GT in the EU

An extraordinary education

Month: June 2015 (Page 4 of 6)

Four Generations

A major component of people’s desire to study abroad rests in the idea of immersing oneself into another culture. By living with a family while studying abroad, you are given an immersion into another culture unparalleled to that of any other study abroad. It has only been a few short weeks, but living with a host family has allowed me to experience Brussels as more than just a traveler; it’s becoming my home.

When traveling to other countries, the excitement of exploring that country’s attractions often outweighs the cultural nuances that can be observed. We spent the first couple of days as a class on bus tours and walking tours learning of the history of Brussels and witnessing what draws the 7.5 million tourists to visit this magnificent capital each year. These whirlwind tours showed us the surface of Brussels, and allowed us the following weeks to delve into the depths of the culture and atmosphere of Brussels on our own. Every morning we meet at different locations around the city, and need to know the city well enough to get around without looking at our phones for every turn. As is human nature, we fall into patterns and routines. I know that if I miss the tram next to my house, I have time to grab a coffee from the cafe right next door as the next tram won’t come for at least 8 minutes. The fresh market at Place Flagey every Sunday morning entices me to wake up early to watch the hustle and bustle of the vendors and customers (and it helps that they have fantastic strawberries). I meet some other students under the Arches in the park after class at least once a week, just because the sun doesn’t set until 9 and we have so much more time in the day here. All of these are things I wouldn’t fully experience as simply a traveler in Brussels.

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Fleishman Hillard visit: Democracy and Competition

Yesterday, June 12, we had the opportunity to visit Fleishman Hillard, a international public relations and consulting firm. We had three speakers who told us a little bit about what Fleishman Hillard is, but the main focus of our discussion was the current state of technology and environmental policy in the EU. However, what really stood out to me and what I would like to write about were two relatively undiscussed problems the EU has.
To start, the first speaker brought up an excellent point that after four weeks of intensive study of the EU I had not realized: policies and decision making in the EU is very non-political. In the US, decisions are made with the voters in mind and and policies come about based on what politicians think voters will respond positively to. SInce the EU’s only popularly elected institution is the Parliament, which, despite consistently growing authority with each EU treaty, still remains the weakest of the three main EU decision making bodies. The EU governance is weakly linked the citizens of the EU. This has led to a “Democratic Deficit” in the EU, which may be an underlying cause of the Euroskeptic movement. Maybe that’s the future to the EU surviving: reform in the popular connections of the EU institutions. Anyways, that is something that I believe few people understand about many of the problems of the EU, and Fleishman Hillard, a firm dedicated to EU public relations, seemed very interested in helping solve that problem.

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NATO in the Age of Asymmetry

Yesterday, after we all took a challenging exam testing our extensive knowledge over the different institutions and important actors of the European Union, their functions, and their influence (or lack thereof) in Europe, we had the pleasure of hearing from a Special Advisor to the NATO Secretary General. With over 20 years of experience, he had certainly “been around the block” and it was amazing to note how almost everything that he had to say was insightful and gave us a better understanding of NATO and its potential future in the global context.

A major point that he made was that we are currently living in an Age of Asymmetry. Economically, security-wise, and even ideologically, there is much inequality and asymmetry which is leading to more and more instability, volatility, and overall transition. Viewing the world from a macroeconomic perspective, it is startling to see the lasting effects of the 2008 financial crisis, which exposed many troubling underlying problems like systemic government spending and the Baby Boomer Problem (with all the baby boomers reaching retirement and living longer and having less children, which causes there to be a shrinking working population and less money for retirement benefits and social security-type funds). Not only did the 2008 crisis stop much of the economic growth of developed nations, like the United States and the countries in the EU, it also created a trend in which even emerging economies, like China, which were once growing very quickly, began to experience slower and slower growth. Militarily speaking, due to these issues in growth, many of the NATO countries have begun to cut back on their defense budgets, all while China and Russia have spent the last five years increasing their spending on defense (and beginning to outspend Europe). Demographically, decreasing fertility has begun to lower recruitment pools for nations’ militaries while also creating a shortage of workers. As a result, this has started tensions over issues like immigration in which there is both a need for young immigrant workers but also a fear of them. Ultimately, in the face of all these growing asymmetries, our speaker emphasized the importance of NATO member states to increase their focus on investment, education, innovation, competition, and social resilience in order to effectively combat these global issues.

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Energetic EU

To bring us back to reality after a long weekend, we jumped right back into briefings Tuesday morning with the European External Action Service (EEAS) on the structure of EEAS, EU-US relations, and Cyber Security and then a briefing at the US Mission regarding TTIP. It was a busy and full day, but it put us right back on track! Yesterday, we had another energetic day at the Directorate General (DG) for Energy. Our briefing covered the external dimension of the EU energy policy. Being graciously hosted by a very intellectual and genuine British man, he had been working with the DG of energy for many years and was able to provide us with not only information regarding what was occurring now in EU energy policy but also knowledge as to how the policy has changed over time and his own personal experience with it.

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