GT in the EU

An extraordinary education

Month: July 2015 (Page 2 of 5)

Foreign Ministry and TTIP

Today (June 15) we switched gears back to studying foreign relations and TTIP with site visits to the German Foreign Ministry (Auswartiges Amt) and the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) in Berlin. The building of the Foreign Ministry has its own history, as it was once the bank for the Nazis and later the home for the Socialist Party of East Germany. Our briefer from the Foreign Ministry is a Deputy European Correspondent. He spoke to us about a wide range of topics including, German foreign policy and its strengths and weaknesses, relations with Brussels and the EU, the Ukraine crisis and its impact on Germany, migration, the Middle East, and the future of European security strategy. He began by talking about how Germany is streamlining their foreign policy into Brussels to help reach a common position among the 28 member states, and within Germany by reflecting on their past work via an open process among different departments. When discussing the European Union he began by saying that the E3 (UK, Germany and France) have less global influence than previously, which provides reasons for the European Union and it growing to be more than an economic union. The difficulties of finding consensus among 28 different opinions and different geopolitical priorities do not make the EU perfect, but compromising is an important part of the EU. More integration is the only way to continue moving forward.


He then spoke briefly about Germany’s relations with the Middle East. Germany views Tunisia as a “lighthouse project.” It serves as an example for other countries along with the Middle East Peace Process. The next topic he spoke about was the issue of migration. It is a big problem in Europe, especially in Italy. The CDSP operation has sent German naval ships for search and rescue operation and to find typical routes for the migrant boats. The issue with this plan is that it does not fix the problem at the root because it does not fix the problems that the migrants are experiencing in their home countries. He finished his briefing by speaking about the 2016 Foreign Security Strategy. We live in a changing world, and the foreign policies of countries must adapt to the world. Germany, and other countries’, has to evolve to a different Russia, having enough resources and taking responsibility. He said that the German public doesn’t feel that it is their responsibility as a country to take action abroad, and they do support military action, partially due to history.

German Foreign Ministry

German Foreign Ministry

I found the discussion on the migration issue to be very interesting because the current solution is not long term. The current migration efforts of finding routes to help them get to Italy and further into Europe only fixes the problem at the surface. These people are seeking asylum from the dangerous and poor conditions of their home country. Europe continues to let more in, but they should be working to help the people from their home. If Europe and other countries go into the home countries of the migrants, the problems would be fixed in the long term. Europe is unable to continue letting people in and has to make people return to their countries. Countries, such as Italy, are arguing for a quota because of the hardships it creates within their countries. Though a long-term solution may take more time to implement and show signs of success, it will create a better future for the people in those countries.


The discussion about German reluctance to act militarily was interesting because it goes back to the history of Germany. Life for the German people is better without war. Though this does not explain why there is a lack of intervention, it is justified by saying that the general culture and attitude of the German public lacks ambition to partake in the “first league” of military action. Germany, Berlin in particular, has experienced so much turmoil, so I understand why they would not want to join another war. I do think that a country with the economic power of Germany, should be helping more globally. There are other ways to help other than militarily, and there are groups within Germany who want to help.


Our next site visit was to the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), where we were briefed about TTIP from BDI. BDI is an organization that focuses on external economic policies and perceives them as the “voice of German industry.” BDI views TTIP for three dimensions: economic opportunity and jobs and growth for small and medium size companies and cheaper products, rules and norms for the global economy and the transatlantic partnership. The three areas of TTIP are market access, regulatory cooperation and global rules. Though the Transatlantic economy is already very integrated, TTIP is important. TTIP will lower tariffs. There are still tariff peaks for certain products within specific industries. Lowering or getting rid of these will help trade, especially in the agricultural sector. The reduction of non-tariff barriers has the biggest potential for TTIP. Examples of non-tariff barriers are standardizing or recognizing the equivalency of car parts, medicines and machinery. The harmonization or mutual recognition, joint development of new standards and close cooperation between the US and the EU will work to reduce non-tariff barriers and improve transatlantic trade. EU wants more open access to public procurement in the US and mutual recognition for service training to improve mobility. Our speaker summarized her presentation with the “Do’s and Don’ts” for TTIP.


