GT in the EU

An extraordinary education

Month: June 2014 (Page 3 of 4)

Week 4: Maastricht, Energy, and Human Rights – Oh My!

As I write this, our students are (hopefully) preparing for our first group excursion away from Brussels.  Next week, we will be in Athens, Greece, where the students will have an opportunity to see first hand the effects of austerity and think about the ties that bind the EU together (and ostensibly discover the Greek root of all words 🙂 ).

While next week will be a blast, this week was no slouch.  It started with a voluntary trip to Maastricht, Netherlands.  Our first stop was a gelato shop just 3 minutes from the train station door:

Gelato in Maastricht. How can one go wrong?

Afterward the students got to see a Dominican church converted into a most impressive bookstore and a limestone mine dating back to Roman times at Mount Sint Pietersberg (St. Peter).

The students had some classroom time this week, pretty much the last of the formal lectures.  On Thursday, they had a visit to DG Energy, where they heard from a wonderfully animated Jeff Piper on the energy supply and security issues confronting Europe.  On Friday, they visited the Committee of the Regions,

where Eric Leurquin, an expert on the financial underpinnings of the EU and the Euro financial crisis, hosted the group.  After a photo opportunity with the flags of the member states

and a visit to the outdoor lounge and its brilliant view of the European Parliament,

the students made ready for some serious learning:

After Eric’s lecture, the group had a chance to check out the impressive technology during a role-playing exercise in which they tried to find a solution to the Greek economic crisis (video).  It was a fantastic session!

After lunch in the Committee of the Regions cafeteria, the group made its way to the Council of Europe (which is not part of the European Union!).  There they heard about one of the broadest and strongest human rights regimes in the world, and asked some challenging questions. 

Our host said more than once: “That’s a great question.”  The students did us proud!

Clean up, Clean up, Everybody do your share

With the creation of the United Nation Framework Convention on Climate Change in the 1990s and its ratification in 1994, came the emergence of the “common but differentiating responsibility” Article. The developed (Annex 1) nations such as the U.S., Britain, and Germany (the three greatest Industrial powers in the 1860s) were able to use “dirty” methods in factories in an effort to modernize Industry and bring about an economic development. However, under the scientific research, the fossil fuels that were burned produced polluting emissions such as CO2 (climate change) and sulfur and nitrous oxides (acid rain) that damaged the environment. The UN came together to mitigate and to adapt to this new security challenge by reducing the amount of emissions. According to the developing nations (Non-Annex 1 countries), these Annex 1 countries had been allowed to develop their industries and spark GDP increases without knowing that the side effects were so damaging, yet the Non-Annex I countries were not allowed to have the chance to develop their economies through industry building. Hence a common (fighting climate change) but differentiated (developed take more responsibility) challenge.

This is ridiculous. Developing countries continue polluting the air with emissions that cause climate change–a phenomenon that will hit the developing world hardest. Take Africa for example, most nations there are under the classification of Non-Annex I countries. There has been something of a mini-industrial revolution in certain cities. (People are moving away from their farms or tribes in the African “country-side” towards the city looking for work in factories, creating very much similar situations in the 1860s.) The factories want to use cheap factors of production–coal and burning fossil fuels–to keep costs down. However, these areas  experience first hand the side effects of this. The desertification of the North Africa with more droughts and less food….. driving more people to the city looking for work. South East Asia has also seen the increase in industrialization, yet constantly see heavy flooding and the disappearance of their coastal areas where people still live in fishing communities. One would think that as these as these countries see the devastating affects of climate change, and must pay to provide aid and adaptive methods like sea walls and wells that the governments would be on board with trying to eliminate/ lessen a problem that cause instability and the divergence of money that could be spent elsewhere like in clean energy technology.

Another solution, gradually invest in the development and research of clean technologies. And isn’t the investment in technology one of the biggest contributions to increase a country’s GDP??? Nothing has to be so immediate that it causes the economies to spiral down. But no one said that the key to economic growth is emitting dangerous contaminates into the environment. For example, in the 2000s the economy saw a boost from the Technological Revolution.

China needs to step up and acknowledge that they are a developed nation. Their GDP is one the largest. Their economy is growing at fast rate. They own debt of several developed nations. The U.S is dependent on China as a trading partner. No China… No strong U.S economy. A healthy economy is part of being a developed nation. If classified as an Annex I member then China would have a binding requirement to reduce the emissions, and as one of the largest world emitters this would create a significant effect.

These countries, in particular those who control the governments, are just using this “identity” (developing country) as an excuse to not take part in a communal problem, letting other people deal with the issue, free riding on the works of others. It is the tragedy of the commons in another form. No one wants to take the initiative and do something really shocking and beneficial towards the universal issue of climate change (the EU has been the closest). Every country should pitch in and help. CO2 and methane collect in the air and the effects will continue to be felt for centuries, so what these “developing” nations emit now will just undo their own economic progress as well as what being done by other countries who are at least trying to do something. Stern notes that “the emissions of developing nations are likely to raise more rapidly.” To make a large impact and reduce the temperature so not to have to the worst possible scenario predicted by the IPCCC and climate scientists every nation must develop and follow through on policies of reduction, mitigation, and adaption.

L’union fait la force. Eendracht maakt macht.

