-of-the-art and the use of robots was frequent. GKN Firenze even made use of a top-of-the-line 3D printer to machine prototypes and replacement parts which was another interesting addition to their research and development department is a very large, free-standing 3-D printer.  This unit is allowing them to test the production of an aircraft component made with a durable plastic, rather than aluminum, resulting in a much lighter component, which would be of benefit to aircraft manufacturers.

All-in-all, GKN Firenze had a comfortable working atmosphere and is a great place to work. The facility was immaculate and well-lit. The employees seemed comfortable and content. At GKN, several lean-inspired practices caught our eyes (Apart from the little red lawn robot, which we couldn’t stop watching). The company has integrated many bigger-than-life robots into its production lines to perform precise assemblies of various component parts. We were able to see some of the ways that company technicians monitor and repair the robots, when necessary. The robots are obviously one of the ways the company is able to run its factory 24/7, without the need for dozens more employees.

 

     Zags at a bus stop 

We returned to the safety gear room and quickly removed our gear as to catch our bus back to the city. When we got back to town, we had an hour to get a quick bite before meeting at Santa Maria Novella to catch another bus to the Tuscany countryside. After a 45 minute ride, we arrived at Principe Corsini. Tuscany was exactly like it looks in the photos and movies. When we arrived at Corsini, it was kind of like a dream. There was an outdoor sitting area that was perfect for taking a nap in the afternoon sun with a cold glass of vino bianco, which many of us would do, given the chance.

 

 

Outside Villa Le Corti | Zags taking naps

 

 

Tuscany, exactly what we expected

Nonetheless, we were led through the winery and our well-educated guide told us all about the history of the winery and the Corsini family as well as the wine making process. We walked through the entire winery which is situated underground, underneath the breathtaking gardens of Villa Le Corti. We walked through rooms with hundreds of barrels for aging the wine as well as more technical areas of the winery with machines for processing the grapes and olives. The Villa is extremely old but well maintained by the family. It had been abandoned for many years before the family returned and turned it into the winery it is today.

 

  Villa Le Corti Garden

 

Walking through the facility is like walking through a museum. It is a piece of Italy’s history. The family has kept many of the artifacts that were left there from before including old wine bottles and an entire room filled with hand-made terra cotta barrels that were once used to age wine. We also got the chance to see the facility where olive oil is made. Our guide explained that for their olive oil to receive the highest accreditation, the olives must be processed within six hours of being picked. After six hours, the same olives and process are used to make the olive oil but anything produced after six hours must be bottled and labeled separately.

At Corsini Winery, an interesting footnote is that the estate includes olive trees, which the owners–past and present–use to make olive oil. Wine and olive oil seem like a wonderful combination of Tuscan products, and may give tourists an extra reason to visit the winery! Although not used in this day and age, the very old terra cotta olive oil jugs are kept (see photo) as a testament to the centuries-old practice of turning olives into a culinary staple for kitchens across the world.

 

Terra Cotta Barrels /Ancient Wine Bottles

After the tour, we were given the opportunity to meet the manager and learn about the sales and marketing of wine from Principe Corsini. From what we recall, over 40% of their wine is exported to the United States and another 30% is exported to other European countries; France being the largest buyer in Europe. Being such a small producer, it is difficult for the winery to control sales in other countries, especially the United States. Their current strategy is working with a North American buyer that sells to distributors mostly in the North East United States. Corsini hopes to increase their reach in the future but are limited by their current capital.

 

 

Principe Corsini Winery | Artistic

Following the discussion with the manager, we were seated in a tasting room with a full spread of cheese and meats in front of us as well as selection of three wines and two olive oils for tasting. Needless to say, there was not much left after. With full stomachs and tiredness setting in, we stumbled back to the bus stop and made our way back to Firenze.