The Do’s:

  1. Harmonization
  2. Improve transparency
  3. Development of rules that benefit the globe
  4. Boost transatlantic trade and use positively


The Don’ts

  1. Deregulating at the expense of the public
  2. Weaken the right to regulate
  3. Weaken the WTO, especially in regards to third world countries
  4. Development of an “economic NATO”


TTIP briefing at SWP

TTIP briefing at SWP


We have had many discussions on briefings about TTIP, but I enjoyed this one because of the focus on the German perspective of TTIP. The German public is more critical about TTIP. The main problem is that the public is not informed and not finding the information. The German public never considered foreign trade policy to be important until it involved a partner as big as the United States. Many of the members of the Green and Left parties in the German government share the same concerns about TTIP as the public and are skeptic of the EU. The BDI informs the public about the progression and negotiations of TTIP by publishing position papers online and participating in stakeholder dialogues. We learned at our briefing at the Commission that they are working to be more transparent by posting documents online. I think making all the decisions, plans and summary of each round of negotiations public and easily accessible will help the German public be more knowledgeable about TTIP and realize that it is a good thing for the country and the EU. Social media formats should be used as a way to quickly update the public about TTIP to prevent rumors from having a strong impact. I thought this was a great overview about TTIP and the German perspective. The briefer spoke in more detail than we had discussed, but also provided the general goals for the future of the transatlantic partnership.


In between the two site visits, we had some time to explore Berlin. I visited the Grunewald Station Memorial to the Jews that were taken by train to the extermination camps and the Holocaust Memorial. I found both of the memorials to be very powerful. Berlin has a very full history, and they make sure that it is not forgotten. This has been something I really appreciate about Berlin. Even though their history is not positive and they were on the losing side, Berlin chooses to show everything that has occurred, their history surrounds you.

Grunewald Memorial

Grunewald Memorial

Frolicking Through Berlin


Berlin is a city filled with history. Everywhere you look, there it is. You can even find history in the most fun things – like a day at the zoo! On our free day in Berlin, numerous students went to the Berlin Zoo to enjoy the oldest zoo in Germany and a nice, sunny day – finally! It’s located on the West side of Berlin and opened in 1844. With over 1,500 species an 20,500 animals, its the most expansive collection in the world! It was really great to spend time with the class, but also the locals doing what an average Berliner would do on a summer day. It normalized the Berlin people for us, as we are normally so consumed by their history in class and museums that we forget that they are real people who have overcome great strife and are now members of a very prosperous country.


After the Zoo, Cora, Carrie, and I went to find the East Side Gallery. We wanted to have the chance to walk along it and have an up close glance at the murals. However, we got very lost. What caught us off guard was how long that wall was. We thought googling “Berlin Wall” (no judgments, please) would lead us to a tourist starting point. Which it did, it took us to the Berlin Wall memorial on the other side of town where they had blank pieces of the wall and large plaques filled with information and pictures explaining the time period. The blank sides of the Wall represent what the people on the East Side saw and were very sobering as we realized that one day these people could at least see the side of the city they could no longer go to, but now they all the sudden had a massive blank wall with guards blocking it from them.  After looking around, we decided to continue looking for the East Side Gallery and went to Check Point Charlie. There we did not find the murals, but found the U.S. checkpoint sight for the wall and the lines that sprawl throughout the city marking where the wall once stood. These markers went on for a very long time and it was amazing. We didn’t realize how long the Berlin Wall was until we started walking along the marker lines. Two hours later we found the East Side Gallery (after googling “East Side Gallery” … ) ! It was in this moment of reaching the paintings that it hit me – we had just spent two entire hours looking for a little part of the wall in the largest city we have been to all summer. I then realized that I would never be able to imagine what it must have been like to have had my life separated by a wall like they did. To one day be able to freely move around and visit with friends and family and then one day to never be able to see them again. One person told us that young kids who were born after the wall went up never saw the other side and had no comparisons to make. So when asked about the other side, they would just respond that they would like to see it one day. How crazy is it that they couldn’t even see the other side of their own city. But also, how insane is it that the political leaders were so paranoid that they felt the need to surround half a city with a wall. I guess I had never had the reality of the Berlin Wall hit me until it was right there in front of me, and sadly I think this is the case for most people. However, I am so impressed by Berlin and the progress they have made.


To me, Berlin does an amazing job of acknowledging their history. They do not pretend that they were not a part of WWI or WWII. They do not pretend that they did not suffer when their city was torn apart by the Berlin Wall. However, they also refuse to let that stop them from moving forward. Berlin is modernizing. There is construction everywhere amongst the historical buildings, showing the progress they are making. They have not let the shadows of history dwell on them, but have come out on top and are making strides towards success. Berlin was impressive. It was clean and green. The metro system was insane and elaborate, able to cover such a large city efficiently. The people were nice and I thoroughly enjoyed my time spent there.


