World discovers the EU at the Parlamentarium

At the beginning of January the European Parliament's visitors' centre welcomed its first one millionth visitor. Today the Parlamentarium is one of the top five most visited museums in the Belgian capital.

It was barely three and a half years ago that the EP's visitors' centre opened in Brussels. Last year alone the Parlamentarium welcomed 350,000 visitors.

Constanze Beckerhoff of the European Parliament's press office: "The Parlamentarium allows the European Parliament to connect with citizens from across the EU and beyond. Here people can learn more about how European legislation comes about and discover what an MEP or Member of the European Parliament does."

"You can turn up at the European Parliament and visit the building, but you will only be shown a very limited area. MEPs do regularly organise visits and then you will have greater access, but until the Parlamentarium came about you could see people wandering round the European district and all they could see was offices from the outside."

Today visitor numbers are in the thousands. It is quieter at the weekends. The Parlamentarium is open seven days a week. 60% of visitors are individual visitors, but there are also school groups. People come from the United States, from Russia and Japan."

flandersnews bumped into several groups when we visited earlier this month.

We met secondary school pupils from Ankara in Turkey. They had flown in to Brussels to discover the European Parliament as part of a European project.

We also encountered pupils from the Graf-Stauffenberg-Gymnasium in Flörsheim am Main in Hesse. They were visiting the European Parliament as part of their lessons on politics and economics and told flandersnews that the Parlamentarium allowed them to see all the things that they had learned about Europe in class.

Visiting just after the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris they insisted that the EU did have a role to play in their lives: "European co-operation could help to tackle the terrorist threat."

From further afield we encountered Julia Rothacker and Emily Zhao, who are from Syracuse University in New York. They are studying economics and doing a semester in Spain. Their trip to Brussels and the European Parliament formed part of a wider European tour.

Julia Rothacker: "In the States we are aware of the European Union. We learn an awful lot about European history, because it is also our history, but in class there is no focus on how European policies are made. We learned a lot about the distribution of powers in EU institutions and how individual member states are represented. In this way we are now able to compare the EU with the US system, the European Parliament and the US House of Representatives."

The European Parliament's visitor centre or Parlamentarium is located just off the Luxemburgplein in Brussels. It's open seven days a week and entrance is free. Information is available in the EU's 24 languages as well as English, French, German and Dutch sign languages.