 

 

Principe Corsini Wine Tasting

 

Principe Corsini Wine Tasting | It is all gone

Our last day studying in Florence was a long day packed full of exciting activities. Whether we were observing how a multinational manufacturer uses lean operations or tasting wine fresh out of the barrel, we learned much about how business in Europe can be so different from the United States, yet share the same essential principles of running a successful operation. We are grateful for the opportunity given to us over the last two weeks to learn in such a unique way and for all the relationships we made in such a short period. This was truly the trip of a lifetime. Thank you, Gonzaga, Professor Tamara Evans, Guido, and especially Dr. Mirjeta Beqiri for this amazing opportunity.

With love from Florence,

Connie Lipsker | David Freet | & the rest of the Gonzaga in Belgium and Italy Crew

Zags in Florence – Day 3

On Wednesday, May 24, 2017, we took a bus to San Sisto to visit the Perugina Chocolate Factory. We went with the undergrad group who were studying at Gonzaga-in-Florence. When we arrived, we started the tour with a brief movie about the history of chocolate making and the operations of the chocolate factory. After the movie, we walked through the Perugina museum and saw the “School of Chocolate,” where they teach people how to make chocolate. The tour guide explained how the different types of chocolate became famous. In particular, the Baci chocolate, which is hazelnut and chocolate, is what Perugina is most known for. Shortly after, we went over to the tasting room and sampled different types of chocolate including white chocolate, milk chocolate, dark chocolate, and extra dark chocolate. Some of the samples contained almonds and hazelnut.

From there we were able to take a tour of the factory where the chocolate is made and packaged from a catwalk above the machines. Unfortunately, the workers were in a union meeting during our tour so we were not able to see the process in action. Similar to our previous Coca-Cola tour, the entire process is almost completely automated and had the workers been there, they most likely would have only have been monitoring the machines. After the tour we had a chance to talk with the guide and ask her more questions. One of the most interesting facts we learned was that summer is the chocolate industry’s slow season so in the spring, the factory generally only runs every other week. Following the tour, we were each able to purchase chocolate and souvenirs from their gift shop and then we all climbed back on the bus for the 2 hour drive back to our hotel. The entire experience was very educational and it was perfect timing, because it ended up building on our previous knowledge from the chocolate tour in Belgium last week.

Written by,

Christy Vu & Kyla Gabriel

Zags in Florence – Day 2

Our visit to Pagani was definitely one of the most interesting tours during the Gonzaga in Belgium and Italy study abroad program. The tour opened with the Pagani Museum, where we were presented with the history of Pagani, as well as all the different car models belonging to the company. Pagani is located in what is known as the Motor Valley, the area of northern Italy renown for the manufacturing areas of the best of the motor and racing world. Competing with Lamborghini, Ferrari, Ducati, and Maserati, Pagani has earned its place alongside the legends of the motor industry. Our docent, Chiara, emphasized the passion of Mr. Pagani and his desire to build the most beautiful car in the world. The first 100% Pagani-produced automobile, the Zonda C12, was designed in 1992 and produced only 7 years later in 1999. As Chiara explained, the Zonda C12 was modeled in a “unique and sensual” way, in order to captivate customers and entice them to buy without even thinking, as their website says. Two main things that stood out from the Pagani Museum are the following phrases:  “The client is our boss” and “ Pagani allows the growth of both us [as a company] and our families.”

As Chiara also mentioned, the strong customer focus of Pagani has been key to the company’s success. Additionally, we were presented with Zonda S, Zonda F, Zonda Cinque, Zonda Tricolore, Zonda R, and Huayra BC models.  Later, the tour continued to the production area (no photographs permitted) where we were familiarized with the production line of Pagani cars.

Economics and Market

            Pagani Automobiles is also known for their exclusivity, which we learned all about while visiting their headquarters. It was during our tour that we all realized how Pagani markets and values their automobiles. All they do is done purely to make a market for these very exclusive automobiles for their very exclusive customer base. Their cars are completely customized to whatever the customer desires. This means that every car produced is unique and will not cost the same amount. Our tour guide walked us through the process of ordering a car — the customization options and combinations were essentially unlimited. Due to this, none of their automobiles costs the same amount or even shares an identical specification. A Pagani can range in price anywhere from €2 million to around €10 million. Part of the perception of value is established by limiting production runs to anywhere from 20 to 40 automobiles per year, as well as having maintaining a customer backlog with a 2-year waiting list. Production never begins on a Pagani unless a customer has first ordered it.  As Chiara explained, their automobiles only appreciate and never depreciate, making this piece of art not only a stellar automobile, but also a great investment for those who can afford one.