I thought that Paris was big. Coming from Brussels, Dublin felt like a small town and Paris felt huge. But all bets were off when I made it to Berlin. In all of the cities that I had been in so far, I felt like I could walk around in them. That if I got lost I could walk in a direction until I found a landmark to make my way back home. This is not true for berlin. Vast squares and monumental buildings were tucked behind quiet streets, so that you stumble upon them completely by accident. It is a disorienting feeling.
With the other cities, they were often crowded around something, so that all of the monumental buildings were within shouting distance. In Brussels everything was crowded around the Grand Place, or the Royal Square. In Paris it was the Sine. Berlin just sprawls, irresponsibly dropping monumental buildings in places that one doesn’t expect.
But enough about the size of Berlin. After a few days I could manage it sufficiently enough, so that in the end it was really not a big deal.
In Berlin I felt the history of the city weigh down on me more than in any other, including Paris. Sure Paris had history, it is an old city. It is filled with vast palaces and the ornamental French architecture. But it never really felt real. It was almost too old, and I couldn’t relate.
Berlin was different for two reasons. First, it has been the focal point for Western History for the past 100 years, which makes it much more relatable than the royal history of Paris. Berlin played a major role in both world wars, and was the axis of the Cold War. I mean, the wall only came down a little more than twenty years ago, and the older Germans still have vivid memories about life during the Cold War. Second, the Germans have done a fantastic job of memorializing their history. They do not shy away from it or try to deny it. They face their history head on, and confront it in order to reconcile.
For example, one night after dinner we were walking along, joking and carrying on, when I saw a small bronze plaque, about the size of a Post it Note, slipped in among the cobblestones. On it was just a name, a couple of dates, and the name of a concentration camp. It memorialized the person who lived there that Nazis arrested, took to a camp and murdered. It stopped us cold. Almost immediately we all grew somber while we reflected about the life that was taken there. After that night, I started noticing them everywhere. Two here, then five there, the little plaques served as a constant reminder of what happened there seventy years earlier. That is the effect that Berlin can have on you. The history hits you like a wall at times, and you have to stop and take stock of exactly where you are.
Seeing the Wall itself has much the same effect. But I think even more than going to the Eastside gallery to see where the wall stands, it is much more powerful to just see the brick inlay that follows the 90 mile outline of the Wall cutting through a street that you go to cross. When you step on the bricks and then over them you realize that you just did what Germans were not able to do for thirty years. And entire generation did not see the other side until they were well into adulthood. Growing up I always thought of the Cold War as sort of silly, political posturizing that never came to fruition The Wall seemed to me to be a little ridiculous, certainly not harmful. But seeing it in person changed that. It had real consequences on Germany that people are still trying to cope with to this day. The way that Germany teaches about its history, unabashedly and starkly, helps them move on.

Day one Berlin!

We arrived in Berlin Sunday afternoon after a long day of traveling. After dropping our luggage off in the hotel, we left to have our first taste of German food. For many of us our first German dish was Schnitzel: a delicious but very heavy food that comes in many varieties (chicken, beef, broccoli and cheese, etc.). Once we had our fill we strolled back to the hotel for a quick architecture lecture from Professor Coddle to prepare for our bus tour tomorrow morning.


An early eight am start to our first full day in Berlin! Our bus tour leader was Stevie; a true Berliner who lived and worked here during the Cold War. She began our tour with a visit to the Charlottenburg Palace. The Palace is located along the Spree River and located on the top of it is the goddess of luck who acts as a weather vane. Today the Palace no longer houses Frederick the Great, but it is used for large receptions and as a museum.

IMG_4450 IMG_4467

Next we visited the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. The church has two parts; the remnants of what had been damaged due to the war and a new section right next to it. As we walked through what remained there were signs explaining the historical significance and how the church is being used today. Kaiser Wilhelm II built the church in 1890 for his grandfather. However it was badly damaged after the bombings of World War II. In the late 1960s the new church was added and the remains of the damaged Kaiser Wilhelm Church was turned into a memorial. In the memorial section of the church were remains of the Jesus on the Cross along with the Cross of Nails, which was constructed out of the remains of the church.


As we continued our tour of the city we passed by the victory column and the Brandenburg gate. What is interesting about both monuments is their beauty and rich history associated with each. The Brandenburg gate specifically fascinated me. It was created under Frederick II to represent peace; most significantly it has a chariot with four horses atop it and the goddess of peace (Eirene). It was first used after the defeat of Napoleon’s army in 1814 for a victory march. During the Cold War the gate was closed, but once the Berlin Wall came down it was reopened and seen as a symbol of freedom.


The cities we have already traveled to were filled with elegant classical architecture. Berlin’s beauty lies in its history. It is an industrial city and is incomparable to our previous destinations. Berlin is a city with a rich history of tenacity. Perfectly symbolized by the phoenix who constantly rises from the ashes; Berlin rebuilds itself every time something is destroyed. Its comeback story is why people love this city and why Berliners are proud to be from Berlin.

Our first 24 hours gave us an amazing feel of the city and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the week has in store for us!

Page 2 of 5

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén