GT in the EU

An extraordinary education

Month: May 2014 (Page 2 of 3)

The European Union: Modern Day Relevance

The European Union [EU] was initially established to promote peace among European nations. Some could argue that it was successful, especially through the establishment of the European Coal and Steel Community. Additionally, the EU helped stabilize Europe by aiding countries, such as Greece, Portugal, and Spain, in the transition from an authoritarian to a democratic government. However, in order to properly assess the relevance of this institution, one must analyze it through modern day lenses. What is the EU doing now? In the past 7 years, the EU has given around 350 billion euros to developing European countries through structure and cohesion funds. These funds have promoted the building of infrastructure and successfully created jobs for these developing nations. They also allow a smooth transition from unemployed workers to the working life through training facilities and programs. This has boosted economies in various countries. Also, Desmond Dinan identifies the EU’s foreign policy procedure when he says, “Once the goal of a EU foreign policy is achieved, the object of that policy—the candidate country—is no longer foreign.” Finally, the Eurozone allows many EU member countries to trade easily among each other.

On the flip side, I am wary of calling the EU a perfect institution for numerous reasons. One of the main contributing factors is the fact that I believe the EU has fulfilled its purpose. It was meant to end war among European nations and there hasn’t been a war in many decades. Even if a war is unleashed upon the world, what is the EU going to do? What can they do? They do not have an adequate military force, so they would have to rely on NATO to resolve the situation. Another huge reason that the EU is flawed is that the people do not support it. I went to the European Parliament last night to view the election results. An EU member said on national television that the voter turnout went up this year. I was elated to hear that because on the surface it seemed that the people had started trusting in the EU once again. However, after closer examination, I observed that the voter turnout had only increased from 43% to 43.11%. Even though they are still counting the last remaining votes, this should not be a number to celebrate considering that many European countries penalize their citizens with a fine if they do not vote. The actual number of voluntary voters cannot be measured. Shockingly, the countries that have mandatory voting laws could not get all of their citizens to vote. The way that I perceive this is through a simple statement: Some voters prefer getting fined as long as they do not have to vote for an institution in which they do not support. I do not believe this is a baseless statement because statistics prove that the people have more faith in their national governments than they do in the EU. According to a guest speaker that we had in class today, the EU is not transparent in the way that they spend money—and they do not have to be. The EU creates their own budget and they are not required to disclose the ways that they spend it. How can they expect 508 million people to blindly trust their judgment forever? Additionally, the EU cannot have a court of justice in which the supremacy clause is in effect because many people do not want to follow laws established by an institution in which they do not even trust. Further, the EU cannot implement economic strategies that all of its member countries must follow because of one of the most elementary economic rules: People act in their own self-interest. I believe it is unrealistic to expect that the EU can consistently develop economic strategies that benefit 28 different countries that are all in various stages of development. Comparing institutions now, I heard a SHAPE representative declare that the reason countries join NATO is because of Article 5, which states that if one country is attacked, then all other NATO member countries must support the country under attack. That same representative went on to saying that a NATO member country could do as little as sending a condolence email to the country under attack to satisfy this Article 5 duty. The EU does not even have an Article 5 obligation, so what truly binds the countries together in this institution? There appears to be very little loyalty present among even the member countries, so how can the EU expect to spread its ideas if the ones creating the ideas don’t want to follow them?

I Spy With My Little Eye

Privacy Issues of TTIP: the history it brings up and the mistrust it creates 

“In Germany, whenever the government begins to infringe on individual freedom, society stands up. Given our history, we Germans are not willing to trade in our liberty for potentially better security. Germans have experienced firsthand what happens when the government knows too much about someone. In the past 80 years, Germans have felt the betrayal of neighbors who informed for the Gestapo and the fear that best friends might be potential informants for the Stasi. Homes were tapped. Millions were monitored.” ~Malte Spitz, The New York Times. 


I find it extremely fascinating how European culture and history play such a large role in the national politics and the EU politics. History seems to be a role of the day-to-day life of the citizens that I have come in contact with here in Brussels.  They are aware of their past, where they come from, and who they are.  They see the implications of history and make connections from the past with current events. They are learning from History, taking notes, trying to prevent past atrocities from happening again.  This is something I don’t see at home in America.  There is an increasing dis-concern about history.  For most Americans history is of the past, it has no relevance, especially world history. And, frankly that’s beyond sad.  It’s disgusting!

Why is it that world history is of so little importance to the American citizen? Has the United States become such a Hegemon that we have forgotten the past and the importance of our History?  Are we so egotistical that we think that the world should revolve around us and our current interests politically, economically, and socially?  We have a habit of not taking the culture and traditions of a country into account when we walk or barge in.  We demand everyone to conform to our standards.  Remember the Manifest Destiny, the Marshall Plan, the McCarthyism and Red Scare???? All displays of America promoting our form of “civilization.”