            To expand on the market Pagani has created, and to protect and nurture the relationship with their customers, they also create limited runs of special edition automobiles. These automobiles are always one-off and create not only a story, but tell a story with every car made. This example was made very apparent when we stumbled upon the gorgeous Pagani Cinque

Roadster numbered 5 out of 5. This car was specifically made for their Asia market and comes at a very hefty price now, estimated between €5 to €10 million, according to Chiara. We also witnessed the production run of the brand new Pagani Huayra BC model. This new “Hypercar” design pays homage to Mr. Pagani’s first customer, Benny Caiola.  This demonstrates just how much the company pays attention to their customers, building very close personal relationships with them.  The Huayra BC will be limited to only 20 production units — all of which immediately sold out over two years ago.  From the automobiles Pagani produces to the personal relationships they foster, they have created a great value through their market for automobiles and overall customer care.

Production Floor and Manufacturing

The intentional choices Pagani has made in their business model have comprehensively shaped their production operations.  Unlike direct competitors Lamborghini and Ferrari, who make multiple copies of their models, Pagani has decided to make each automobile one-of-kind, and even then, to produce only low volumes.  This distances Pagani even further from high-volume, mass-production automobile companies such as Audi or Chevrolet.  Thus, economies of scale that are typical, and considered an essential characteristic at major automobile manufacturers for achieving competitive advantage, are eschewed at Pagani.

The production floor is part of the consistent marketing message Pagani delivers.  This is important for at least two reasons.  The first is that customers normally will visit Pagani in order to make their selections, so Pagani wants to make an impression during the customer’s visit, and second, Pagani wants to make a work environment that is pleasant and efficient for its workers.  Everything on the main production floor was organized, clean – as clean as the cars on display – and well-lit.  Car chassis are mounted on dollies with lockable wheels so they can be rolled from one production work cell to another as they progress through their manufacturing operations.  We also were permitted to view examples of their books containing job travelers and quality checks.

The factory floor was probably about 10,000 square meters, and manufacturing operations could be directly visually observed between each of the rectangular work cells, which were of roughly equal sizes, varying around, 100 square meters each.  The production floor was very quiet, with work at the time being done by hand, and I do not recall seeing any air tools.

The carbon fiber manufacturing process was explained to us.  To limit discussion to just two highlights:  some of the carbon fiber used very thin gauge titanium wire interwoven with the carbon fiber to build semi-monocoque structural members, and Pagani maintains the original molds for each of the approximately 250 carbon fiber parts made for every one of the custom carbon fiber automobiles they have ever manufactured.

            Paganis, it’s an understatement to say, make an impression.  They are power and beauty, works of art, and this is reflected from the leather door-handle on the entrance to the bathroom replete with carbon-fiber sinks, to the assiduous and passionate detail to every part Pagani designs, manufactures, and sells.

Written by, 

Ines Troshani, Tim Hill, Blake Sanderson

Zags in Florence – Day 1

On Sunday, the Zags scattered for the weekend before meeting again in Florence. Some went to Rome, some to Bruges, and some stayed in Brussels for one more day. After flying from Brussels to Florence yesterday, I walked to the Ponte Vecchio, passing the Duomo on my way. I saw the Piazza de’ Pitti and ran into a Sunday market bursting with hand-crafted jewelry, bread, cheese, spreads, vegetables and more. The Boboli Gardens were a beautiful escape from the city, and I even fell asleep in the shade for a while.

Before we met at noon the next day, Zags found a (much-needed) laundromat or slept in a little to prepare for a big week. Since the Duomo is one of the only museums open on Monday, I bought a joint ticket for 15 euro and saw the Baptistery, climbed the Bell Tower and visited the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo. I recommend visiting the Duomo and doing some sight-seeing in the morning to avoid the crowds! While every museum in Florence is amazing, this museum houses two of my favorite works of art. Michelangelo’s last Pieta is the Pietà Rondanini, meant to adorn the artist’s own tomb. However, Michelangelo became so frustrated with the sculpture that one day, he began hacking away at it, cutting off several limbs and leaving it unfinished at the age of 82. The second sculpture is my absolute favorite, Donatello’s Magdalena Penitente. While Mary Magdalene is usually depicted as a beautiful woman with long blonde hair, this sculpture shows a different Mary Magdalene. Far from unmatched beauty, Donatello’s Mary Magdalene is emaciated and repentant; the sculpture is inspired by her ascetic lifestyle. After the Museo dell’Opera, I visited a café for a late morning latte and pastry.

The Zags finally all reunited at the Gonzaga-in-Florence (GIF) campus! Around the corner from our hotel, the GIF campus is also minutes away from the Duomo and The Accademia Museum. On campus we met Jason and Guido, a huge part of planning and putting together this amazing study abroad trip. Thank you Jason and Guido!! We walked to l’Raddi and ate lunch together near the Santo Spirito. Members of the various rival soccer teams in Florence often frequent this local hang out.  After lunch we walked to the shop of the last remaining metal artisan in Florence, hidden in the Piazza Santo Spirito. Giuiiano Ricchi, the metal artisan, has worked since he was just a 15-year-old apprentice to Carlo Cecchi and is now 70. He handcrafts all types of jewelry and other goods and is commissioned to design accessories and decorations for weddings and for designers like Ferragamo and Dior. Giuliano also gave us a demonstration of how he engraves sheets of metal, oftentimes with unique patterns specially made per the customer’s request. At the end of the visit, students had the opportunity to purchase some small gifts or personal souvenirs made by Giuliano in his shop.

Afterwards, many of us went for some gelato to keep cool on the walk to the Piazzale Michelangelo, a popular spot to watch the sun set over all of Florence. Further up the hill we found Basillica San Miniato al Monte.  After a moment of reflection and admiration of the great marble hall, we descended back down into the city.  On our way back we traversed through a picturesque garden with roses and strolled along the Arno River.  When we arrived back at the hotel some of us ventured off to dinner at Trattoria Tito, a GIF student favorite. Overall, a great start to our week in Florence!

Written by, 

Miranda Giorgi & Elena Slavoski

Zags take Brussels – Day 5

We started the day bright and early with a quick breakfast and then a 7:30am bus ride to Antwerp, to visit Coca-Cola and Diamond Land. We first went to Coca-Cola were we met our guide, Pierre, who spend the next 3 hours with us, teaching us about the company. We began the tour with our group being split in two groups, the Factory Phantoms and the Academy All-Stars, for a quick competition regarding who was the most knowledgeable about Coca-Cola. There were 10 questions about the company and while Pierre said it was a close game, the Academy All-Stars rose above. We then went on to learn more about the company’s values and mission; from their dedication to being a “green” organization to their never-ending efforts to satisfy their customer’s diverse needs. Pierre told us that while the company is currently about 20-30% sustainable their goal is to reach 40% sustainability by 2020! After learning a bit more about their environmentally friendly efforts (recycling, efficient transportation, ect.) we got to watch a short video about their history and marketing efforts.

   

 

From here we were all given stylish hair nets and headphones so we could tour the factory! We ended up walking around the entire facility and were able to observe the company’s production process all the way from start to finish. We observed how pre-collected dirty bottles were organized and cleaned, how bottles were expanded into their distinct shape, how the soda itself was produced and how the liquid was then bottled, packaged and stored to be picked up for delivery. What was most interesting about the entire process was how automated the entire facility was. While there were workers on site the majority of them were simply overseeing the machines. The machines did everything from transportation of the bottles, to packaging, to quality checks and everything in-between. Pierre mentioned that the entire system was one of the most sophisticated, automated factories in all of the EU! The entire tour, so far, was the most comprehensive and educational tours we had the pleasure of experiencing. Not only did we all have a great time but we each learned something new and were able to related the information being presented back to our studies. We don’t know what the plan is for next years trip but I’m sure we all agree Coca-Cola should definitely stay on the list of businesses to be visited! We ended the tour with a good-bye Coca-Cola product and hopped back on the bus to go to Diamond Land.