“What is the Belgian identity?” I asked my host father, Yves.
He laughed. “What Belgian identity?”
According to the secessionists of the N-VA, there exists none. The Flemish people have their own weathered, long-standing culture of hard work and strong identity, something a Walloon could never understand. Even Bruxelles, the paragon of Belgian unity and solidarity, is a foreign land that holds disproportionate influence; there may be jobs in Bruxelles, but no home for the Flemish. And to the Walloons, les Flamands are hostile, reactionary, and altogether too nationalistic for their own good. They are uncompromising in their old provincial politics, unable to embrace their neighbors to the south and open their eyes to the grand vision of a united Belgium.
It has been almost 200 years since the founding of Belgium, yet there is little unity between the two regions of the country. According to Yves, the Walloons and the Flemings only agree in three areas: the Belgian monarchy; their mutual dislike of the Netherlands, Germany, and France; and football. Only when Belgium is competing will you see these two groups come together as true Belgians, drinking and celebrating the victories of the Red Devils. Politically, economically, and culturally, the two sides to the Belgian coin are as disparate as could be. Despite two centuries of cultural integration, intermarriage, and interregional movement, somehow Belgian identity is so weak that the N-VA holds a plurality in the federal government.
Historically, attempts at building a strong relationship between the two regions have been thwarted by one side or the other. When the Flemings decided to teach their youth French, Walloon did not reciprocate, and as soon as the Walloons found Flemish worthwhile to learn, the Flemings turned to English. And each time one region finds economic success, it scoffs at immigration from the other, forgetting that the balance has shifted to tip in either favor multiple times in the past. Even now, in 2014, there is a political fuss to keep the Flemish identity of its schools intact, because there are simply too many French-speaking children in attendance.
Belgium was a nation created on paper, and perhaps it is naive to expect a national unity that has no real historic or cultural foundation. But to me, looking at Bruxelles is enough to believe in the dream of a unity– even if it may be more synthetic than organic– and the successful coexistence of different peoples. Here, half a dozen cultures live together, aware of the divisions between them, yet willing to work past them. As Yves put it, because there is so little agreement between the two groups, the Belgians have become experts at compromise, and when NATO or the EU finds it difficult to negotiate, they look to the Belgians to lead the way to solidarity and compromise. Yes, history may foster culture, and ethnic ties may foster harmony. But there is still reason to hope for a strength, tempered by the fires of conflict, that will hold the country together through hardships, no matter the source or the intensity.
Maybe Belgium is too young to have a united, distinct identity, but perhaps one day it will be one unparalleled in compromise, understanding, and unity.

Week Three- the Elections Broken Down and TTIP Examined

This week was significantly different from the last two because the focus of our coursework shifted from security aspects of the EU and NATO to the institutions of the EU. We could not have chosen a better time to come to study the EU, as we have the opportunity to live through the historic elections and explore the real effects of the changes to these institutions that have occurred since the Treaty of Lisbon. Most notably, in this round of elections, Europe has seen the rise of the “far right;” some parties that wish to see the demise of the EU all together, like the National Front, and some that simply wish to withdraw their country from the EU, like the UK Independence Party (UKIP). In our first class of the week, we had a guest lecturer who helped us with the breakdown of the results of the elections. She told us that for the first time ever, it is possible that there will be a formation of a far right political group within the European Parliament. She also, however, expressed doubt that many of the far right groups from different countries could work together to the end of actually forming a new group. Nonetheless, it seems that Marine le Pen, the French leader of the National Front political party, has already gathered five countries, including her own France, to the cause of, “blocking any moves to increase European Federalism,” according to the Irish Times. Le Pen rejected an alliance with UKIP, but she only needs two more countries to join her cause in order to form a new political group.
Looking at the results of the elections, it seems that for the first time in many years, there was an up turn in voter turn out. However slight, this does seem to be a good sign for the future of the EU. However, the votes reveal that a good amount of the people that came out to vote were anti-EU or at least unhappy with the way things had been turning out in the EU for the past couple of years. Our guest lecturer put this down to a couple of reasons, the main being that there is a certain disconnect between the EU as an institution, and the people that it governs. Many people within the EU don’t see their interests particularly represented in Parliament, and this is especially true in the much smaller countries. For instance, Luxembourg, a founding member of the European Union, has the same amount of votes as one of the newest and smallest members states, Malta. These small countries find it very hard to have their voices heard among relative giant states including the likes of France or Germany. Because they have so few votes, they are the ones that must concede more of their interests to the larger states’ interests in order to come to a compromise on many policies. It is thus more difficult to find support in these countries, as can be seen by the extremely low voter turn out (only 19% in Czech Republic and a resounding 13% in Slovakia).
In addition to looking at the elections, we visited the EEAS and CEPS. The EEAS is a very new institution of the EU, and as such has much more growing to do. We listened to three briefings, one on EU-US relations, one on TTIP, and one on Cyber Security. These were very interesting, and since all touched on their opinions of TTIP, it was that subject that was most easy for me to compare and contrast. I don’t know if it was because we were actually at the EEAS, but none of the speakers we had could even court the idea that TTIP was unpopular and wouldn’t go through. One even said that there is simply no way it could not go through; it is just too big and too important to fail. This is all very interesting considering that from what I’ve heard from various outside perspectives, including my host family, is that TTIP is pretty unpopular with the people of Europe. What is even more interesting, is that one of the speakers we had at the visit after the official one at the EEAS, gave us his candid opinion that there really is a huge gap between what the people think of TTIP, and what the EEAS thinks of the agreement, and that there is a possibility of failure there. In any event, it is important that we have both of these views so that we can come up with our own opinion on the matter without being too biased for one way or the other.

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