So, what does this mean for a twenty-first century Transatlantic deal (TTIP) and the subsequent relationships?  Each member state of the EU calls on their own culture and demands to protect it from Americanization.  The citizens hold their heritage close to them. It is what makes them French or German or Belgian or Dutch.  They respect their right to privacy, something we don’t have here in the States.  Lack of privacy is a quality of an era in which no European wants to relive and remember (the 1930s and 40s).  Their history and culture help to protect them from another wanna-be-Hegemon, this time American corporations and government.  Europeans know and remember what a control on information could lead to: fear, mistrust, lack of Locke’s guaranteed rights, and hence freedom. Fear and mistrust could lead to a fall in EU and US relations as well as NATO alliances.  Currently, mutual trust (and common norms to an extent) is what is holding these alliances together.  So with these implications why can’t we as Americans respect European culture and heritage?

“SHAPEing” a New Europe

I don’t want to steal much of Andrew’s thunder because his previous post was simply fantastic, so I will (try) to keep my reflections about our visits to SHAPE brief and instead focus on the European Parliamentary elections, which occurred yesterday (25 May).

What an honor and a privilege it was to meet and discuss pertinent global security issues with General Breedlove, SACEUR, at SHAPE headquarters on Saturday, and a very special thanks to President Peterson and Georgia Tech for the wonderful reception following the briefing.  What a once in a lifetime opportunity.  As it has been in our security lectures, burden-sharing was among the most discussed topics with Gen. Breedlove and he offered us a unique perspective on the topic.  His answers posed as an interesting juxtaposition to the answers we received at NATO Headquarters the previous week, which did not directly address some of the challenges facing the alliance.  Not so from the General.  He recognized the real problem and stated that due to the recent crisis in Ukraine, many member states have now pledged to increase their defense spending and get it up to that 2% of GDP mark that is required for a NATO member state.  Additionally, the United States is taking measures to helping those states that simply can not devote that about to defense spending by advising them on how to spend more wisely.  Thus, while the trip to NATO headquarters was a useful one, the General’s matter-of-fact answers provided a much greater level of detail and candor.

European parliamentary elections were held yesterday (25 May), and were advertised under the slogan, “This time, it’s different” in an effort to increase voter turnout.  It is indeed different due to the Treaty of Lisbon going into effect in 2009, which, among other changes, called for a new process in the appointment of the President of the Commission.  Essentially, when the Council of the European Union chooses the new President of the Commission they must take into account how the voting in the Parliament went, and the the Parliament can veto this choice if it is believed that it does not line with the vote.  Since this is the first time this has ever occurred, what exactly will happen remains to be seen.  If the Parliament vetoes the choice, there could be an uneasy stalemate and could give credence to the growing number of euroskeptics.  Regardless, it is different this time because, in theory, the 500 million residents in the EU have a more direct say in who the next President of the Commission will be.  Still, voter turnout only increased from 43% in 2009 to 43.11% in 2014, but had steadily declined until then.  There does not appear to be the same amount of enthusiasm concerning the vote for EU institutions, but instead voters pay more attention to national elections.  Concerning national elections, I have the incredible fortune of staying with a host family where the father happens to be a regional Belgian senator.  I can say from conversations at the dinner table that very little of their time goes into the outcome of the EU elections.  Furthermore, I asked my Polish friend who lives above me if she was voting in the EU elections, and she said that she had not even registered and when I pressed as to why she responded that she was not overly concerned with the outcome.

It is an interesting conundrum that the EU faces with these new changes, as the parties that are highly euroskeptic made great gains in the elections yesterday.  How this new European government takes shape will be determined in the next few weeks and its effectiveness will be determined in the next few years.


Keeping the Faith in NATO

NATO’s “not our problem” response to the Ukraine crisis discouraged me–a perhaps too idealistic student. Currently, NATO’s political leadership touts alibis derived from legal obligations to collective defense and semantic differences between supporting and defending what seems to be a convenient, democratic identity. However, I left NATO with strong doubts about the importance of ideals in determining alliance policy. And if the debate had devolved into a “we don’t owe them collective defense” argument, it would be a deeply disturbing exemplar of the alienation of Ukraine, stemming from the tricky nature of its political context.

Politically, NATO is stuck somewhere between Weimar escalation and Chamberlain conciliation, as regards NATO-Russia relations; its internal dissensus has led NATO to settle on suspension of general cooperation and communication as an appropriate response to Russia (notably, Ukraine-related, ambassadorial-level communication is still there). In this regard, NATO has neglected an opportunity to actively address legitimate Russian concerns of NATO’s European dominance and aggressive expansion. NATO has denied an active role in redefining NATO-Russia relations. In doing so, the Ukrainian crisis persists, and complacency among otherwise seized NATO members threatens to leave the issue as unresolved as Cyprus.

SHAPE cast these concerns into the crucible of a structured approach to true problem solving, assuaging my doubts in NATO’s abilities to respond effectively to crisis. The no-nonsense approach to observing, analyzing, and understanding international relations left no room for legal excuses or marginalization rampant in the North Atlantic Council. SHAPE recognized a limited role of armed force in reaching constructive resolution to the Ukraine crisis, in large part due to Russian ‘escalation dominance.’ It further expressed solidarity with Ukraine while confounded by any means to help with armed force. SHAPE maintains NATO problem solving, even amidst a generally risk-adverse political milieu. But SHAPE is not the primary NATO decision-maker, and this inspires my concern for NATO’s future relevance.

In the coming decades, NATO will have to address increasingly complicated global issues. It cannot make proactive and constructive decisions without consensus on NATO’s political vision and mission. What does that vision look like? And how do we get there?

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