 

As we arrived in the city of Antwerp our bus was greeted with the warmest of welcomes but not unfamiliar at this point, a large domed structure laden with precious gold and spires reaching into the heavens.  Wealth and prosperity, with the bourgeoisie shopping centers and dozens of diamond merchants up and down the street, was the showcase for this leg of the journey. 

 

Entering an unassuming store, our group shuffled into DiamondLand, a purveyor of fine diamonds as a wholesaler and retailer of the precious stones.  Surprisingly, DiamondLand was only established 20 years ago but in that time it has established, through business partnerships, operations in Canada, West Africa, and the Middle East.  Our tour guide took us through the steps of how diamonds are shaped and tirelessly crafted by seasoned craftsmen, shaping tens of thousands of dollars worth of rocks with perfect precision.  After the short introduction of the firm and its role in the trade of diamonds, we were welcome to sample the goods like a ultra high end million dollar Costco, each of us trying on the diamonds which our hosts were hoping would gain our allure and have us shell out up to $100,000 for an engagement ring. 

Belgium’s role in the economic power of the greater European Union seemed most apparent with a hands on excursion as this one.  With highly valued diamonds expoerted all over the world sourced from mines just as wide stretching, DiamondLand provided an irrefutable testament to Belgium’s prestige in the global community. 

Written by, 

Xavier Collantes & Kyla Gabriel

Zags take Brussels – Day 4

Gonzaga’s historical ties to Florence and Italy make a trip to Florence uniquely rewarding for any Zag.  Integrating this trip with a visit to Brussels, the capital city of Belgium, the home of the headquarters of the European Commission, the House of European History, and much more, made for a perfect and immersive overview of Europe and what it means to do business there.

In Belgium, we visited the newly opened European House of History, where they synthesized centuries of Europe’s story.  It was profound, sobering, and ultimately optimistic and hopeful.  There were chilling artifacts from totalitarian régimes that tortured and murdered millions upon millions with ruthless, Godless amorality, such as the voice of Vladimir Ilich Lenin in a speech recorded during the Russian Bolshevik revolution, yet I saw how there has now been some seven decades of peace and relative prosperity throughout Europe.

Written by,

Tim Hill

Zags take Brussels – Day 3

Starting day three of our journey in Brussels, we shared another excellent breakfast here at the Wiltcher’s hotel (as well as some exceptional coffee). It was an earlier morning for us as our schedule had us arriving at the European Commission at 8:45. With the help of the concierge, we grabbed a few taxis and made our way to the Commission. After going through a security checkpoint, the host showed us to a lobby with an intricate timeline of the history of the European Commission which outlined the events that occurred within each presidency. Currently, the president of the commission is President Jean-Claude Juncker. The President is the head of the European Commission. According to the Treaties, he decides on the organisation of the Commission, allocates portfolios to members of the Commission and can make changes at any time. The President also determines the Commission’s policy agenda, defending the general European interest. The top ten priorities for the European Commission are: (1) jobs, growth and investment, (2) the digital single market, (3) energy union and climate, (4) internal market, (5) a deeper and fairer economic and monetary union, (6) a balanced EU-US fair trade agreement, (7) justice and fundamental rights, (8) migration, (9) a stronger global actor, and (10) democratic change.

European Commission

The first thoughts that came to our mind during the lecture at the Commission were about the difficulty in formation of the European Union. When we think of a strong unified union, we think of the United States. In the U.S. we take the fact that we have virtually no barriers to trade, employment, regulation, digital communication, language, or even qualifications when we move from state to state. The United States, however, was formed as a union from the start. It is difficult to get member states in the U.S. to agree on much. It must be extremely difficult to work with member states of the European Union as each have very different cultures, laws and language. According to the speakers at the Commission, the EU benchmarks themselves against the United States. 

European Commission

When trying to mesh such a variety of cultures and political climates, compromise has to happen frequently. The EU still seems somewhat chaotic in terms of operating structure and maybe the political system wants too much sameness and likeness between member states. The member states all bring their own cultural features to the Union. The question we must ask then, is uniformity for the better? The Union is not based on a constitution, rather a set of treaties that work for peace between member states. We asked how the second speaker at the Commission saw himself. Did he see himself as a European or as an German? Are many European people’s still very nationalistic? The german speaker spoke about his perception of the union and how he, and the people he associates with, are all on the European spectrum of nationality rather than the “german” side. However, there are many people in the Union and many feel differently. A quote that was brought up by a group member was, “people will be more connected when the world does not tolerate other cultures, rather it takes delight in it.”

Our docent was the eminently qualified Mauro Galluccio, PhD.  Dr. Galluccio modestly only hinted at his credentials in passing, mentioning his years of experience and involvement with European politics.  However, according to his LinkedIn profile, he is a member of the European Association for Negotiation and Mediation, is both a political scientist and psychologist, an external speaker to the European Commission, a professional lecturer, and has been educated at Harvard Law School.  He is the editor and author of four books, among them, the Handbook of International Negotiation.  He speaks both fluent Italian and English (and I suspect, French.)

With Dr. Gallucci

Dr. Gallucci presented an overview and introduction to the formation, development, role, and limitations of the European Commission.   The Commission is both national and supranational in construct, and must balance the tension between the two interests.  There are ongoing challenges for the Commission, since the communications between the 28 member nations are dynamic and complex.  On the issue of the number of member nations, 28, it’s conceded that the British “divorce” from the European Union (EU) is all but a foregone conclusion, merely working out the terms of final settlement in the remaining months of the two-years so that there will be, barring other new additions to the EU, only a projected 27 member nations.  We also discussed that, while there are more nations that would like to join the EU, the process of acceptance is protracted and fraught and uncertainty.

  

With Dr. Gallucci (during the  tour)

Since the European Commission makes political decisions that affect the member states, and more importantly, since all the nations have a long history and geographically speaking, an inseparable and inevitable relationship, the emphasis on negotiating in good faith with “no losers”, in Dr. Gallucci’s phrase, is paramount.  “Help me,” Dr. Gallucci intoned, “Tomorrow, I help you.”

From its roots in the signing or the Treaties of Rome in 1957, the Commission has gone through tremendous cycles of growth, expansion, stress, contraction, and growth again.  The future, from either an optimistic or pessimistic slant, as you might choose, would seem only to hold more of the same. Is this not the habitual nature of nations?

Overall, the visit to the Commission was very insightful and it was interesting to hear from our qualified speakers about their perception of the current state of the EU and where it is going. After visiting the European Parliament the day beforehand, we had a good background of the structure of the EU and who has the power to make decisions and the process that happens when a decision needs to be made. The Commission is like the “overseer” and mediator of the Union and its political entities. The talks were very well done and the German speaker gave us a quote at the beginning of his presentation, “It is difficult to fall in love with the European single market.” He said he would try and make us fall in love, and he was successful. The single market and the EU are amazing feats of peacemaking treaties and of the people of Europe. Doing business in Europe is much more efficient and sensible with the development of the EU. It seems like the first major step to a truly globalized world.

European Commission

Zaabar Chocolate Factory

Nestled in the heart of Brussels, is the Zaabar Chocolate Factory and store, founded in 2007, using a name inspired by the Spice Bazaar of Istanbul.  The relevance of the name is best understood by sampling from a vast array of chocolates containing your choice of cinnamon, curry, lemongrass, cardamom, sesame, amaretto, lavender and violet, to name just a few!

Zabaar Chocolate Factory

In addition to watching a master chocolatier turn raw chocolate pastels into mouthwatering hand-dipped truffles and molded figures, we were introduced to the origin of dark, milk, and white chocolate. A video tour of cocoa pods being harvested also showed how the cocoa beans are extracted, fermented, and roasted before being ground into the more familiar cocoa powder.  Each vast cocoa bean tree produces only 10-15 cocoa pods, and the picking process is all manual.

Zaabar distributes its chocolates in Europe, Japan, and Canada.  As students of business, we are impressed with Zaabar’s marketing strategies to develop an interest in chocolate through hands-on experiences. Offerings include team-building workshops for companies, cocktail parties, private chocolate-making classes, school visits, and of course, ample tasting opportunities in the store! Ahhhhh…life is sweet in Belgium!

Written by, 

Connie Lipsker & David Freet

 

 

 

 

Zags take Brussels – Day 2

On Tuesday, May 16th, our class walked together to the European Parliament building in Brussels, Belgium. Upon arriving, we were greeted by a novice guide who took us to the set where we would simulate the legislative process as acting Members of the European Parliament (MEP).  

European Parliament (MEP)

Our class broke into groups representing four different parties:  Environmental (with a block representing 15% of the Parliament), Liberty (20%), Solidarity (30%), and Traditional (35%). Each party contained an MEP from a different country.  As an MEP, we were tasked with negotiating two proposed directives:  Water Solidarity and Personal Identification. By proposing a solution to distribute and manage the EU’s water resources, the Water Solidarity directive addressed potential water scarcity issues in some EU nation states . The Personal Identification directive referred to the process of inserting microchips into citizens ostensibly for safety and health reasons.

 

Role Play Game (MEP)

During the process we were able to “interview” experts and voters via touchscreens, were filmed in quick debates, helped formulate the party stance, and negotiate the final bill and amendments in an attempt to pass the proposed legislation. The first round of negotiations did not reach a majority ruling on the directives requiring a second reading. As the second round of discussions began we were notified of a fictional emergency.  This new information put the proposed rules into stark relief: an earthquake that further disrupted water delivery and also necessitated search and rescue operations that could have benefited by the use of microchips to locate survivors. This cast a new light on the second round of negotiations, whereby both proposals were passed with mild amendments.

This exercise exceeded many of our expectations for a common role-playing assignment. Throughout the activity  we were thrust acutely into the scenario, moving through different rooms to interact with both real and fictional counterparts. Such a project allowed us to more accurately experience the pressures an actual MEP would face while negotiating terms for legislation.  MEPs must collect information from concerned citizens of their own nations other members of the parliament, lobbyists, and any other interested parties and formulate their position on the issue.  They must constantly evaluate the available information and their position in the context of the current events and environment, all the while under the pressure of time.  The simulation also highlighted the difficulties a smaller party may have in defending their position since their vote does not carry a lot of weight. As a result of the simulation, the students were able to form a realistic view on the complexities of negotiating new laws while giving us a foundation for how the European Parliament operates. 

European Parliament (MEP)

The simulation, although enlightening and fun, left everyone feeling a bit exhausted.  Afterwards, the group parted ways for either a leisurely stroll back to the Steigenberger Grand Hotel or an afternoon of visiting the local museums and sites. Some of the highlights were the Park du Cinquantenaire, a Romanesque structure providing a beautiful view of the surrounding parks and The Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military.  The museum offered a bloody historical journey from medieval to current times. We also viewed the nearby Museum of Natural History, which covered dinosaurs and neanderthals alike. Later in the evening the group reconvened for a reflection on the day’s activities.  Everyone agreed on the value of the European Parliament experience when it comes to understanding the process for passing legislation in the European Union. Overall, the experience set the stage for the following day’s scheduled outing to another branch of the EU, the European Commission. 

 

Park du Cinquantenaire, Brussels

 

 

 

 

 

Written by,

Miranda Giorgi, Erik Hurson & Ian Wallace